“Bloody massacre!” cries Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
Here in Minnesota, where cooler thinking tends to prevail over southern hot-headedness, how about we step back a little, and look at what actually happened on Monday before we go out to shout our heads off.
First, a brief review (for those who’ve managed to avoid all news media the last couple of days – oh, how I envy you).
Israel has enforced a naval blockade of Gaza for the past several years, which means that it must inspect all ships bound for Gaza, to ensure that no weapons are coming through
Last Sunday, a “peace flotilla” – consisting of 6 ships, bearing 600 “peace activists” and 10,000 tons of “supplies” – sailed to Gaza, in an attempt to “break the blockade.”
Attempting to enforce the blockade, Israel boarded the ships, in order to direct them to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection of their cargo.
5 of the ships came peacefully and without incident. The activists on the last ship turned violent and attacked the Navy personnel boarding their ship, forcing them to respond, and resulting in at least nine activists dead, and at least seven Israelis wounded (final numbers are still coming in).
Queue international condemnation.
So that’s your summary. Now let’s discuss.
First, let’s be clear about one thing. Israel is at war with Hamas in Gaza. Larger and larger rockets have been launched by the thousands from Gaza over the last few years (since Israel left Gaza, and Hamas took over). A rocket test was recorded recently that could reach Tel Aviv itself. Several ships have already been stopped by Egypt and Cyprus on their way to Gaza, carrying “boat loads” of more and more powerful weapons (excuse the pun) from Iran and Syria, all headed into Gaza. So in order to avoid putting their civilians in greater danger from more powerful rockets and bombs, Israel has had to enforce a naval blockade, to ensure that only civilian items make it into Gaza, and no weapons do.
(Incidentally, Egypt is enforcing an identical blockade of its own on land, at it’s border with Gaza. On this issue, the Egyptians and Israelis manage to see eye-to-eye for once.) Also incidentally, such blockades are basically standard procedure during war or armed conflict (or sometimes even potential armed conflict – see Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba in 1962).
So if we assume that the blockade is needed in order to protect Israeli civilians from more and more powerful weapons being smuggled into Gaza, we must also acknowledge that every ship must be stopped and its cargo inspected. It would be a pretty poor blockade if some ships were just allowed to get through. If you’re not going to check every ship, but will only allow weapons to be brought in on some of them, you might as well go home and face those weapons now.
Now supposedly, this flotilla was a humanitarian mission, aimed merely to bring in humanitarian supplies. However, humanitarian supplies get through just fine through the normal process. Today, over 100 trucks make it into Gaza daily, carrying humanitarian supplies (adding up to over a million tons in the last 18 months). When this flotilla announced its intention to sail its “supplies” to Gaza, Israel offered that if the ships landed in the southern Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection, Israel would guarantee that all the cargo would be brought to Gaza by truck. Seeing as these “activists” don’t particularly like Israel, Egypt made an identical offer as well – bring your cargo to Egypt, and Egypt would also guarantee that the goods make it into Gaza by truck (after inspection, of course). Both offers were flatly refused, and the flotilla proceeded to sail straight into Gaza directly, refusing inspection. Well, if you start allowing that, how could you ever stop an Iranian weapons ship? Even if these people’s intentions are perfectly nice, how would you ever know the difference?
In fact, several people from the organization that put together this flotilla admitted openly on Monday that their intention was just as much to “break the blockade” as to deliver the “relief goods” (as if that wasn’t clear as day before, after they refused the Israeli and Egyptian offers). So I say let’s treat them for what they are in this case – protesters attempting to actively interfere with a military blockade, and not just “peace activists” bearing loaves of bread, artisan cheese, and arugula.
And knowing that they were there to break through a blockade, they also knew they were headed into a military confrontation.
As I said above, 5 of the ships were boarded peacefully, they made their honorable stand, and were quietly and without incident taken to the port of Ashdod for inspection (incidentally, Israel has committed that the goods the ships were carrying would still be taken into Gaza, at Israeli taxpayer expense. All of the activists taken to Israel will also be taken home at Israeli expense). However, the last boat was different.
On the 6th boat, as Israeli servicemembers boarded the ship by rappelling down from a helicopter, they were attacked by what sure looks like a mob of the so-called “civilians” on board the ship as soon as they touched down, or were even within reach above the boat. Long before they committed any violence, or in fact done, or even attempted, anything at all. In videos from the scene, you can see the soldiers being attacked with knives, iron crowbars, and bats. Some were thrown overboard, or subdued by groups of men armed with metal pipes. There are soldiers in the hospital with knife and even gun wounds.
These were trained commandoes, and the fact that they were hurt this badly says to me that they were not facing a bunch of peaceniks sitting in a circle and singing kumbaya in a show of non-violent resistance. Instead, they were viciously attacked, and were forced to fight back to defend themselves. And what else could they have done? (You can see tons of videos of the attacks on YouTube. I am including one of the videos below. For your viewing pleasure, of course.)
As we can see from the 5 boats that suffered 0 casualties, Israel did not set out to those boats to commit violence. We now know that a day before the violence, the flotilla commander announced that the participants planned in advance to use violent “resistance’ against “the Zionists,” and wanted to die as martyrs as much as they wanted to get to Gaza. So Israel did not set out to commit violence – they resorted to it only in the case of being attacked themselves, by violent lunatics seeking martyrdom.
So whose fault is that violence then?
(By the way, I would also like to point out that at the moment, it seems that all nine of the activists killed on the boat were Turkish nationals, with ties to IHH – an Islamist anti-Western Turkish group with known connections to global terrorist networks.)
Finally, I’d like to address the issue of the swift and loud international condemnation, and calls for an “international investigation.” First of all, I’d like to acknowledge that the loss of life and the violence on that boat is to me extremely saddening and regrettable. To be blunt, I think it’s a damn shame! I wish none of it had happened at all. (And the Israeli Prime Minister has expressed much the same sentiments himself.)
Having said that, we know that Israel has stopped multiple ships headed to Gaza several times before over the past several years, and the “international community” has never complained, so clearly they don’t have a problem with the blockade itself. And while this specific incident was certainly very unfortunate (and probably poor planning, to boot – perhaps the Israelis should have expected to be met with violent resistance, or been armed with better non-lethal weapons), there are numerous NATO-country actions going on all over the world. Actions by American, Canadian, British, and other militaries. And sometimes (sadly too often, in my opinion), civilians get hurt or even killed in those actions.
Has anyone ever called for an “international investigation” of any of those incidents?
Where is the “international investigation” of the North Koreans willfully sinking a South Korean ship in recent weeks? I will not venture to guess why the world demands an “international investigation” of every unfortunate incident Israel is involved in, while ignoring all these other events. Perhaps anyone else would like to venture a guess in the comments?
For More Info:
* Read Leslie Gelb’s take on the situation in The Daily Beast.
* For Shmuel Rosner’s take in Slate click here.
* The Minnesota JCRC’s statement can be found here.
* First hand testimony from Israeli journalist who was stationed with the Naval troops is here.
* Audio of a very informative interview with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson is here.
2 Videos of the Israeli Servicemembers Landing on the Boat and Being Immediately Attacked, Beaten, and Thrown Overboard. Enjoy.