Lilli Platt is the Long Island director of the American Jewish Committee.
Amid dramatic events unfolding across the Middle East, the pending Gaza Flotilla II is a looming danger to regional peace. The event is scheduled for next week, and comes a little more than a year after the first flotilla, consisting of six ships, was stopped by Israeli naval vessels. One of the ships resisted an Israeli boarding party and nine passengers were killed, triggering international condemnation of the Jewish state.
Ostensibly, the intention of this year's flotilla and last's is to bring humanitarian supplies by sea through the Israeli blockade and deliver them to the supposedly desperate residents of Gaza. Yet, the International Red Cross reports, "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza." Indeed, Israeli officials inspect all items entering Gaza by land, allowing in some 50,000 tons of goods and humanitarian aid every two weeks.
It is important to note that Israel's blockade of Gaza accords with international law. It was imposed with international support after the radical Islamist group Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007. Hamas, explicitly dedicated to the elimination of Israel and designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, has fired thousands of rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians across the border. The blockade is intended to prevent the entry of materiel that can be used for these attacks and other threats to Israeli security.
Flotilla II is expected to be larger than its predecessor, with 15 ships and some 1,500 people from all over the world. Since there is no real humanitarian need for the flotilla, the aim is clearly to place Israel in an impossible dilemma. If it stops the ships, Israel suffers another severe public relations setback -- especially if blood is shed once again. Should Israel let it through, the blockade is effectively negated. And now that post-Mubarak Egypt has opened its border with Gaza, the sea blockade is even more vital.
Israel was caught by surprise last year, in that at least one of the ships -- the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara -- was filled with people intent on a violent confrontation. Israel has stopped other ships and boats since without incident, including one carrying a large amount of weapons that sailed from Syria toward Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces have undergone a lot of training since last year to prepare for any scenario.
But the only way to head off the new flotilla is for the nations from whose ports the ships will sail to recognize that since the Israeli blockade is both legal and humane, those seeking to break it will be aiding Hamas and its Iranian sponsors in their war against Israel.
As it happens, there is plenty of evidence that such is the case. Behind both flotillas is a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups. Some, such as the Free Gaza Movement and the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, seem to reflect a sincere if naive assumption that the Israeli blockade is indeed oppressing the Gazans. On the other hand, there's the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation -- a nongovernment organization based in Turkey that has been banned by Israel and the Netherlands as a terrorist organization -- which provided three of the six ships in the original flotilla and was the only sponsoring body to advocate, and practice, violence.
The "Arab spring" that is painstakingly replacing one-man rule in countries of the Middle East, and the elimination of Osama bin Ladin as a symbol of fanatical Islamism, give hope for a turn away from terror in the region and for its replacement by a peacefully functioning democratic system, including a Palestinian state living alongside Israel. A second Gaza flotilla could help sabotage such hopes. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the community of nations "to use their influence to discourage such flotillas." All governments should heed these words and prevent the ships from sailing.