2 June 2010

South Africa: Tutu Inspired Me, Says German Politician Who Joined Gaza Ship

Trier — A member of the German parliament who was on the ferry Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by Israeli special forces has called on the World Council of Churches and other church organisations to get more actively involved in lifting the Gaza blockade.

"I really hope that the Christian community and the WCC and others will really support us peace-loving people in the world to protest against this massacre and to really support our demands to lift the blockade to Gaza and see the Israeli security penalised who shot innocent people," Annette Groth, a member of the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, told ENInews on 2 June.

"We have a moral and Christian commitment I guess to speak out aloud against any sort of human rights violations," said Groth, a member of the Left Party, who worked in various ecumenical institutions before becoming a lawmaker.

The vessel was part of a six-ship flotilla carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian and peace activists and bearing supplies headed for Gaza, the coastal enclave that is run by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Nine people were killed when Israeli forces attacked the convoy on 31 May to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. Organizers of the convoy said they were seeking to break the sea blockade of Gaza maintained by Israel.

Groth told ENInews that she was on the Mavi Marmara below deck, having joined Muslim women for their Islamic morning prayers when Israeli special forces came onto the vessel. Shortly after the prayers had finished they heard noises and were told to put on their lifejackets. About 10 minutes later the captain announced that the ship had been taken over by the Israelis and he urged them to stay calm and not to resist.

"And then I knew the whole thing is over and there was no chance to get to Gaza," said Groth. The ship was one of three provided by Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a Turkish Muslim aid organisation.

After an hour the women were allowed to the upper deck where she saw blood and one injured person, Groth said. "There were soldiers everywhere, heavily armed and pointing [their guns] at us," she said. "There was an attitude of terror and humiliation. They did not allow old men to go to the toilet It was mere terror, creating a situation full of anxiety."

The German lawmaker said her involvement in joining the flotilla was inspired by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, the former leader of South African Anglicans.

"Tutu once said if you are neutral in situations of injustice then you choose to be on the side of the oppressors," said Groth. "We should not remain silent as we were. The Israeli government committed lots of crimes against humanity and international human rights laws. And it was tolerated by the international community and this now has to stop."

In Geneva on 1 June, WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit denounced the Israeli action as a "flagrant violation" of international law.

"We condemn the assault and killing of innocent people who were attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, who have been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007," said Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran theologian who has headed the WCC since January.

He urged an end to "the economic blockade of Gaza" and said the events were another reminder, "of the pressing need for an end to the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories".

Tveit said the WCC, which groups 349 mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant churches, remained committed to a "just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel".

In Rome on 2 June, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the "tragic events" linked to the Gaza strip. "Violence does not solve disputes, but increases dramatic consequences and generates more violence," said the pontiff.

Groth said that although she and another lawmaker, Inge Höger, were travelling on diplomatic passports, they also had most of their possessions confiscated. "We were all harassed regardless of whether we were members of parliament or not," she stated, and said they will now be suing the Israeli government,

An Israeli commando who took part in the operation against the flotilla told reporters he descended with ropes and was immediately attacked by a group of people waiting for the Israeli forces. "They beat us up with metal sticks and knives," he said. "There was live fire at some point against us."

Dexter Van Zile, a Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America said in a message to ENInews, "There is conclusive video that demonstrates that the soldiers were in fact beaten by the so-called peace activists as they landed on the deck of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara. The soldiers were assaulted and one was thrown from one deck to another on the vessel."

Groth has been active in the ecumenical movement since she was a student and has worked for religious groups in Rotterdam, Geneva and Barbados where she was the director of the Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism until 1999.

Before becoming a member of the Bundestag in 2009, Groth worked for an organization linked to the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country's main Protestant umbrella.

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