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Govt Ignores Israel’s Threats against NZers on Gaza Flotilla

Government Ignores Israel’s Threats against New Zealanders on Gaza Flotilla

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – The New Zealand Government has failed to respond to requests to secure the safe passage of New Zealanders on an upcoming humanitarian flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s siege of Gaza. The Government has also failed to clarify New Zealand’s position on the legality of the siege itself.

New Zealand has joined with initiatives from more than 14 national groups and international coalitions who have united to form the Freedom Flotilla Two (FF2). FF2 will consist of at least 10 vessels carrying humanitarian aid and approximately 1,000 passengers including journalists, politicians, humanitarian aid workers, dignitaries, doctors, professors, and human rights defenders. FF2 aims to raise international public awareness about Israel’s occupation of Palestine by directly challenging Israel’s illegal naval blockade of Gaza.

New Zealanders Harmeet Sooden and Vivienne Porzsolt will be participating in the FF2 aboard the Canadian boat *Tahrir*. The name ‘Tahrir’, meaning ‘Liberation’ in Arabic, was chosen to honour those who gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo seeking democratic reform and spreading hope across the Middle East. The *Tahrir* will also host delegations from Canada, Australia, Belgium and Denmark.

In May 2010, an attack on the first Freedom Flotilla by the Israeli Navy resulted in the deaths of nine passengers on the *Mavi Marmara*, the wounding of over 50 and the kidnapping of hundreds. According to a UN Human Rights Council report, Israel’s conduct “towards the flotilla passengers…demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality” and constituted “grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law”.

“As Israel once again openly threatens to do everything it can to stop a non-violent, law-abiding civil society initiative,” says Mr Sooden, “Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Murray McCully remains silent.”

"One can only conclude that the New Zealand Government, choosing to subordinate itself to United States foreign policy, condones Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which the Red Cross has called a form of collective punishment and a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the Goldstone Report has described as a possible crime against humanity.

“Our safety and the success of this mission are now in the hands of the media and public scrutiny,” says Mr Sooden, “as the Government has in effect declined to protect us and uphold international law. Even so, we invite representatives of the Government and media to inspect our boat and its cargo of medical supplies.”

In 2008, Mr Sooden travelled to Israel to undertake human rights work in Occupied Palestinian Territory but was refused entry, held incommunicado, assaulted, denied consular and legal representation, and removed by the Israeli authorities on the pretext of being a “threat to the security of the State of Israel”.

He leaves New Zealand for the Mediterranean on 20 June 2011.

Mr Sooden’s letter on behalf of New Zealand’s flotilla passengers to Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Murray McCully is enclosed.

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