MEP joining flotilla tells EI: EU’s honest broker image “a sham”

MEP Paul Murphy is among approximately two dozen passengers set to sail aboard the Irish boat to Gaza.

Paul Murphy, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Ireland’s Socialist Party, is bound for Gaza as part of the second Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Only appointed to the Parliament in April — as a replacement for a colleague who had returned to domestic politics in Dublin — Murphy did not hesitate in responding to a plea from the flotilla’s organizers that public representatives join the siege-breaking voyage.

As he waited to set sail from a Mediterranean port (the precise location hasn’t been named for security reasons), Murphy spoke to The Electronic Intifada correspondent David Cronin.

David Cronin: Can you tell me a little bit about the passengers on the Irish Ship to Gaza?

Paul Murphy: There are 22 or 23 people on the Irish boat, the MV Saoirse, which is the Irish word for freedom. Trevor Hogan is probably the most high-profile participant. He was an international rugby player and I think he has played for Leinster [a rugby football club]. I’m not personally a big fan of rugby but he seems like a very nice fellow.

As well as that, we have the artist Felim Egan. We have Mags O’Brien, a trade unionist with SIPTU [Services Industrial Professional Technical Union]. We have a couple of councillors [local authority representatives] from [political organizations] Sinn Fein and People Before Profit. And we have Chris Andrews, a former Fianna Fail TD [member of national parliament; Fianna Fail was the main governing party in Ireland from 1997 to earlier this year].

DC: What will you be carrying on the boat?

PM: My understanding is that it’s mostly a passenger boat. We’re participating in the flotilla alongside the cargo ships. We have some rugby gear but it’s mostly a passenger boat.

DC: Another MEP, the British Conservative Charles Tannock, has described the freedom flotilla as an “act of provocation.” What is your response?

PM: Hillary Clinton has said the same kind of thing — that we’re provoking Israel to use its right to self-defense. I’m completely opposed to what they are saying. What they are doing is giving the green light to the Israeli state and the IDF [Israeli military] to undertake the same actions as the last time [when Israel attacked the 2010 flotilla, killing nine activists].

What kind of a world do we live in when bringing humanitarian aid and medicines to people in desperate poverty is considered an act of provocation? How can that be construed as a provocative statement?

DC: Are you apprehensive about the possibility that your boat will be blocked and may even be attacked by Israel?

PM: You’d have to be a bit crazy if you weren’t apprehensive, given what happened the last time. But being together here with most of the people who will be on the boat is good. There is a sense of solidarity.

We had a training weekend a couple of weeks ago, where we discussed what is likely to happen. We are as prepared as we can be for a potential assault. Whether that happens or not is in the hands of the Israeli state. It’s out of our hands. One of the ways of looking at it is: yes, we are putting ourselves in harm’s way. But 1.6 million people in Gaza are put in harm’s way on a daily basis.

DC: What will you do if the boat is attacked?

PM: Our boat is destined for Gaza. We are not destined for any part of Israel. If the Israelis ask us to turn around, we won’t accept that. If they do attack or try to board the boat, then we are not interested in fighting with any Israeli soldier. There will be no aggressive resistance. But there will be passive resistance.

DC: As a member of parliament, you have diplomatic immunity. Will you be invoking that immunity if you are faced with arrest?

PM: I have my diplomatic passport, my laissez passer. I just got it the other day. I haven’t considered [invoking immunity] and I don’t think it would work.

DC: On the eve of your departure to join the flotilla, you gave a speech in Brussels accusing the European Union of being complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people (“Video: EU must end complicity in Palestinian oppression,” 22 June 2011). Why did you make that accusation?

PM: It is a sham that the EU pretends to be an honest broker and sometimes pretends to be a friend of the Palestinians. What I highlighted in the Parliament is that probably the grossest example of complicity is that Israeli arms companies are recipients of EU funding under its scientific research program. These are companies like Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries that make the drones used against Gaza in 2008 and 2009 and make surveillance equipment for the wall in the West Bank.

This makes a joke of the EU’s honest broker image. There’s also the trade relations that the EU has with Israel. And there’s the general conduct. During Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2008-09 attack on Gaza] the EU was very scared of criticizing Israel. Many EU leaders placed the blame on the Palestinian people.

DC: You also recently participated in a parliamentary debate about increasing the volume of trade between Europe and the occupied Palestinian territories. Can you summarize your contribution to that debate?

PM: Yeah, there are some moves to increase trade with the Palestinian territories by lowering tariff barriers and in some cases having no tariff barriers for exports from Gaza and the West Bank. That’s fine and we welcome it.

But the volume of trade is just pitifully small. If you drop tariff barriers for Gaza, it’s no good for the people of Gaza. They can’t export because of the blockade. If the EU is serious it needs to deal with the blockade. Otherwise, this is just an empty gesture.

DC: Quartet envoy Tony Blair and various others have tried to convey the impression that the blockade of Gaza is being eased and that the situation is improving. What can you say about that?

PM: My understanding is that’s simply not true. If anything, it’s getting worse in Gaza as is to be expected after five years of a brutal blockade. There are 300,000 people living on less than a dollar a day, which is three times the amount before the blockade was imposed. According to the UN, wages have dropped by one-third since the blockade and unemployment is over 40 percent. That is a devastating situation.

We were talking [during preparations] that if people get cut, they should use antiseptic because otherwise there is a risk of blood poisoning. But people in Gaza don’t have access to basic medicines. In the absence of basic medicines, they are not able to conduct surgery.

The idea that things are getting better is obviously Israeli propaganda. It is a joke.

David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press.