Meeting in Geneva in early October, representatives of the International Coalition to Break the Siege on Gaza (people from Britain, Switzerland, Greece, Sweden, Malaysia, Turkey, United Sates, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Algeria, Kuwait, Jordan as well as other Arab countries) have confirmed their determination to break the maritime blockade imposed by Israel on the population of Gaza. While the Swiss boat was ready as of August, the departure of the second Freedom Flotilla had to be postponed till next spring since an increasing number of countries want to join it. The 45 passengers who will leave aboard the Swiss boat (500 applications have been received) include members of parliament. Jean-Charles Rielle, 58, Socialist member of the Swiss Parliament, is one of them.
1 November 2010 | Subjects: Gaza Solidarity movements International law
Silvia Cattori: You have just announced1 that you are leaving with the Flotilla which is being mobilized for the besieged population of Gaza. This is a mark of distinction for you since only a few politicians dare express themselves in a critical way when it comes to Israel. What was the incident that led you to get involved in this way?
Jean-Charles Rielle: I went twice to Gaza, first in January 2009, a few days after the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Israeli intervention, and then in January 2010 in order to take stock of the situation a year later. It was at those times that I was able actually to measure the extent of the problem and its consequences, particularly with regard to the health of the population who suffer from this siege. The doctor who I am was able to assess the gravity of the situation. It is high time to end this blockade so that this people may become free. Free to make their choices, free to move and free to have access to basics. No people and no country can accept to be subjected to such a blockade by an army of occupation.
It is for these principles that I and some other parliamentarians, including Josef Zisyadis and Carlo Sommaruga, are striving through our participation in this Flotilla, subject to the timetable of parliamentary sessions. This is simply an ethical fight which is designed to promote respect for international law.
We would have left with the first Freedom Flotilla if its departure had not taken place at the moment when we were in session in Bern. I would like to tell you that I feel very happy over this great coalition which is taking shape now, over the number of represented countries and over the number of boats involved. Every effort should be made in order to have the siege lifted. The fact that there is a Swiss boat in that Flotilla adds an important symbolism.
SC: The last but one attempt to break the siege had ended up in bloodshed with the assault of Israeli commandoes against the Mavi Marmara, killing nine Turks and injuring fifty others. Are there better chances to have the Israelis cede this time? Is there a guarantee that Israel will not subject the second Flotilla to the sort of violence that it had inflicted on the preceding one?
JCR: By its sheer size, this second Flotilla should be able to continue to challenge the world on the need to lift the blockade affecting Gaza.
SC: Through this blockade, Israel seeks to break up the resistance spirit of the Palestinian people and to alienate them from the Hamas movement. Isn’t it the political impact of these flotillas that Israel really fears? In other words, do these international activists who are rallying for the cause of Gaza not convey the idea that the resistance of the Palestinian people (which Israel qualifies as terrorism) is a legitimate right?
JCR: But resistance is a legitimate right and this is not limited to the Palestinian people. Every people has the right to enjoy its freedom of movement, to have access to its basic food needs and to everything that makes people free and can support themselves. The international law condemns this blockade imposed by Israel. It must be respected. Being an elected member of the National Council, representing the Canton of Geneva, which is the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, it is important to require that the blockade be lifted.
SC: Israel can do all what it wants since the power equation tilts in its favor. If the authorities of the State of Israel have been thus far able to follow an aggressive policy against their Arab neighbors, isn’t it because they enjoy the full benevolent support of Western nations? Switzerland is no exception, as has just been demonstrated by the official trip of its Minister of Defense, Mr. Ueli Maurer, to Israel.2 Does this example not indicate that there is not in Bern a true political willingness to do justice to the Palestinian people and that your endeavors carry little weight?
JCR: Look, if it was thought that our endeavors had no weight, we would not be doing all what we are currently doing with regard to the Flotilla. I think that the balance of power may be reversed when we defend ethics and fundamental rights.
SC: Does Mr. Maurer’s trip reflect the position of the Federal Council?
JCR: I wish to remind in this specific case that the policy pursued by our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Micheline Calmy-Rey, is very clear regarding the rights of the Palestinian people. With Mr. Maurer, there is a minister who has a different perspective and who, despite all the demands that have been addressed to him not to go to Israel, has gone there. This is grave particularly since, in his capacity as the minister of defense, his trip carries a strong symbolic overtone.
If a certain neutrality was to be observed on the diplomatic front, that would have been understood. But Mr. Maurer, in his capacity as the minister of defense of our country, went to Israel at a time when he should not have gone there. He thought it good to promote military exchanges — and all that this may imply — at a totally inappropriate moment.
When we hear him declare, in Israel, that his visit is justified because Switzerland, as a neutral country, should visit all countries, we state that, in this particular case, this is unjustifiable because it is a visit by a minister of defense who negotiates contracts concerning arms that may serve in particular to reinforce the policy that we denounce.
We tell him that his place should not have been in Israel, that this was not an appropriate moment and that he didn’t have to go to Israel. He should be made accountable, on his return, for the image that he has created through his presence in Israel as minister of defense while the blockade which weighs heavily on Gaza violates international law.
For the elected MP that I am, for the physician that I am, it is a question of acting in such a way as to ensure that international law is respected and that the siege of Gaza is lifted so that the Palestinian people may be able to live freely. It is above all an ethical combat.
SC: We thank you.
- Press Conference held in Geneva on 11 October 2010 by Gaza Freedom Flotilla 2. The coalition, set up in April 2010 by the NGO The European Campaign to end the Siege on Gaza, Free Gaza Movement, The IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Ship to Gaza- Sweden, Ship to Gaza-Greece, brings together today hundreds of organizations and associations throughout the world. The Swiss boat is supported by more than 200 NGOs. [↩]
- See: “Maurer to visit Israel amid thaw in relations,” by Simon Bradley, Swissinfo, 8 October, 2010. [↩]