JERUSALEM (RNS) Tens of thousands of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa on Tuesday (June 1) continued demonstrations against Israel’s deadly interception of a flotilla of ships trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed on the passenger ferry Mavi Mamara when Israeli commandoes boarded the ship early Monday (May 31) morning. The Mavi Mamara was one of six Turkish ships trying to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Across the Arab world and in Israel — where Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population — angry protestors demanded an end to the blockade. Ishmael Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas, declared a day of mourning. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said the attack “indicates Israel is not ready for peace.”
In Rome, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Agence France-Presse that the Holy See feels “deep sadness and concern” over the flotilla incident, which also injured several activists and seven Israeli commandoes.
In Jerusalem, a group of Palestinian church and community leaders issued a joint statement condemning “the irresponsible actions perpetrated by the Israeli forces against civilian participants of the Freedom flotilla.”
American Jewish leaders tried to fend off criticism of Israel by emphasizing Israel’s repeated efforts to convince the flotilla’s organizers to deliver their cargo to an Israeli port from which it would be transferred to Gaza. They stressed that, according to video taken by the Israel Defense Forces and widely seen on YouTube, it was the activists who first attacked the Israeli commandoes with knives and metal poles.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said the deaths “were the result of a deliberate and unnecessary provocation organized primarily by groups with ties to terrorist entities including Hamas.”
The group expressed “regret” at the loss of life and urged government leaders “to refrain from a rash judgment and to allow the facts to emerge.”
The Orthodox Union said that “as long as Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, Israel is entitled to treat it as an enemy territory and enforce a blockade against it.”
Although both Israel and Egypt permit essential items to reach Gaza, aid agencies report shortages of food, medicine and building materials. The U.S. government considers Hamas a terrorist organization.