Israel and the flotilla of peace-activists (*Updated below*)

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 hours you will be aware of a troubling international incident that has much of the world up in arms. Early this morning, a group of six boats containing a number of international peace-activists carrying food and other supplies destined for Gaza were intercepted by the Israeli military. The end result is a number activists dead and wounded. It’s what happened between the beginning and the end that things become a bit more complicated.

While still around 40 miles off the coast of Gaza, Israeli ships (and apparently a helicopter) approached the flotilla and demanded they turn back. When the ships refused, Israeli soldiers begin boarding via zip line from the helicopter. According to one report from Haaretz, the activists immediately attacked the soldiers with knives and metal sticks. The Israeli military is saying the activists had guns as well and used them, although Turkey is disputing that. At this point IDF soldiers were given the okay to fire back resulting in the deaths of 19 activists (although Israel is claiming 9). The ships and activists were than taken into Israeli custody.

Israel released a video of the attack allegedly showing that activists were the first to begin the provocations. The video can be seen below.

However, a video taken by an Al-Jezeera cameraman aboard the first ship boarded by the IDF appears to tell a different story. According to this video, Israel began firing upon the ship before Israeli soldiers were physically upon it. They fired both tear gas and stun grenades which injured a number of people. This video can be seen below.

Once Israel begin firing upon the ship the activists raised a white flag but live fire continued regardless, although the chronology of the events is hard to pin down exactly. From the sound of the second video it would appear the white flag went up before the IDF dropped upon the ship, although this is impossible to prove without better information and video footage. Clearly, activists attacked IDF personnel, although whether in self-defense or overt aggression is hard to say. The two videos certainly appear to paint a very different story.

Clearly, what we know for sure is that we don’t know much. People should refrain from immediately placing the blame on either Israel or the flotilla. A good case in point of how not to report on the situation is from a Wall Street Times’ article by Max Boot, ever the exuberant cheerleader of Israel. In the article Boot comes off about as callous as a rock when he states that

The so-called Gaza flotilla, comprising eight ships and roughly 800 participants, was not put together by peace-loving humanitarians primarily worried about relieving the suffering of Gaza residents. The people of Gaza already have access to food, medicine and other relief supplies provided by both Egypt and Israel.

That’s a comforting little thought, isn’t it? Basically he’s saying the world can rest assured that the Palestinians have access to all the amenities they desire, thanks to their mortal enemies and an authoritarian regime. This is, of course, a load of poppycock. As detailed here

  • “61% of people in the Gaza Strip are … food insecure”, of which “65% are children under 18 years”. (UN FAO)
  • since June 2007, “the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled”. (UNRWA)
  • “in February 2009, the level of anemia in babies (9-12 months) was as high as 65.5%” (UN FAO)
  • “water resources in the Gaza Strip are critically insufficient” (UN FAO)
  • “the blockade has been a major obstacle to repairing the damage done by Israeli air attacks and destruction. Nearly none of the 3,425 homes destroyed during Cast Lead have been reconstructed, displacing around 20,000 people. Only 17.5% of the value of the damages to educational facilities has been repaired … [T]he infrastructure which remains unrepaired is often that which is most essential to the basic needs and well-being of the Gaza population.” (UNDP)

Contrary to Boot’s cavalier attitude towards the Palestinian situation it’s clear that most Palestinians in the Gaza strip are suffering and fully at the hands of Israel. It is, of course, quite likely that the peace activists were in the wrong here and attacked first (although, to be fair, any smart protester is going to be on-edge considering what Israel routinely does to peaceful activists). But that is no justification for ignoring the humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in Gaza since 2007.

Boot ends his article pondering the ways Israel could have avoided this incident in the first place.

One wonders if it wouldn’t have been possible for Israeli agents to sabotage the ships before they left port so that this incident would never have occurred?

To the best of anyone’s knowledge the ships were carrying aid material and nothing more. In fact, as I write this the Israeli military has begun turning loose some of the captives and they have made no mention of having found any weapons or other illegal goods. Surely if they had found them they would have advertised it. Boot simply assumes these people had malicious motives and leaves it at that.

We can only work with the information available to us, much of which is muddled, confusing, and ambiguous. No doubt we’ll know more in the coming days and weeks.

UPDATE 1 – 9am 01/10

I’m unable to get to a computer that allows me to have open more than one window open at a time, but it looks like the unofficial “official” number of deaths is 9, not 19 as reported by some organizations. A large number of activists are still being detained and Egypt appears to be relaxing its entry into Gaza in order to allow a bit more aid to get through. More later.

UPDATE 2- 11:30am 01/10

Megan McArdle takes a sympathetic view towards the flotilla in the Atlantic today. She makes an important point- one being ignored by many- that the flotilla was stopped and boarded in international waters where Israel has no jurisdiction. This fact undercuts any view of the situation that rests on who started clubbing and shooting each other first. She writes

This morning a bunch of people are trying to defend Israel by saying that the protesters attacked first.  No, they didn’t.  Boarding someone’s ship in international waters is an attack.

That’s a great point. Unfortunately, many commentators seem to be ignoring this by assuming that Israel had some “right” to board a group of ships in international waters. A good case in point is a short post at the American Spectator by John Tabin who writes

…[Israel’s] kid-glove approach (which, to be fair, did succeed at bloodlessly intercepting five of the six ships in the flotilla) earned Israel exactly no credit in the eyes of her critics, for whom Israel is ipso facto in the wrong whenever she defends herself.

This is backed up by Philip Klein, also at the American Spectator, who asserts that

Following up on John’s excellent post on the Israeli flotilla incident, I’d just like to add that this is yet another example of how Israel gets itself into trouble when it tries to play nice and goes out of its way to appease the international community. In this case, terrorist-linked extremists posing as a human rights workers were seeking to prevent Israel from enforcing a Naval blockade that is in place to stop a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction from importing weapons.

Tabin’s logic is incredibly convoluted. How on earth he comes to the conclusion that a group of ships carrying humanitarian aid constitutes a threat to Israel (especially on international waters) is beyond me. It would be far more accurate to say that in the eye’s of Israel’s most devoted fans any use of force is ipso facto considered a legitimate self-defense action.

And what of the charges that the flotilla was simply a front for radical extremists? Virtually baseless. Marjorie Cohn, at CounterPunch, lists some of the members on this flotilla.

The convoy was comprised of 700 people from 50 nationalities and included a Nobel laureate, members of parliament from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Malaysia, as well as Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and a Holocaust survivor.

That hardly sounds like a troop of Islamic extremists, right? Not according to Caroline Glick, who expresses shock that people from different parts of the world could be drawn together by anything other than pure hatred for Israel.

The listed organizations hail from the four corners of the earth. They include Jewish anti-Israel groups as well as Christian, Islamic and non-religious anti-Israel groups. It is hard to think of any cause other than Israel-bashing that could unite such disparate forces.

In such a large group it seems to me almost unavoidable that some members may have affiliations with terrorist networks in the Middle-East. The IHH, a Turkish humanitarian group, was a part of the flotilla and may, indeed, have links to Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestine and other places. Although this may be troubling, we have to remember that this is Palestine we’re talking about. Those sorts of terrorist groups do abound and inevitably someone is going to know someone who probably knows someone affiliated with them. This shouldn’t be shocking or surprising, nor should it detract from realizing the group’s singular goal: deliver aid to the Gaza strip.

Egypt, it seems, has decided to open its border with Gaza for a few days to allow humanitarian needs to be met. Not surprisingly, every time Egypt does this large numbers of Palestinians come pouring out of Gaza which would seem to belie Max Boot’s lofty assertion that the Palestinians, you know, have food and medicine and all of that good stuff. I mean, clearly there would be no reason to leave the blockaded Gaza strip, right? Those Palestinians are probably just greedy.

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  • By The Drama Continues… « Just Price on June 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    […] I pointed out here, it shouldn’t be surprising that in a group of 600 or more people some will have connections […]

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