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JLC on the Gaza Flotilla / Israel Defense Forces confrontation

June 7th: The letter below, from Jewish Labor Committee President Stuart Appelbaum and Secretary Randi Weingarten, was sent out earlier in the day. We would be glad to receive your thoughts on these matters. Email us here.

The Jewish Labor Committee is deeply troubled by the tragic events that took place on board the ships attempting to break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza a week ago. We are also alarmed by the harsh condemnation of Israel accusing it of sole responsibility for the death and injuries that resulted. We call on world leaders and our friends in the international labor movement and the organized Jewish community not to rush to judgment.

Facts have emerged in the past two days that clearly indicate that this tragedy could have been avoided. First, the organizers of the flotilla were clearly aware that in all likelihood Israeli defense forces would prevent them from getting to Gaza. Second, Israel offered to transport the humanitarian aid carried by the flotilla into Gaza after the ships docked at Israel’s southern port of Ashdod. Five of the six ships apparently complied with the Israeli request. The sixth ship, the one run by IHH - - the Turkish group allegedly associated with Hamas and other terrorist organizations - - refused. Video footage that has been widely circulated on the internet clearly shows an angry mob brutally beating the Israeli soldiers with metal rods and other weapons as they boarded this ship. According to reports, the Israeli soldiers had loaded weapons in their waistbands behind their backs, some of which were taken by one or more of the activists on the boat, and shooting ensued. At this point, the situation became more chaotic and up to ten people died and many more were wounded.

The JLC is fully aware that the situation confronting the Palestinians in Gaza is dire. By any reckoning, material needs and the political situation must be addressed so that the economic and living conditions can improve. But the reasons behind these deplorable conditions are the result of many years of neglect and the inability to make meaningful and mutually-acceptable progress towards resolving the roots of the conflict.

In an ideal world, Israel would not feel the need to impose a blockade of Gaza because it would not fear that weapons were being smuggled in to be used to attack Israeli citizens. Tragically, that is not the world in which Israel lives. Seven thousand missiles have been fired on Israel since it left Gaza in 2005, a situation that no sovereign state would tolerate. Hamas does not accept the existence of the State of Israel and that is not and should not be acceptable.

We deeply regret the loss of life and the injuries on both sides. The recent events may open up the opportunity to re-examine whether there are alternative ways to both preserve Israel’s legitimate security needs by ensuring that weapons are not brought into Gaza while allowing for humanitarian assistance to enter more freely and efficiently. We continue to believe that the only way to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people and to ensure the security of the people of Israel is through a negotiated two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, side by side – not by provocative acts carried out by the “Free Gaza” Movement or other organizations attempting to break the blockade. We offer our services in concert with our trade union brothers and sisters in Israel – the Histadrut - to help the trade union movement and other people of good will to continue to play a constructive role in helping Palestinians and Israelis bridge the many serious chasms between them.