The State Department today released an updated travel warning for Israel and the Occupied Territories. The update signified that it was issued “to warn against participation in any attempt to reach Gaza by sea.” The warning is likely in light of the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” of humanitarian activists setting out any day now to break the blockade of Gaza enforced by the Israeli military.
Last year, a similar attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine people, including an American.
The State Department warning said:
The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. US citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of US citizens. US citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. […] On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one US citizen, in such an attempt.
The US citizen killed was Furkan Dogan, a 19 year old permanent resident of Turkey who witnesses said was shot five times by Israeli commandos that made an early morning raid against the ship he was aboard. (Eight others, all Turkish nationals, were also killed.) The US did not undertake or ask for any special investigations and seemed to accept the validity of Israel's own investigations, which cleared the Jewish State's armed forces of any wrong doing.
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Both the blockade of Gaza and the raid on ships in international waters have had their legality questioned. Yesterday, the Israeli military attacked two Palestinian fishing boats off the Gaza coast, but within the limits Israel set for them.
State Department spokesperson Mark Toner recently said US citizens who partook in the flotilla to break the Gaza blockade were putting themselves at risk:
We have made clear through the past year that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety.
During his recent visit to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that “America has no better friend than Israel.” As Matthew Yglesias pointed out, the statement is “absurd.” This seems borne out by a travel warning that tells citizens not to try to get to Gaza by sea so that they don't risk getting shot by their country's “best friend.”
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