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Editorial: State Terror

Peace News pays tribute to the Gaza flotilla martyrs: Cengiz Akyüz (42), Ali Heyder Bengi (39), Ibrahim Bilgen (60), Furkan Dogan (19), Cevdet Kiliçlar (38), Cengiz Songür (47), Çetin Topçuoglu (54), Fahri Yaldiz (43), and Necdet Yildirim (32), killed by the Israeli Defence Forces on 31 May. Let us not mince words. The Israeli assault on the Gaza aid flotilla was an act of terrorism, of state terrorism. The killings of these Turkish solidarity activists was merely the latest chapter in the long history of Israeli state terrorism.

The deliberate killing of unarmed civilians, kidnapping on the high seas, the seizure of civilian goods: these are policies Israel has pursued against the Palestinians for decades, which the Gaza flotilla tragedy has dramatised.

The Gaza flotilla demonstrates again one of the dynamics of nonviolent action. By consciously placing themselves in harm’s way, confronting and challenging the Israeli government’s criminal blockade of Gaza, the flotilla volunteers made the violence of the Israeli state manifest. When African-American schoolchildren in Birmingham, Alabama, threw themselves into the struggle against segregation in May 1963, they were hit by water from fire hoses and by police clubs; they were attacked by police dogs and imprisoned en masse – nearly 1,000 children were jailed on 2 May alone.

Newspaper photographs of police brutality against nonviolent children made the oppression and violence of segregation visible and intolerable. The police reaction ignited the rage of the adults of Birmingham’s African-American community, creating unity and building a powerful mass movement that eventually swamped the local prisons and the white-owned business district (where fire hoses could not be used).

The Birmingham direct action campaign inspired hundreds of other African-American communities. In the 10 weeks after Birmingham, there were reportedly 758 civil rights protests in 186 cities, with 14,733 arrests. The disciplined nonviolence of Birmingham’s children, and the police violence it evoked, captured the attention of the mass media, forced the Kennedy administration into action, and led to substantial social change, not just in Birmingham.

While it is hardly exact, there is an analogy with the blockade-breaking aid shipments to Gaza by the Cyprus-based Gaza Freedom Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief. These courageous efforts are a challenge to us all.

The criminal Israeli blockade of Gaza is designed to punish Palestinians for voting “the wrong way” in January 2006. Noam Chomsky observes that: “The siege is savage and cruel, designed to keep the caged animals barely alive, so as to fend off international protest, but hardly more than that.” As with the long sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, Britain is complicit in this torture of a people.