Translated by NGO Monitor from the Dutch online newsmagazine


Press doesn’t trust Gaza-boat

By Wilfred van de Poll


The Dutch-Italian boat Stefano Chiarini, which is part of the international flotilla to Gaza, carries some eight activists from the Netherlands. Dutch journalists (including one from Trouw) were due to participate, but they have all backed out of the Flotilla. What’s going on?

What we talked about confidentially last night appeared this morning in the Telegraaf! A journalist has leaked our information!” Anne de Jong (30) looked around furiously. In the Iliada-hotel in Gouvia, Corfu, 14 people were sitting: eight activists, two documentary-makers and four journalists. They were supposed to go along on the Dutch-Italian boat to Gaza.

Last year Anne de Jong took part in the first ‘freedom flotilla’; she is a spider in the web of the Stichting Nederland-Gaza (Netherlands-Gaza foundation), the organization that together with Freedom Flotilla Italia, purchased the vessel.

Her accusation (which came out of nowhere) caused bad blood among the journalists. What was this childish “pointing the finger” behavior? 

In the past week, the journalists and activists on Corfu sought a way to define their mutual relationships. They would be in the same boat (literally), but the journalists were adamant about staying independent. This seemed possible, but it was clear that it wouldn’t be easy. Mutual trust was crucial. 

But that trust was constantly shattered in Corfu, because of the environment of mistrust that the organization (consciously or not) created. “We are a completely open and transparent organization!” De Jong lashed out at the assembled journalists.

Eric Beauchemin (47), a journalist for the ‘Wereldomroep’ (Dutch World Broadcast station): “I’ve been doing this work for 25 years, but never have I seen a more closed organization. When we would ask critical questions they would accuse us of being unprofessional. Restrictions were imposed on us that hadn’t been agreed upon beforehand. We were prohibited from revealing which island we were on, even though they had promised we could. As if Israel didn’t know about everything already for ages…”

Questions were simply not answered. They would always just ‘get back to us’ on them. Soon I lost my faith and trust, which are essential to an undertaking with that many risks; last year 9nine people died. I am very, very disappointed."

Bud Wichers (33) went along as a freelance ‘security-correspondent’ for the news agencies Reuters, AFP and ANP and he regularly visits dangerous regions like Afghanistan and Iraq. Never has he felt as uncomfortable as during this Gaza trip. “Expectations were created which were to be dismissed afterwards in the most random and lighthearted manner. The actual facts were time and again contradictory to what they made us believe before.”

For example, before going to Corfu, we had been promised that we were to meet all passengers on the boat. For me and some others this was of vital importance; we wanted to assess if it would be safe to go along with them. But on Corfu we heard that we would pick up the other passenger only ‘somewhere’ along the way.”

Yesterday all passengers had assembled in Corfu, but Wichers had taken his decision already. “The breach of confidence had become irreparable at a certain point. Furthermore false information had come out about me in the media. Because of this my work had been made impossible.

Hasna el Maroudi (26) went along as an activist but in the meantime, she also planned to report for ‘Uitgesproken Vara” (Outspokenly Vara) and “In principle I find this trip a great thing; I care for the Palestinian people and aim for a free Gaza. But I don’t think this is the right way.”

I didn’t get answers about their finances. Also the answer to my question to what extent they had connections to Hamas were unsatisfactory.”

And all of a sudden Amin Abou Rashed showed up in Corfu. He is suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. El Maroudi: “officially he wasn’t involved in the foundation. Now, all of sudden he appeared to be active behind the scenes. That is peculiar for an organization claiming to be transparent. The moment I expressed my doubts about this issue, there was no reaction; they preferred to keep silent. For me this was the reason not to go along any further.”

Abou Rashed told Trouw he had secured the boat. Were there any ties with Hamas? “Of course. You can’t do without them in Gaza”

However, the passengers had been told that under no circumstance would there be cooperation with Hamas. UNRWA was supposed to distribute the goods in Gaza, not Hamas. UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness says however that no promises for assistance were made whatsoever. He conformed to Ban-Ki-Moon’s stance in opposition to the Flotilla.

Hasna el Maroudi: “Not only were the journalists treated unprofessionally, also the activists. They are very motivated and I respect that. But they ask too few questions and in that way they are being used.” Eric Beauchemin: "Their gullibility is shocking. They are blinded by idealism.”

Martijn Dekker, spokesman for the Netherlands-Gaza foundation regrets the journalists’ departure. “We do not recognize ourselves in the picture that is being painted of us. It is perfectly understandable that confidence gets hurt when information constantly turns out to be wrong. But we didn’t try to deceive people on purpose. It was also powerlessness: The organization had to deal with too many unexpected changes and international pressure.

Sabotage by “enemy divers”

According to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the activists going to Gaza are seeking “confrontation and blood.” 

On Israeli radio the minister talked about “a tough core of terror activists.”

Still, Israel retracted its earlier threats to deny access to Israel to participating journalists, as was communicated by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office.

According to the organizers, Israel is pressuring Greece to prevent the fleet from leaving and according to them, one of the 10 boats, the Swedish Juliano, has been sabotaged.

The screw has been damaged by “enemy divers.”