Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Remarkable, Emotional Flotilla Incident
by David Gilfix

The most remarkable part of the recent Flotilla incident is how quickly it took world opinion to place blame on Israel.  Within minutes after the news story was released, the condemnations began, with almost everyone regurgitating their version of the same story:

Evil Israel attacks the peace-loving, humanitarian human-rights workers as they courageously attempt to break the embargo of Gaza in order to relieve the suffering of its poor citizens.

The problem is that almost everything in the story’s spin was debatable: 

The Flotilla was not a human rights operation.  That misperception arose perhaps because the name of one of the major sponsors of the Flotilla was the IHH, the Turkish based “Foundation for Human Rights.”   If the journalists and politicians who gulped down the spin had done their job, they would have discovered that the name was a façade.   According to former French investigating judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the IHH had “clear, long-standing ties to terrorism and Jihad.”  In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Bruguiere said that the IHH was critical to helping Al-Qaida when bin Laden wanted to target U.S. soil. The Flotilla even refused a request by the parents of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to deliver to him the first letter he would have received in four years.

People nostalgic for 1960s era images of Kumbaya-singing civil rights workers resisting arrests in order to integrate department stores couldn’t have found a movement less similar.  In fact, far from singing Kumbaya, a recent Youtube video shows Flotilla members singing a traditional terrorists' battle song about killing Jews right before embarking on their expedition.

Nor was the Flotilla’s mission “peace loving.” Consider that Gaza is in a state of War with Israel.  It is run by Hamas, whose charter advocates for the violent overthrow of Israel.  Hamas, which is on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, has refused offers of peace, and has fired over 4,000 rockets into Israel.  Given Gaza’s declared objective and history of firing rockets and supporting terrorists, Israel imposed an embargo to prevent Gaza from receiving more weapons.  By attempting to break the embargo, the Flotilla activists were essentially campaigning to help Gaza secure more weapons with which to kill Israelis.

If these activists were truly interested in peace and justice, then they could have concentrated their efforts on pressuring Hamas to renounce terrorism and accept peace with Israel, which would have effectively ended the embargo. 

Nor was the goal of the Flotilla to provide food for the supposedly “suffering” Gaza citizens.  That goal could have been accomplished more easily by sending food shipments directly to Israel proper where they would have been first searched for weapons and then distributed via the huge convoys of trucks which carry provisions into Gaza every day.

If the Flotilla activists really wanted to relieve the discomfort of Gaza citizens, they would have confronted Gaza citizens with the hard truth:  that the price Gaza pays for working towards Israel's destruction rather than its own development is its faltering economy and the embargo.

Nor is it likely that Israeli commandos attacked the Flotilla.  Consider that five of the ships followed Israel’s instructions to dock in the Israeli port city of Ashdod without incident.  Israel carefully examined the contents of the supplies and, as promised, they then transported those supplies to Gaza.  The sixth ship, the Mavi Marmara, was different.  According to Israeli accounts, passengers yielding clubs, bats, knives, guns, and stun guns savagely attacked Israeli commandos who descended by rope via helicopter.  What did the Israeli commandos bring with them?  Paint guns.  Their goal was to secure control of the ship without violence; the guns were merely for show.

Are the Israeli accounts credible?  Shortly after the incident, network news stations broadcasted fuzzy videos of the fighting and allowed both Flotilla and Israeli spokesmen to provide their interpretations.  Since then, Israel has released a new video taken from an Israeli boat that was racing to provide backup to its beleaguered soldiers, and there can be no doubt that the Israelis were attacked by the so-called peace-loving humanitarians, not the other way around. 

The video shows a brutal attack on the arriving Israeli soldiers.  It is notable that not a single soldier is seen drawing a weapon – not even a knife.   Claiming that they saw their comrades being attacked, as we see in the videos, the backup soldiers did draw real weapons in their defense, what any soldier in any army would do.

Unfortunately, none of this makes any difference to world opinion.  The Flotilla incident involved a vicious battle on a ship, but it was also an emotional battle for world opinion - one that Israel lost because people preferred spin to substance and quick judgments over careful analysis.  As the Flotilla organizers must have known, once you win the emotional battle, everything else becomes irrelevant. The public outcry and animus against Israel cannot be wiped away with another, “oops, sorry,” from the journalists and politicians who discover their mistakes after fueling the outrage.  Emotions are like bones: if you break one you can’t unbreak it afterwards.

The reality is that world opinion would prefer that Israelis not defend themselves.  World opinion would prefer to blame Israel for an embargo than to pressure Hamas to abandon their tactic of jettisoning 4,000 rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza or their fundamental goal of destroying Israel through violent attacks. Given the extreme bias of world opinion, reflected by a United Nations that has passed more resolutions condemning Israel than all other 191 countries combined, none of this should be surprising.  But in the 21st century, it is still remarkable that our expectations for Israeli are devoid of historical precedence.

For a related Counter Rhythms article, please read What Really Happened in Gaza?


Additional Videos
Censored Footage from the Gaza Flotilla - How Violence Breaks Out

Related article
Speech about the left, the media, and Israel by Pilar Rahola, Spanish politician, journalist and human rights activist


Anonymous said...

I applaud your well-reasoned analysis of the flotilla incident. You have done the heavy lifting that each of us should do as citizens of a democracy. How unfortunate that we cannot rely on the press to give an un-biased account of incidents such as this that involve Israel.

abe c said...

All true and yet...Hamas may have scored a victory in world opinion. And now Egypt my relax its embargo.

smart-cuss said...

Until the historians reveal the equivalent of the "Cuban Missile Crisis"discussions on the decision to send commandos onto that ship, I'll keep an open mind on any final conclusions.
However; David, as always, presents a well-reasoned, well written discussion.

Anonymous said...

Your article is exceptionally well written and thought out. Of course the world press and the UN are condemning Israel for its actions. What would any thinking person expect? And therein lies the problem. Why is Israel under the hawkish leadership of Netanyahu acting in such a stupid way. Hamas does not have to do anything at this point but sit back while Israel shoots itself in the foot. The Israeli government is acting like Keystone Kops.

Anonymous said...

I think it is more complicated actually. I would argue that the IHH co-opted peace groups and used them as cover.
Israel though needs to figure out why the international community always votes against them, clearly they are considered the big bully in this conflict (with our guns no less)and realize that they need peace more than Hamas does.
the other David

David Gilfix said...

In addition to the IHH, the other “peace groups” that sponsored the Flotilla included the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which supports an arms struggle against Israel and the European based ECESG, which is a pro-Hamas group. Even passengers on the Flotilla who were not associated with terrorist groups knew that their real mission was to help bring an end to an embargo. (This was not an “aid” mission; Israel and Egypt had both offered to bring the Flotilla’s goods to Gaza after they were searched, and the Flotilla rejected those offers). Choosing to challenge an embargo that was imposed to protect Israel from violent attacks, rather than opposing Gaza’s goal of violently attacking Israel, is not the action of a peace group.

Israel needs to be smart politically, but sometimes security trumps politics. A world that has passed more resolutions condemning Israel than all other countries combined demonstrates an irrational antipathy towards Israel. Determining the cause of this antipathy is largely irrelevant.

The other, other David
P.S I have inserted, today, a link to an interesting speech by Catalonian liberal human rights author Pilar Rahola, which further explores this point. If you go back to the article you will find the link at the bottom.