MKs in the Arab Joint List party have expressed anger over a decision by fellow MK Bassal Ghattas to join ships that are sailing towards Gaza as part of a new flotilla, set to arrive off the coast of Gaza next week.
On the way already is the Swedish ship Marianne, which recently anchored in Italy, with several other ships set to sail from Greece to join her. From there they plan to continue as a unified group towards Gaza, where they intend to confront the Israeli Navy – potentially with lethal force as was seen in the 2010 flotilla.
Ghattas acted independently, without coordinating his participation in the flotilla with the party, the Joint List said on its Facebook page Thursday. “Instead of serving the constituents he was elected to serve, Ghattas is serving the Arabs of Gaza, and causing problems for the rest of the party,” the Facebook page said.
MK Ghattas belongs the the Arab ultranationalist Balad party, one of four Arab factions who united prior to last May's election to form the Joint List party, in a successful bid to ensure Arab parties passed the new, higher electoral threshold.
In a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday, Ghattas wrote that the flotilla was “a civilian attempt to break the blockade of Gaza. This is a flotilla of peace which seeks to draw attention to the difficult situation of 1.8 million Palestinians, who live in an open-air prison under horrendous conditions, the result of the land, sea, and air blockade put up by Israel. This is nothing but a collective punishment, and a gross violation of human rights,” he wrote.
In his letter, Ghattas warned Netanyahu against trying to use the Israeli Navy to take control of the flotilla's ships. “Any action of that type will further embroil Israel in controversy and strengthen the international crisis, with the Prime Minister and his government taking full responsibility for the outcome.”
Speaking to Army Radio Wednesday night, Ghattas said that the flotilla “was peaceful. There will be no violence, there are no weapons on the ships. What they are carrying is essential medical equipment needed in Gaza, but it is just a drop in the ocean of what the hospitals there need.”
He claimed that his participation in the flotilla was “not meant to challenge Israel's sovereignty. Israel does not have sovereignty over the waters off Gaza. This is not an issue of power politics or of politics at all. I am going to Gaza, not against the State of Israel. As an elected official of the State, I see it as my job to take responsibility for an issue like this. The question is where are the other MKs in the United Arab List.”
Despite his claims, Jewish MKs – spanning parties on both sides of the political spectrum – have slammed Ghattas's plans, branding it an act of treason and pushing for him to be stripped of his diplomatic immunity as a result.
His move has also triggered a new proposed bill, which would ban from election any MKs who advocate violence against the State of Israel.
But this is the first time his fellow Arab politicians have condemned him for his actions.
The surprising condemnation appears to be the result of an ongoing internal debate among Israeli Arab politicians. Israel's Arab parties have struggled with a perception that they are ignoring the domestic concerns of their Arab voting base in favor of acting essentially as propaganda mouthpieces for Palestinian Arab terrorist groups. The Joint List has attempted to dispel that image, staying out of an Arab League meeting earlier this year and attempting to champion domestic issues such as legalizing illegal Bedouin settlements in the Negev.
But some Joint List MKs – particularly from Balad and most notably the outspoken pro-Hamas MK Hanin Zoabi – have continued their radical activities regardless.
Zoabi herself participated in the infamous 2010 flotilla attack, in which terrorists aboard the Mavi Marmara attempted to kill IDF soldiers. Zoabi has said she doesn't regret taking part in the flotilla, which attempted to illegally break the IDF's blockade on the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza. Nine Islamist terrorists were killed after attacking Israeli commandos that boarded the ship, and in 2013 an Israeli court The Supreme Court rejected a petition by former MK Michael Ben-Ari and Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir to require the courts to try her for sedition for taking part in the flotilla.
In the 2010 flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be providing "humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza," defied orders to turn around and dock at the Ashdod port. After it ignored repeated warnings to change course, the IDF boarded the vessel – only to be attacked by Islamist extremists on board wielding knives and metal bars.
The wounded soldiers had no choice but to open fire, resulting in the deaths of ten of the IHH members on board.
After an investigation, Israeli authorities discovered the vessel to be carrying no humanitarian aid – in fact, no aid supplies at all.