Boat Trip to Gaza Was a Media Washout

Jerusalem-based Free Gaza spokeswoman Angela Godfrey-Goldstein kept reporters apprised of the 30-hour journey's progress via rather breathless emails sent several times a day. A correspondent for the BBC News wrote a couple of diary entry reports about preparations for the trip in Cyprus, too. Democracy Now's Amy Goodman did a podcast interview that is posted here (with accompanying transcript).

Al Jazeera loved the story, even doing a 25-minute Inside Story report about it -- complete with a screaming match between former Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin (a.k.a. "the Rotweiler") and International Solidarity Movement co-founder Huwaida Arraf. Part one of the AJ report is here; part two is here.

The Israeli media pretty much ignored the story -- except for Haaretz, of course. And the international media lost interest as soon as Israel announced it did not intend to stop the boats from landing or its passengers from disembarking. (No blood, no story.)

So the boats landed without incident. After basking in the excited greetings of several hundred Palestinians who gathered on the beach, the passengers disembarked and went off to visit Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Halper, the Israeli Jew in the group, declined to meet Haniyeh. Instead he made his way back to Israel, via Erez Crossing. Since Israeli citizens -- even those who hold foreign citizenship -- are prohibited from entering Gaza, Halper was detained by Israeli police and taken for questioning at Ashkelon police station. Ultimately the police decided to arrest Halper and hold him overnight in lockup. He was arraigned today in court and is currently out on bail while the attorney general decides whether or not to indict him.

Halper told PJM that he chose not to meet Haniyeh because he wanted to keep the focus on Israel. "If I had met with Haniyeh, all the media attention would have been on that instead of on what I really came to highlight, which is the blockade."

Asked whether he didn't think that being associated with kooky people like Yvonne Ridley detracted from Free Gaza's credibility, Halper answered, "Oh, she was not the kookiest one on board." But he added, "You cannot control every person who joins an organization. I think we're a solid group and we really accomplished something positive."

For many observers, however, the Free Gaza expedition was nothing more than a pointless media stunt. It garnered little international media attention, did not improve the lives of Gazans, and is unlikely to result in the Israeli authorities' deciding to relinquish control of Gaza's borders. Nor is Hamas likely to disavow terror or recognize Israel's right to exist.

In a region where violence and political upheaval are daily occurrences, it will take more than a media event to effect real change.