Gaza Blockade Gets Bloody. Discuss.

Israeli Patrol Boat

“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.



[Photo: redsea2006]


About Jenna Mitelman

Jenna is a transplant to Minnesota from sunny California, where she graduated from UC Berkeley. She lives and works in Minneapolis, but secretly loves St. Paul. She is a former Human Rights Commissioner for the City of Plymouth and a regular speaker on the Arab-Israeli conflict with the JCRC Speakers' Bureau. She is also a big fan of Minnesota lakes and forests, and can regularly be found kayaking and snowshoeing up north, when she isn't rock climbing out west.

Comments. Add Yours!


  1. Noga Shavit, Minneapolis Community Shlicha

    As an Israeli, it was extremely painful for me to watch the Israeli news live all day long yesterday and see horrible displays of IDF navy seals being brutally attacked by so-called “peace activists”. But it was just as hurtful to hear statements from leaders and public figures world-wide, ignoring the violent provocation, led by well-known extremists and disguised as a “humanitarian” mission, almost eager to find Israel guilty as charged. Still, there is comfort in the fact that so many – Jews and non-Jews — in the Twin Cities and allover the USA stand hand in hand with Israel, rejecting the reckless accusation made against her and adamant in sharing the true story with the world.

  2. Noga –

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective as an Israeli. It is an important perspective to hear.

    I think it is very important for us to remember that this isn’t just some theoretical event somewhere in the world, with *important political ramifications.*

    It is incumbent on us to consider what it must be like for the people in Israel – seeing their boys viciously attacked for trying to secure their border and the safety of their people, and then seeing the entire world pile on, smearing them with dirt for daring to try and actually secure their own borders (how dare anyone not let in whoever wants to come, right? I know we certainly do here!)


  3. Just thank you for another great article.

  4. Don’t be too quick to judge Israel in ship incident
    by Steve Hunegs
    June 2, 2010

    We at the Jewish Community Relations Council offer our condolences to the loved ones and families of the innocent people killed and wounded aboard the Mavi Marmara, off the coast of Hamas-occupied Gaza, this past weekend. It is critical, however, to acknowledge that this regrettable violence could have been avoided if the armed militants who attempted to lynch the lightly armed members of the Israeli boarding party were truly interested in pursuing peace and not endless religious conflict, and the precious gifts of life instead of the perceived glories of death.

    This unfortunate incident is a painful reminder of the unenviable situation that Israel finds itself in as it protects its people while at the same time allowing food and other nonlethal supplies to flow to Gaza.

    As a sovereign nation with the right to defend itself, Israel is understandably concerned about the unfettered flow of weapons into the hands of Hamas, which violently seized control of Gaza after Israel withdrew and handed over control to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization, responsible for the indiscriminate launching of over 10,000 rockets at Israel and the intentional murder through homicide bombings of scores of innocent men, women and children. Moreover, the record is clear that Hamas is deadly serious about fulfilling its own charter, which states that Israel will exist and “will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it” and that “[t]here is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” The charter regards initiatives, proposals and international conferences as a waste of time.

    For Hamas, with its cultlike fascination with martyrdom, death, not life, is an end onto itself. Because of Hamas’ implacable hatred, Israel is unfortunately required to maintain an embargo of Gaza to prevent Hamas from using incoming materials to wage war against innocent Israeli civilians.

    Though Hamas and its supporters are the ruthless enemies of Israel and the United States, we know that the people of Gaza are not. Accordingly, in 2009 alone, Israel facilitated the movement of more than 738,000 tons of food and supplies into Gaza. In a typical week, the Israeli Defense Forces coordinate the transfer of hundreds of trucks containing about 15,000 tons of supplies — fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, sugar, dairy products and animal feed. Every day, Israel tries its best to thread the needle of allowing truly humanitarian supplies to reach the people of Gaza without allowing Hamas fighters to gain access to the weapons and supplies they need to rain death and destruction on Israel’s own vulnerable civilians.

    Consistent with its goal of allowing relief supplies to pass through to the people of Gaza, Israel repeatedly offered safe passage of the “flotilla’s” humanitarian cargo after a routine inspection for weapons and other contraband. The organizers refused and forced the Israeli Navy to intercept them en route to Gaza. Notably, despite this refusal by the “flotilla” to unload its cargo for inspection in Ashdod, on five of the six ships that Israel boarded there were no violent clashes. This demonstrates that where the passengers and crew conducted themselves peacefully, Israel responded in kind.

    It appears that the Mavi Marmara, however, carried a number of crew and passengers who, far from being “peaceful activists,” were actually committed Jihadists intent on violent “martyrdom.” For example, based upon reporting from Al-Jazeera, we know that even before the confrontation with Israeli forces, the militants aboard the Marmara were chanting Hamas-inspired slogans such as “[remember] Khaibar, Khaibar [a reference to the slaughter of Jews by Muhammad in the 7th century], oh Jews. The Army of Muhammad will return.”

    Other leaders on board, like their Hamas allies and enablers, demanded martyrdom or victory. Accordingly, unlike the peaceful outcome on the other five boats, when a handful of Israeli commandos rappelled onto the Marmara, armed with nonlethal paintball guns strapped to their backs, they were met not by nonviolent protesters but by an angry lynch mob intent on killing or wounding as many Israelis as it could. In fact, it was only after the Israelis had been viciously thrown overboard, beaten with metal rods, cut with knives, and shot at with guns, that Israel authorized its soldiers to return fire in self-defense.

    While the facts are not all yet known, video footage before and during the incident clearly verifies the violent ideology and actions of many of the Marmara’s crew and passengers.

    We urge Israel’s critics to be fair and allow time to carefully review the evidence and determine why this unfortunate violence occurred, and for whose benefit. In addition, we look forward to the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and the redoubling of efforts to ensure a lasting and durable peace, benefitting all people in the Middle East and throughout the world.


    Steve Hunegs is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

  5. Jacob –

    Thank you for posting Steve’s statement on behalf of the JCRC. I think it is good to see a single unified response from our community.


  6. UPDATE!

    (This just keeps getting better and better.)

    Today, another ship announced that it is heading for Gaza. Once again, those aboard have said their mission is try to break Israel’s naval blockade (and not just deliver supplies).

    Moreover, those aboard this new ship have also refused to land in Israel to have their cargo inspected, specifically because they are saying that some of their cargo is banned items (like concrete used by Hamas for building bunkers), and they *know* they will not be allowed to bring them in.

    In another fabulous twist, Israel has now taken all the stuff that the first flotilla brought to Gaza, but – get this! – Hamas is preventing Israel from delivering the humanitarian aid from the flotilla to Gaza!

    8 truckloads of the aid dispatched by Israel into Gaza have been refused by a Hamas official. Lovely.

    Let’s just say that this isn’t the Love Boat out there.


  7. Having blogs like this helps to create some balance to the ordinary news media. People can make up their minds about such events, but it helps to have data and analysis such as Jenna has provided to provide a bigger picture.

    As always, our JCRC represents the Jewish community with sensitivity, insight, and powerful appeal to those looking for reason and rational thinking.

    I hope many in the community will hera Daniel Gordis in the next couple of days here in the Twin Cities. His thinking on the Gaza flotilla is so helpful.

  8. Bravo and Mazel Tov to TC Jewfolk for Jenna’s brilliant analysis of the loony global reaction to Israel’s defensive blockade against the terrorist group Hamas. Unfortunately, the Israel-o-phobes in the mainstream media (including here in the Twin Cities) seem all too eager to swallow the shameless spin that the Palestinian PR mavens wield like hatchets. Where was the international community’s condemnation when hundreds of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets rained down on Israel?
    I’m going to go out and buy some Israel bonds (along with some felafel) to express my support for this brave little nation.

  9. Thank you for your comments, Rabbi Cohen!

    I definitely do encourage everyone to attend Daniel Gordis’ talk at the Sabes JCC tomorrow (Thursday) night at 7:00 pm. The topic of his talk is “Saving Israel: How the Jewish State Can Win a War That May Never End,” but I’m guessing that the flotilla issue may come up, as well.

    I also wanted to share this terrific article in Slate magazine on the doctrine of proportionality. What does a “proportional response” actually look like? For blockade breakers? How about for terrorists? Actual states at war?

    Juliet Lapidos writes that “proportionality” is highly subjective. She says that “[t]he concept isn’t a mandate for tit-for-tat violence. States may deter future assaults aggressively…” and the important thing is to determine “which actions count as reasonable and necessary.” Enjoy!

  10. A Jew with a view

    I found the following very interesting and puts a question as to the “civilian” status of those participating in the flotilla. Perhaps they should be considered in the same light as the US and other countries’ Merchnat marines. Please read the following:

    The United States Merchant Marine refers to the fleet of U.S. civilian-owned merchant ships, operated by either the government or the private sector, that are engaged in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States. The Merchant Marine is responsible for transporting cargo and passengers during peace time. In time of war, the Merchant Marine[1] is an auxiliary to the Navy, and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies for the military. The merchant marine is a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Navy, but not a uniformed service, except in times of war when, in accordance with the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, mariners are considered military personnel. Other countries have similar types of service.

    I think there should be serious discussion as to whether these activitist lost there “civilian” status through their activities.

    I refer your readers to the following 2 links with additional information.

    What no one seems to be discussing is that once again “civilians” are being put into harms way in order to do Hamas’ bidding.

  11. May be Israel needs to send a flotilla of Armenians, Kurds, and Cypriots to Turkey to demand they end their occupation of Western Armenia, Kurdistan, and Cyprus?

  12. Thank you Jenna for your excellent and honest commentary. I found this video and wanted to post it; an extremely brave young man; I am so proud of him.

  13. I hope that many of the Jews who support Israeli policy toward the territories can truly sympathize with what’s going on in Arizona. Because the Arizona law will keep hard drugs, weapons and kidnappers and murderers out of the U.S.

  14. >> I hope that many of the Jews who support Israeli policy toward the territories can truly sympathize with what’s going on in Arizona. Because the Arizona law will keep hard drugs, weapons and kidnappers and murderers out of the U.S. <<

    And this comment is based upon what evidence?

    Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik says the law is "stupid and it's racist":

    "I think it's simply political fornickaboobery," Dupnik said.

  15. victoriaipb Reston VA

    May God guard and protect Israel! My heart goes out to this brave nation.

  16. Thank you Ira. Your salient question motivated me to find this evidence:

    Do you support illegal immigration to the U.S.?

  17. Clear simple analysis…

    Those troublesome Jews

    Charles Krauthammer
    Friday, June 4, 2010

    The world is outraged at Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Turkey denounces its illegality, inhumanity, barbarity, etc. The usual U.N. suspects, Third World and European, join in. The Obama administration dithers.

    But as Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, the blockade is not just perfectly rational, it is perfectly legal. Gaza under Hamas is a self-declared enemy of Israel — a declaration backed up by more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilian territory. Yet having pledged itself to unceasing belligerency, Hamas claims victimhood when Israel imposes a blockade to prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets.

    In World War II, with full international legality, the United States blockaded Germany and Japan. And during the October 1962 missile crisis, we blockaded (“quarantined”) Cuba. Arms-bearing Russian ships headed to Cuba turned back because the Soviets knew that the U.S. Navy would either board them or sink them. Yet Israel is accused of international criminality for doing precisely what John Kennedy did: impose a naval blockade to prevent a hostile state from acquiring lethal weaponry.

    Oh, but weren’t the Gaza-bound ships on a mission of humanitarian relief? No. Otherwise they would have accepted Israel’s offer to bring their supplies to an Israeli port, be inspected for military materiel and have the rest trucked by Israel into Gaza — as every week 10,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are sent by Israel to Gaza.

    Why was the offer refused? Because, as organizer Greta Berlin admitted, the flotilla was not about humanitarian relief but about breaking the blockade, i.e., ending Israel’s inspection regime, which would mean unlimited shipping into Gaza and thus the unlimited arming of Hamas.

    Israel has already twice intercepted ships laden with Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah and Gaza. What country would allow that?

    But even more important, why did Israel even have to resort to blockade? Because, blockade is Israel’s fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself — forward and active defense.

    (1) Forward defense: As a small, densely populated country surrounded by hostile states, Israel had, for its first half-century, adopted forward defense — fighting wars on enemy territory (such as the Sinai and Golan Heights) rather than its own.

    Where possible (Sinai, for example) Israel has traded territory for peace. But where peace offers were refused, Israel retained the territory as a protective buffer zone. Thus Israel retained a small strip of southern Lebanon to protect the villages of northern Israel. And it took many losses in Gaza, rather than expose Israeli border towns to Palestinian terror attacks. It is for the same reason America wages a grinding war in Afghanistan: You fight them there, so you don’t have to fight them here.

    But under overwhelming outside pressure, Israel gave it up. The Israelis were told the occupations were not just illegal but at the root of the anti-Israel insurgencies — and therefore withdrawal, by removing the cause, would bring peace.

    Land for peace. Remember? Well, during the past decade, Israel gave the land — evacuating South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. What did it get? An intensification of belligerency, heavy militarization of the enemy side, multiple kidnappings, cross-border attacks and, from Gaza, years of unrelenting rocket attack.

    (2) Active defense: Israel then had to switch to active defense — military action to disrupt, dismantle and defeat (to borrow President Obama’s description of our campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda) the newly armed terrorist mini-states established in southern Lebanon and Gaza after Israel withdrew.

    The result? The Lebanon war of 2006 and Gaza operation of 2008-09. They were met with yet another avalanche of opprobrium and calumny by the same international community that had demanded the land-for-peace Israeli withdrawals in the first place. Worse, the U.N. Goldstone report, which essentially criminalized Israel’s defensive operation in Gaza while whitewashing the casus belli — the preceding and unprovoked Hamas rocket war — effectively de-legitimized any active Israeli defense against its self-declared terror enemies.

    (3) Passive defense: Without forward or active defense, Israel is left with but the most passive and benign of all defenses — a blockade to simply prevent enemy rearmament. Yet, as we speak, this too is headed for international de-legitimation. Even the United States is now moving toward having it abolished.

    But, if none of these is permissible, what’s left?

    Ah, but that’s the point. It’s the point understood by the blockade-busting flotilla of useful idiots and terror sympathizers, by the Turkish front organization that funded it, by the automatic anti-Israel Third World chorus at the United Nations, and by the supine Europeans who’ve had quite enough of the Jewish problem.

    What’s left? Nothing. The whole point of this relentless international campaign is to deprive Israel of any legitimate form of self-defense. Why, just last week, the Obama administration joined the jackals, and reversed four decades of U.S. practice, by signing onto a consensus document that singles out Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons — thus de-legitimizing Israel’s very last line of defense: deterrence.

    The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

  18. Sometimes the best response to a serious situation is humor. The following youtube video is great satire. I hope Jon Stewart highlights it and it goes viral: