Today was a rough day. Aside from having a sick 5 year old and a recovering infant on my hands, I knew the “Freedom Flotilla” was due to hit Gazan waters today. I’m relieved I didn’t check the news before going to work or I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate at all during the day. So when I left work around 4:30, I was dying to hit the internet.
It turns out the Israeli Navy had boarded the 6 ships of the flotilla around 4am this morning.
I’d like to start by saying that I am not an unequivocal supporter of Israeli policy. I do not know how I feel about the blockade of Gaza and there are plenty of other Israeli policies I’ve discussed in the past that I don’t support. I do know that the area is under the rule of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization who does not accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel and refuses any deals or compromises with them. (though they don’t seem to mind using electricity from Israel’s power grid) I do know that my morning newspaper includes stories of rockets being lobbed from Gaza into Israel with such frequency that I don’t even think twice about it. I do know that Gilad Shalit will have been held captive by Hamas for four years on June 25. Do I think Gilad would be released if Israel stopped the blockade? Do I think the people of Gaza would overthrow Hamas and begin working toward a viable state of their own with the Palestinian Authority if Israel allowed free movement? I doubt it. I know Egypt also sees justification for their side of the blockade: they do not want to undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, thereby impeding the birth of a sovereign Palestinian state.
The boarding of the flotilla this morning was the culmination of several days’ worth of events. Last week, boats from around Europe set out to break the Gaza blockade under the organization of The Free Gaza Movement. Their mission is to raise awareness of the plight of Gazans by routinely breaking through the blockade of Gaza. I cannot find anything in their mission about providing humanitarian aid to the Gazans. The organization made it clear that they would do everything in their power to break the blockade regardless of any measures taken by Israel.
The ships were reported to have 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid on-board. That struck me as incredible. An amount that I can’t even picture. The good that could come of that if it was used by civilians and people genuinely concerned with human welfare, not Hamas. Then I read that the amount of aid let in to Gaza by Israel each week is about 15,000 tons. That gave me pause for thought. 10,000 tons is a lot. But it is not going to drastically change anything.
Israel repeatedly promised to allow all humanitarian aid on the boats through to Gaza IF they were first inspected at the Israeli port in Ashdod as all incoming shipments are inspected. This seems pretty straight forward to me. Even in situations where there is no blockade in place, I can’t think of a single country that would allow ships to dock without proper inspections at approved ports This is my first “positive” point. Rather than threatening immediate military action or flat refusal of all goods, Israel tried to find a compromise. The port at Ashdod was prepared with plenty of inspectors, computer stations for logging all of the 700 activists, medical staff to be on duty in case any of the activists should need them. Considering the amount of weapons found in previous “humanitarian” shipments, I think this was extremely cooperative. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyWbc6MxW8Y&feature=player_embedded#! ) The group refused, saying their goal was to break the blockade and they were prepared for any kind of response.
Noam Shalit, the father of aforementioned Gilad Shalit, asked the organization to please deliver correspondence to his son in exchange for his help negotiating with the Israeli government. The group refused. I am beginning to think the humanitarian aid is a ruse. Noam Shalit has worked tirelessly in the past 1436 days to get his son released and this group refused to even forward a letter? For more information Gilad Shalit, go to http://www.gilad.org/. There is a button at the top for an English version.
The boats would have arrived in local waters a day or two ago had they not tried to stop in Cyprus earlier. However, ready for “postive” number 2?, Cyprus refused to allow the boats to dock, aligning themselves as an ally in the region at a time when Turkey (our one time close ally) has been taking steps farther and farther away. Nearly half of the passengers on this convoy are from Turkey.
So six boats are getting close to Gazan waters and Israeli forces repeatedly make contact, confirming that the ships are entering restricted waters and must re-navigate toward the official Israeli dock. I’m going to call that a “postive” number 3 because in the past, Israel has been known to be a bit quick to the punch. If there is any doubt that Israel contacted the boats, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6jDIQr59Sk
The boats ignored the warning and the Israelis were forced to board. Once again, I am not sure that any other country would have done any differently. Initially, I wished that instead of sending the equivalent of Navy Seals, Israel had sent something along the lines of Border Police. I felt that would have been (slightly) more palatable by the rest of the world. The image of soldiers dropping in from helicopters onto “humanitarian activists” surely wouldn’t sit well.
Five of the six boats peacefully allowed themselves to be redirected to Ashdod. This is a fact that seems to be going unnoticed by the mainstream media in the States. I see this peaceful response as “positive” 4 and something that should be highlighted. I hope that the people on these boats included the Holocaust survivor, the EU parliamentarians, the former US statesman, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who are likely to have been after legitimate humanitarian aid, not merely blockade breaking. I’m not sure how likely this is, though, as nearly all of the activists were on the final boat.
One boat, the Mavi Marmara, responded with violence. In direct conflict with the eighth Point of Unity in the Free Gaza Movement’s mission: “8. We agree to adhere to the principles of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance in word and deed at all times.” After watching the footage of the “peace activists” attacking soldiers as they boarded the boat, I’m relieved the naval commando unit was sent instead of Border Patrol. The “peace activists” were masked and wielding knives and metal bars as soldiers landed on the deck. In video documenting the events, you can see that multiple people surround soldiers as they land, attacking them. Attempts were made to wrestle away weapons and helmets from the soldiers; soldiers were literally thrown off the boat’s deck. Smoke bombs were used by the “peace activists”. Clearly this was planned in advance. Watch these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU12KW-XyZE&feature=player_embedded and http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk. The later I stay up writing this, the more information comes to light. Here are pictures of the weapons found on board the Mavi Marmara: http://idfspokesperson.com/2010/05/31/pictures-of-weapons-found-on-the-mavi-marmara-flotilla-ship-31-may-2010/
But all of this happened at 4am this morning. It’s now after midnight. What has happened in the meantime? According to CNN and MSNBC and the like, I’m not sure anything has happened since. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The five other boats were redirected to the Israeli port in Ashdod. All injured persons from the altercation were treated in Israeli hospitals. The 9 activists who were killed have all been transferred to Israeli hospitals. The goods of the five boats are being inspected. Activists are being deported to their home countries.
What could Israel have done differently in this? I would like to see every Israeli ambassador around the world on primetime television explaining what has happened both this morning and over the past several days. I would like to see Israel making statements to the rest of the world, not just to venues focused on Israelis. I would like to see Israel holding the media accountable to acknowledge the broader picture of the Freedom Flotilla.
Did Israel do anything wrong? I don’t think there is anything they could have done differently. All countries have the right to protect themselves. I wish there had been a way to redirect the boats without using the military, but as the organizers said repeatedly, they were not willing to compromise at any cost.
Where does this leave the preliminary peace talks? My guess: down the toilet.
How does this help the people of Gaza? I don’t think it does. I’m not sure that was the goal of the flotilla anyway.
How does this impact the rest of the world? Hezbollah has called for an international response. What exactly does that mean? Tit for tat retaliation? Peaceful pressure on Israel to ease the blockade? I’m a afraid to make any assumptions.
I’ve gone back and forth about what I wanted to write in this email. I knew I wanted to focus on the glaring omissions I found in the mainstream American media. But I wasn’t sure how to address it. I knew I didn’t want to get caught up in a blame game. I knew there had to be some positive things happening too. I wanted to suggest we reframe events of today and focus on the positive. Unfortunately, as I began writing, I couldn’t find enough of that. And that leaves me saddened. I hope I haven’t fallen victim to the blame game. I hope I have helped show a bit of what CNN and its contemporaries are missing.