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Mavi Marmara

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, the events that transpired in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel on May 31st were profoundly unfortunate and the loss of life is deeply regrettable.

We await a full and credible account of what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara, yet we know that Israel has the right and obligation to protect her citizens and borders, in this case by enforcing a legal naval blockade to allow certification of peaceful end use of goods transported into Gaza.

In the days since the incident, Israel has released all people detained and has inspected and trucked the flotilla aid cargo to Gaza, where I understand it awaits permission from Hamas to cross.

Sadly, last week's confrontation could have been avoided. Israel offered the flotilla organizers the chance to have their cargo inspected at the Port of Ashdod and transported to Gaza. Five of the six ships in the flotilla complied nonviolently, but the Mavi Marmara, loaded with over 500 people, refused.

The sequence of events that subsequently led to violence is disputed, but it is obvious, to me anyway, that the actions of the Mavi Marmara were needlessly provocative.

Israel should lead an impartial, transparent, and prompt examination of the incident. And inquiries may show how the interdiction could have been accomplished without loss of life.

It seems to me that the Israeli soldiers were right to defend themselves from the brutal assault. We saw this on video. It does not seem clear that the situation had to unfold as it did, however.

Israel announced yesterday that a highly respected team of experts will review the investigations that are now under way, with a report expected in about a month. The United States should assist our ally in this endeavor, and the world community should withhold judgment until a reliable inquiry is complete. Yet many around the world, once again, are rushing to blame Israel before fully examining all the facts.

The United States, correctly, voted against a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that called for an independent fact-finding mission, while at the same time, prematurely condemning Israel's actions. This apparent bias cannot be allowed to inflame an already volatile situation.

I have called for increased humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza for more than a year now. Legitimate humanitarian needs cannot be ignored. However, continued interference and provocations by any nation or faction in the region are unhelpful and dangerous.

The United States, the Arab states, and others must continue to facilitate vigorous and sustained diplomacy until lasting peace is achieved. Ultimately, only a just, permanent, and peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians can ensure the security and the welfare of all in the region.

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