Monday, May 31, 2010

The Dual Tragedy of The Flotilla

The events off the coast of Gaza in the early hours of Monday morning were a significant moment in the history of the State of Israel. More than that, they were a dual tragedy.

Before we go any further, it must be made abundantly clear that neither I nor anyone I know rejoices in the deaths of these activists. It is not in our nature to celebrate the deaths of anyone, not even those who were part of a group that had earlier chanted “Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad saya'ud," meaning "Jews remember Khaybar, the army of Mohammed is returning," a reference to a seventh-century Muslim massacre and expulsion of Jews from Khaybar, which is in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Despite this despicable loathsomeness, with the benefit of hindsight, I'd much rather that the ships had safely docked in Gaza than lives being needlessly wasted.

At the time of going to press, 15 people have died as a result of the IDF’s boarding the flotilla as it approached Gaza, but this does not mean that I criticize the actions of the IDF. Neither do I reserve criticism of the actions of these "human rights" activists. Taking a glance at some of the headlines from the world media, one would be forgiven that Israel had stormed aid ships for no particular reason. "Deadly clashes at sea as Israel intercepts Gaza-bound aid ships," reports the Times of London. "10 Reported Killed as Israel Raids Boats Headed to Gaza" announces the New York Times.

Even reading the headline on the Jerusalem Post, "At least 15 activists dead, dozens hurt in flotilla clashes", it is hard to get away from the pervading sense of injustice felt from that now all too familiar of situations; Israeli troops acting heavy-handedly and killing unarmed civilians. Irrespective of whether their actions were right or wrong, the balance appears so lop-sided, peace activists on the one hand and soldiers on the other, that most people's minds are made up well before they read the articles themselves.

But a serious question lies at the heart of the affair. How and why did a supposedly passive peace demonstration turn rowdy to the degree for the military forces who had boarded the boat to feel threatened enough to open fire? The answer has been stated repeatedly of the last few days and stares us in the face: these were no peace activists. These were no human rights activists, these people had a very clear agenda in mind: the delegitimization of Israel.

Much has been said of this deligitimization of Israel, but what is it? What is being delegitimized, exactly? Well, Israel's right to defense, for one. When every single defense operation is questioned, criticized and consequently condemned, we would do well to realize that we are witnessing the systematic denial of Israel’s right to defend herself.

Similarly, when events like the death of Mohammed Al-Dura in 2000, the so-called “Massacre in Jenin” in 2002, the bombing of Hezballah forces in Qana, Lebanon in 2006, and the “disproportional” Israeli offensive on Hamas in Operation Cast Lead are spun out of all proportion, we must understand that the damage done to Israel’s image is long lasting and its ability to strike out at terrorists is being methodically wiped out.

There’s one question I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the last few years: “And how would you handle it?” I’ve imagined this question being asked of Kofi Annan, Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and now I ask it of these activists and their supporters. Maybe Israel’s actions aren’t always correct, but Israel has the sovereign right to act in the way it deems fit. If you don’t like the way we deal with terrorists, how about proposing an alternative solution to prevent Hamas proliferating its stockpile of military grade weaponry? If you don’t like human shields, and you shouldn’t if you care about human rights, how do you propose that the IDF tackles Hamas, an extremist group bent on Israel’s destruction that also happens to make extensive use of this tactic?

News agencies worldwide reported that the Israeli Navy stormed a flotilla carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists and tons of supplies for Gaza on Monday morning. But they didn’t give more than passing mention to the fact that these pro-Palestinian activists had intentionally and deliberately provoked the IDF into acting. Amid reports from the IDF which claims that soldiers were met by well-planned lynch involving concealed handguns, knives, bats and metal pipes, we would do well to note that prior to boarding the flotilla, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, Commander of the Israeli Navy, briefed the forces who participated in the interception of these protest boats, and called on them not be dragged into provocations with the passengers of the ship.

Referring to previous experience with such protesters, Marom explained that no matter what “provocation that they may create, and there are here a number of soldiers that participated in past events, for example to throw cigarettes, spitting, cursing, and so forth; we do not respond to these types of actions.” While Marom correctly identified these “peace activists” as paradoxically unpleasant to deal with, even he could not have predicted that there would be those amongst their number who would attempt to steal the soldiers’ guns, let alone stab them. But that is precisely what occurred. For us to regard these people as genuine peace activists would be a real tragedy.

Gen. Maj. Marom explained that “we have no intention of harming any of these people”, but that was sadly not the case with the activists. Beyond physically hurting the soldiers, their intention to give Israel’s image a good hiding could not be clearer. We may call them pro-Palestinian activists, but that would be a fib, for they had plenty of other options available to them, but instead went for the cheap PR stunt. And yet the PR stunt is the one way that wins. Israel yet again emerges as the loser, it’s entitlement to protect its population damaged. Worse still, this affair sets a dangerous precedent. Even after the criticism has faded and the media move on to the next big story, Israel will be left as many as 15 “Rachel Corries” to explain, 15 more images of Israeli brutality, injustice, violent excess. No matter whether the deceased foolishly tried to provoke soldiers in their last moments, they will become icons for the anti-Israel movement for an eternity.

The events off the coast of Gaza in the early hours of Monday morning were a dual tragedy. People died, and for that I grieve. But if Israel’s right to defend itself continues to be eroded, and if a precedent has been set here, more people will die. And that would be an even greater tragedy.


  1. Great post. They essentially committed suicide, as they so love to do. Luckily the passengers on the other 5 ships had the sense not to try and take on the IDF.

  2. So what is the answer? Israel must defend itself....yet as you say and i am cognizant of ISrael's image suffers.

    I think ISrael needs to forget about what other nations think and protect herself...not aonly that ..She must STOP this war of attrition and fight to WIN. end the suffering.

  3. Very apt...have you ready Caroline Glick's op-ed on the situation (as it relates to the NPT of last Friday) and if so do you agree with her?


    I applaud your posting (and will add your blog as regular reading material from now on).

    On my blog I commented from a British angle on the events, headlined by "Arabs Shedding Crocodile Tears":

  5. Thanks, all. Good to know you're reading and like my scribbles.

    FreeToWrite, I hadn't read Caroline's column. I have now, though. I think she makes some good points, notably her main one that the Israeli leadership fails to identify the threat properly. I think I do agree with her, if not quite 100%.

    Anyway, thank you - you've given me some food for thought.

    By the way, if you liked this post, please give it a good rating here:

    Thank you :)

  6. Revital....Im reading this and still trying to keep a open mind and see the other point of view......

  7. I do agree with your opinion about this flotilla incident

    but I have a question
    how long shall this right to defend ourselves(Israel) will last?
    People do get hurt - and A lot by it, do you really believe that we could just defend ourselves until the end of times?
    Or - do you really believe that we could win like this?

  8. The answer is that you don't do this type of operation at night. You do it in broad daylight with film crews and sound so the world doesn't have to guess as to who fired first. Israel was justified, yes, but the execution was poor.

  9. I agree that the issue is complex and both sides have somewhat responsibility in how it ended, but Israel needs to start communicating with more ways than violence.
    Boarding a ship with armed commandos is an agression within itself. Why didn't they wait until tha flotilla reached Israeli waters and asked if the coast guard could examine their cargo?

  10. Top website, I had not come across before during my searches!
    Continue the great work!