Why don’t we call the Free Gaza Movement the New Berlin Airlift?

In the late 1940s, a Herculean effort was undertaken by Britain and its allies to deliver vital supplies to a helpless West German population surrounded by hostile Soviet forces.

Today, a flotilla of ships is somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea, sailing to the Gaza Strip in an attempt to deliver similarly vital supplies. In the Palestinian territory, a population of 1.5 million people lives in deplorable conditions, held at the mercy of Israeli and Egyptian-controlled borders.

It’s a controversial comparison to make, so please allow me to explain.

On May 20, the Straight published a story about a Victoria resident who was planning to take part in an aid mission for Gaza, which calls itself the Free Gaza Movement.

The following day, Kevin Neish flew to the Mediterranean Sea. A few days later, he joined the flotilla and set sail for the Palestinian-occupied territory.

Since then, the Straight has kept in touch with Neish and requested that he keep the paper updated on his efforts with the Free Gaza Movement.

Upon receiving that request, Neish e-mailed the Straight a frustrated reply. In part, that message read, “I’ll try. Personally I’d rather someone did a story about the lack of much mainstream coverage of this flotilla in general in Canada rather then me.”

Neish’s comments made me recall a speech that renowned journalist Robert Fisk recently made at the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum.

The Independent newspaper’s Middle East correspondent focused his address on the power of semantics, and how language can shape people’s perceptions of events. But Fisk also asked the same question that Niesh had.

“Yes, when it comes to history, we journalists really do let the presidents and prime ministers take us for a ride,” Fisk said.

He continued:

Today, as foreigners try to take food and fuel by sea to the hungry Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should be reminding our viewers and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel—our own servicemen dying as they did so—to help a starving population. That population had been surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the people into submission. The army was Russian. The city was Berlin. The wall was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier. Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them. Now look at Gaza today. Which western journalist —and we love historical parallels—has even mentioned 1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?

Fisk later concluded his remarks by saying:

Al Jazeera is giving good coverage to the flotilla—the convoy of boats setting off for Gaza. I don't think they are a bunch of anti-Israelis. I think the international convoy is on its way because people aboard these ships—from all over the world—are trying to do what our supposedly humanitarian leaders have failed to do. They are bringing food and fuel and hospital equipment to those who suffer. In any other context, the Obamas and the Sarkozys and the Camerons would be competing to land US Marines and the Royal Navy and French forces with humanitarian aid—as Clinton did in Somalia. Didn't the God-like Blair believe in humanitarian 'intervention' in Kosovo and Sierra Leone?

In normal circumstances, Blair might even have put a foot over the border.

But no. We dare not offend the Israelis. And so ordinary people are trying to do what their leaders have culpably failed to do. Their leaders have failed them.

Have the media? Are we showing documentary footage of the Berlin airlift today? Or of Clinton's attempt to rescue the starving people of Somalia, of Blair's humanitarian 'intervention' in the Balkans, just to remind our viewers and readers—and the people on those boats—that this is about hypocrisy on a massive scale?

The hell we are! We prefer 'competing narratives'. Few politicians want the Gaza voyage to reach its destination—be its end successful, farcical or tragic. We believe in the 'peace process', the 'road map'. Keep the 'fence' around the Palestinians. Let the 'key players' sort it out.

The concept of framing is always a favourite of journalism students. The question of whether an armed Kurdish separatist is a terrorist or a freedom fighter is a fun one to debate. But it’s also a question for which the answer has real consequences.

It is likely that the flotilla currently on its way to the Gaza Strip will not make it to land. The Israeli Defense Force has promised to intercept any unauthorized ship attempting to deliver supplies to the territory.

If the ships are turned around or captured, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll hear a word about those events on CNN or even BBC News. And it’s almost unimaginable that any Western government official would comment on the affair.

As Fisk asked, is this a failure of the media? If so, why is it happening? And perhaps most importantly, what will be the consequences on the ground in Gaza?

You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.




May 27, 2010 at 5:41pm

The Berlin Airlift was actually a tactical move, not the humanitarian movement that the author views it as. There was two most important reasons that the United Kingdom and the United States wanted to control West Berlin.

1. German scientists, if they had worked on weapons or rockets, they were wanted. Much of the dealings between KGB and CIA were focused on getting or preventing the detaining of a German scientist. West Berlin was an easier escape route for many scientists than the West German border.

2. You've heard of "Pay for Peace" right? That idea that in a post-war economic slump, the United States would invest heavily to prevent countries from turning to communism. That is why West Germany (and West Berlin) had so much money and supplies funneled into it. As a psychological war tool the people on the other side of the fence would see. Squalor under communism doesn't look as great as prosperity under capitalism.

Really, calling this Gaza aid movement the next Berlin Airlift does not work. The situation in Gaza is closer to the situation in Eastern Germany back in the day. Israel building the security barrier is like the Americans building the Iron Curtain, to keep everyone in. In every sense of logistics, it clearly does not work.

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May 27, 2010 at 5:55pm

Furthermore, a historic parallel could be drawn to the Berlin Airlift AND Israel. That actually works out better and with more congruency.

Think about it, Israel is a small amount of land, largely surrounded by hostile forces, with huge economic input by UK and US. Israel is prosperous in comparison to many border countries (except Jordan? Syria?) to which it has a different kind of philosophy about its general populace. Essentially, any plane coming from the US with goods on it is technically, the New Berlin Airlift.

What up.

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May 27, 2010 at 9:43pm

The guy is a dofus out of his element.The media in the west is so out of sync with what goes on in the ground and on the streets of Israel/Palestine and the Middle East. Complete infantilization of the situation and this guy is its poster boy.

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Jacob Dehan

May 27, 2010 at 10:21pm

No connection to Berlin airlift.
Israel and Egypt legally allow shipments of humanitarian supplies to get through. The problem is with supplies which can be used to make weapons and explosives.

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David Simantob

May 27, 2010 at 10:47pm

Your analogy of the so-called aid flotilla to Hamas controlled Gaza as the same as assistance to Berlin is correct. It is just that your timing is off. Trying to help Hamas with this flotilla is like trying to break the Allied blockade of Axis controlled Europe in order to help Nazi occupied Berlin during WWII.

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May 27, 2010 at 11:19pm

Today, if anyone was to speak up for the Palestinians or help them in any way, it would be like someone taking a risk and helping a Jew during the holocaust. I don't think most Jews today would see the irony in this.

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May 28, 2010 at 4:50am

Israel has systematically segregated both christian and muslim Palestinians with concrete walls and checkpoints because the zionists believe that god promised them the land. So they build "settlements" by removing innocent people from their homes and encouraging jews to move onto that land outside the UN sanctioned borders of Israel. If the American people (mostly the south and bible belt) ever realized christians were being treated like this there would be outrage. This time around it's the zionists building the concentration camps with $30 Billion a year from the US. Which is also illegal since Israel has nuclear weapons and is not a member of the NPT. I agree with Nicholas the zionists didn't learn from the holocaust and instead are repeating the crimes their people suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany. The UN needs to take action against Israel for its war crimes and put peacekeepers in Palestine since the major leaders will never put Israel in its place.

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May 28, 2010 at 7:33am

Not enough that people post clueless revisionist $#@% like Nicholas' comment; people vote for it, too. I don't know if that is the greater tragedy or the fact that he evidently doesn't know what irony is.

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May 28, 2010 at 7:49am


"The problem is with supplies which can be used to make weapons and explosives."

I remember hearing a while back about people sending construction materials to help repair the sewage disposal system as it is no secret that the complex sewage systems in the Gaza Strip have broken down entirely. Hm, wonder what happened to all those sections of metal pipe in the first place.

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