I got an email from my adoring mother earlier today urging me to write a piece for the Jerusalem Post or the New York Times or SOME newspaper, putting the latest Middle East circus—in this case, the Gaza-bound “freedom flotilla”—into perspective.
While I’m touched at her confidence in my erudition, and the fact that she thinks someone might actually publish a political piece by an unknown 40-something mom whose main qualification for the job is that she’s read lots of books, lives here, reads the paper, and has her head screwed on right, I probably won’t follow her suggestion. There are plenty of people much better qualified than I to write for the Post (and already have, actually—there was a very good editorial called “Sailing for Hamas” in last Friday’s Post). And besides, for now at least, my forum is really here at Shimshonit.com.
But if perspective is required in this situation, I will do my best to provide it.
To begin with, a number of questions should be asked about this incident:
- Who organized and carried out the flotilla?
- What goods were they attempting to deliver?
- What was their purpose?
- Why is there a blockade of Gaza?
- Is the Israeli blockade of Gaza legal?
- Are Gazans denied basic goods and services as a result of the blockade?
Once the facts are established about this incident, perspective should be easily arrived at.
The answers to the questions as I’ve been able to find them are the following:
It seems the organizers of the flotilla, rather than being peace activists and Western kumbaya-singers, are the IHH, a Turkish “humanitarian” organization that sometimes funnels humanitarian relief to “areas of war and conflict,” and in addition has close ties to Islamist terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Hamas. (Support for this definition can be found here and here.) In other words, Bono and Bianca Jagger are not on board. Before the flotilla set sail, the family of Gilad Schalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped nearly four years ago and held by Hamas since, contacted the organizers and asked them to deliver packages from the family to their son. The refusal of the organizers to accept anything meant for Schalit only reinforces the suspicions one should have of this group’s true “humanitarian” mission.
The Israeli Navy, on boarding the ships, discovered that the cargo these “humanitarians” were carrying included known arms smugglers and weapons. Their outward purpose was to aid Gazans, but their true purpose was to carry out a violent confrontation with the Israeli Navy. Hours before they were due to meet on the high seas, the Israelis contacted the ships’ crews, offering to deliver any humanitarian goods through normal channels, including regular land convoys into Gaza from Israel. They were refused. The “activists” were correct in guessing that arms and explosives do not count as “humanitarian” goods in Israel’s book.
The purpose of this circus? To stage a dramatic but pointless exercise in order to garner attention as part of the media war being waged against Israel by Islamists and their sympathizers. (Indeed, Ismail Haniyeh said before the mission set sail, “If the ships reach Gaza, it is a victory; if they are intercepted, it will be a victory too.”) No friends of Hamas could seriously imagine successfully delivering a shipment of “supplies” (much less weapons) through the blockade without facing a showdown with the Israeli Navy. Such a mission was totally unnecessary, except as a publicity stunt. And I would say that it will probably prove successful as such, given that few who read the news are going to get the whole story or ask too many questions, and instead will walk away with the image in their minds of a bunch of GI Yossi’s being lowered from helicopters onto the ships with (if you believe the accounts of Al Jazeera and the Turks) guns blazing. (What actually happened, according to the film footage and the accounts of the Israeli sailors who boarded the boats, was closer to what happened to the Israelis in Ramallah in 2000, with “activists” assaulting Israeli seamen with knives, metal pipes, firebombs, and other implements. Attacks can be seen on film here and here.)
Why is there a blockade of Gaza in the first place? Because Gaza is currently governed by a terrorist organization, Hamas, which is recognized as such by most of the civilized countries in the world, and whose charter states one of its primary goals as that of destroying Israel. It orchestrated a bloody coup (meaning nearly 250 Hamas and Fatah party members were killed, and 98 civilians, including 7 children) to oust democratically elected Fatah representatives from Gaza and establish an Islamist, terrorist government against the will of its own electorate. This led to an increase in the number of mortars fired across the border into Israel (almost daily, and sometimes several a day), terrorizing Israeli civilians in farms and cities located near Gaza. Hamas has shown no interest in participating in the peace process, it has held an Israeli soldier for nearly four years without allowing the International Red Cross any access to him (in violation of international law), and has continued to arm itself in preparation for future conflicts with Israel. While Israel does allow medical supplies and food into the Strip, it is sparing in the amount of construction materials it allows, since those can be used to build bunkers and explosives which are naturally intended for Hamas’s dedicated harassment and terror war against Israel.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza, isolating a terrorist organization openly bent on destroying it, is perfectly legal in every way. The argument of collective punishment falls flat when coming from nations who accept the validity of sanctions against other rogue governments, especially when those governments were not elected through any democratic process whatsoever, and even more when those critics live next to other peaceable nations. If Hamas and the people of Gaza were interested in building a nation for themselves, and were willing to renounce violence and terror, Israel would be the first nation to offer to give them assistance. But alas, this seems unlikely at this time.
Gazans receive regular supplies from Israel necessary for their survival under the neglectful governance of Hamas. This was provided even during Operation Cast Lead, when a cease-fire was called on a daily basis to allow convoys of trucks to enter the Strip to ease the suffering of the Arabs there. It is true that Gazans are not thriving as well as they might be under the governance of a more civic-oriented government. This is unfortunate, but it is not Israel’s fault. By withdrawing all military presence and uprooting 8000 of its own citizens, Israel attempted to give the Arabs a fresh start in a (judenrein) state of their own. Through their own ignorance and monomaniacal hatred of Israel, they chose to elect a ruthless cadre of despots whose violence toward those of the other political party, stranglehold of the press, servitude to the agenda of an sponsor state dedicated to worldwide terror (Iran), and appalling neglect of its own citizens make it one of the worst possible regimes to have taken hold of what might have been a free and independent Palestinian State. The primary responsibility for the welfare of the citizens of Gaza lies with Hamas, not Israel.
I’m not sure what other perspective is needed here. Those who will cry foul at the boarding and diverting of this flotilla of felons will either be those who have not bothered to ask the questions above, or to seek out the answers beyond the exciting images and scanty articles (with few facts and no background) put out by a similarly ignorant and hostile press. Those who try hard to rally around Israel, especially in its defense, will—unless they inform themselves—find themselves backing into a corner and stammering rather than making a strong and simple case for Israel. In a nutshell, those who organized this act of piracy and those who (ignorantly or with full knowledge of the group’s intentions) support them, are supporters of terrorism, are against peace between Israel and the Arabs, and care no more about the civilians of Gaza than its own government. Those who view the fracas as a cheap media stunt and an unlawful act against a sovereign nation are the true humanitarians here—people who believe in the rule of law, in the right of nations to secure borders, and in peace.
Additional details about the day’s events can also be found on The Muqata blog. And the Jewish Federation of North America has compiled a number of facts (reproduced below) relating to the incident and disseminated them via email. (Perhaps they’ll even get around to putting them on their website.) The facts themselves are informative (such as the fact that what was on the boats was only about 2/3 of what Israel itself sends the Gazans on a weekly basis; was it worth it?), but what I find particularly striking is the warning by the National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau to Israelis in Turkey to stay inside their hotel rooms and homes and avoid public places and areas where demonstrations are taking place. While I’m sure this is sound advice, it does put me in mind of the practice of Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages to confine themselves to their houses on Christmas and Easter to avoid becoming the unfortunate victims of Yule- or Eastertide lynching parties. (Ah, the bad old days.)
NEWS ALERT: BACKGROUND ON FLOTILLA INCIDENT
As many of you may be aware, a major confrontation took place off Israel’s coast earlier today. We wanted to bring you the most up-to-date information from JFNA’s Israel office, for your background. We have summarized the major points below. This is followed by additional facts and links to other important materials on this incident.
- Early this morning (May 31), Israel Defense Forces naval forces intercepted six ships attempting to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
- The intercept took place after numerous warnings from Israel and the Israel Navy that were issued prior to the action. The Israel Navy requested the ships to redirect toward Ashdod, where they would be able to unload their cargo which would then be transferred to Gaza over land after undergoing security inspections. The IDF stressed that the passengers could then return to their point of departure on the same vessels.
- During the interception of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF naval personnel with live gunfire as well as light weaponry including knives, crowbars and clubs. The demonstrators had clearly prepared weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
- According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. These militants apparently grabbed the pistols from IDF forces and opened fire on the soldiers.
- The activists were carrying 10,000 tons of reported aid to Gaza. Israel provides 15,000 tons of aid weekly to Gaza.
- As a result of this life-threatening activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including, when they determined that their lives were in immediate danger, live fire. According to initial reports, these events resulted in over 10 deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injured.
- A number of Israeli naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire and others from knives and crowbars. Two of the soldiers are moderately wounded and the remainder sustained light injuries.
- All of the injured, Israelis and foreigners, are currently being evacuated by a fleet of IDF helicopters to hospitals in Israel.
- Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that some of the participants onboard the ships had planned a lynch-mob attack, using lethal force on the boarding forces.
- The events are still unfolding. Israeli Naval commander, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom is overseeing the activities.
- In the coming hours, the ships will be directed to the Ashdod port, while IDF naval forces will perform security checks in order to identify the people on board the ships and their equipment.
- The IDF naval operation was carried out under orders from the political leadership to halt the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip and breaching the naval blockade.
Other important facts:
- The provocateurs were organized by an Islamist organization that has links to fundamentalist jihadi groups.
- The extremists brought small children on board knowing that they intended to violate international maritime law.
- The activists were carrying 10,000 tons of what they said was aid. Israel transfers about 15,000 tons of supplies and humanitarian aid every week to the people of Gaza.
- “We fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation or threats of violence against us, they are going to have to forcefully stop us,” said one of the flotilla’s organizers.
- Using the Arabic term ‘intifada,’ Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the whole world.
- Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said this week: “If the ships reach Gaza it is a victory; if they are intercepted, it will be a victory too.
- Israel left Gaza in hopes of peace in 2005 and in return received more than 10,000 rockets and terrorist attacks.
- Israel has said that it will deliver any humanitarian aid to Gaza, as it does daily.
- No country would allow illegal entry of any vessel into their waters without a security check.
- Earlier this week, Noam Shalit, father of Hamas-held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, approached the flotilla’s organizers asking them to take supplies to Gilad. He was refused.
Here are additional resources for further background on this issue:
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon’s press conference on the flotilla incident:
Israel Goes on High Alert in the Wake of Flotilla Incident:
IDF Met with Pre-Planned Violence When Boarding Ship:
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s Statement: Activists Had Weapons:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement about the humanitarian situation in Gaza:
MFA legal expert Sarah Weiss Maudi explains why the flotilla was not allowed to dock at Gaza:
Legal Backgrounder on maritime law and other related issues, from MFA:
A fascinating Al-Jazeera report on the flotilla before they left that offers insight into who was on board. One says: “We are now waiting for one of two good things — either to achieve martyrdom or to reach Gaza:”
Video of a “peace activist” stabbing an Israeli soldier as he boards the boat:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Expresses Full Backing for the IDF:
Prime Minister Netanyahu today spoke by telephone with the relevant security ministers and officials, and was updated on the action and subsequent developments. In his discussions with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Minister Moshe Yaalon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and ISA Director Yuval Diskin, the Prime Minister issued security, diplomatic and information directives, reiterated his full backing for the IDF and inquired about the well-being of the wounded.
The National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau (NSCCTB) has released the following statement:
“In response to the events surrounding the protest flotilla, there are growing protests by the government and public in Turkey. At this stage, relatively quiet demonstrations are taking place around the Israeli Consulate General in Istanbul and the Israeli Embassy in Ankara. This delicate state of affairs is liable to deteriorate into violent outbreaks against Israelis in Turkey.
The NSCCTB’s recommendations are as follows:
Israelis due to leave for Turkey should – at this stage – refrain from travelling until the situation becomes clear.
Israelis currently in Turkey should remain in their places of residence, avoid city centers and sites in which demonstrations are being held, and monitor developments out of concern that the situation could worsen.