01 June 2010

Reflections on the Gaza blockade

The world is understandably in uproar about the loss of life on board the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara as it tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza yesterday.

Some observations on the event, and the context within which it happened:

(1)    Take no notice of assertions by Israeli Government spokesmen like Defence Minister Ehud Barak or Israeli Government mouthpiece Mark Regev that the violence was started by the protesters.  The maintenance of the siege on Gaza is itself the first act of violence – the forceful prevention of innocent civilians from acquiring the daily necessities of life to the extent that they can afford them.

(2)    So too is the enforcement of the blockade, whether on land or at sea. It is a statement that we make the rules, and if you proceed we will apply to you whatever force we consider it expedient to apply.

(3)    The interception in international waters of a civilian ship of a country (Turkey) with which Israel is supposedly at peace is an outrageous act of piracy, as is the kidnapping and detention of all of the people on board the flotilla.

(4)    The fact that the one of the most powerful armed forces in the world could not figure out a way to take control of a civilian ship without killing ten people and wounding many more is an act of egregious military incompetence.

(5)    In particular, no-one who wanted a peaceful solution would rappel commandos onto the deck from military helicopters at four o’clock in the morning, given the numbers on board. This was no doubt intended to generate shock and awe; the trouble with that is that one cannot be sure whether, when the adrenalin starts to pump, the reaction will be flight or fight. In this case it seems to have generated anger and fight, a response which Israeli Government spokesman Mark Regev puts down to the fact that they were all radical Islamist extremists with links to terrorist organisations. He might find that explanation satisfying but I doubt that many others will.

(6)    The incompetence on display is born partly of the extraordinary aggressiveness of the Israeli Defence Force.  It is so habituated to the application of overwhelming violence that it seems incapable of graduated responses, and it is accustomed to applying lethal force with no questions asked, no accountability.

(7)    The aggressiveness is also born of hubris – the Israelis believe that they can do whatever they like and there will be no reckoning to pay. The Americans unwittingly reinforce this attitude.  When the Americans say that they are absolutely committed to the security of Israel they mean that the Israelis can afford to lighten up a bit, the most powerful nation in history is on their side. What the Israelis hear, however, is the message that it does not matter how badly they behave, the Americans will support them.

(8)    Consider what happened on the deck of Mavi Marmara yesterday and ask yourself whether you really believe that there were no war crimes committed by the Israeli Defence Force during the invasion of Gaza, that there is nothing in the Goldstone Report which requires investigation (as our own government would prefer to believe).  I don’t believe a word of it, and at least one Israeli commentator has made that connection – see Akiva Eldar’s Border Control/Did someone say Goldstone? in the left of centre Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, 1 June 2010.

(9)    There is no shortage of despairing Israeli commentary about this debacle.  See for example Bradley Burston’s A Special Place in Hell/The Second Gaza War: Israel lost at sea, published in Ha’aretz on 31 May 2010.  Burston writes:

A war tells a people terrible truths about itself. That is why it is so difficult to listen.

We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second. For Israel, in the end, this Second Gaza War could be far more costly and painful than the first.

In going to war in Gaza in late 2008, Israeli military and political leaders hoped to teach Hamas a lesson. They succeeded. Hamas learned that the best way to fight Israel is to let Israel do what it has begun to do naturally: bluster, blunder, stonewall, and fume.

Hamas, and no less, Iran and Hezbollah, learned early on that Israel's own embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza was the most sophisticated and powerful weapon they could have deployed against the Jewish state.

Here in Israel, we have still yet to learn the lesson: We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam.

(10)  More in similar vein from Gideon Levy in Operation Mini Cast Lead, Ha’aretz, 1 June 2010:

Like in "Mini-Israel," the park where there is everything, but smaller, Israel embarked yesterday on a mini Operation Cast Lead. Like its larger, losing predecessor, this operation had it all: the usual false claim that is was they who had started it - and not the landing of commandos from helicopters on a ship in open sea, away from Israeli territorial waters. There was the claim that the first act of violence came not from the soldiers, but the rioting activists on Mavi Marmara; that the blockade on Gaza is legal and that the flotilla to its shores is against the law - God knows which law.

This action also featured the pathetic focus on "public relations," as if there is something to explain, and again the sick question was asked: Why didn't the soldiers use more force.

Again Israel will pay a heavy diplomatic price, once which had not been considered ahead of time. Again, the Israeli propaganda machine has managed to convince only brainwashed Israelis, and once more no one asked the question: What was it for? Why were our soldiers thrown into this trap of pipes and ball bearings? What did we get out of it?

If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series. Israel proved yesterday that it learned nothing from the first movie.

(11)  The first law of digging holes is, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Israel has yet to learn this lesson. It responded to the election of a Hamas Government in a free and fair election in 2006 by imposing collective punishment on the people who elected it, in the form of a blockade, a blockade so rigorous that 80% of the people of Gaza depend upon humanitarian aid from the UN, and the people whose homes were destroyed in the Israeli invasion cannot rebuild because no cement is allowed in. This has done nothing to undermine Hamas, and the efforts to turn the people of Gaza against Hamas have been more successful in turning the West against Israel.

(12)  Israel is now digging another hole.  I heard on the ABC program PM this evening that Sydney Morning Herald journalists Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty had been offered immediate deportation from Israel, but first they had to sign a form acknowledging that they had entered Israel illegally, so they had declined (a bit pedantic of them really – given that they were kidnapped in international waters there was a certain illegality to their entry, it’s just that it wasn’t their doing).  Presumably all of the six hundred foreign nationals who are now being held in gaols all around Israel have similarly refused to sign. No doubt there will be some stout souls who will go on refusing for a long time, in which case they will become an increasing embarrassment to Israel.

(13)  On PM this evening I heard Foreign Minister Stephen Smith saying in Parliament that the only durable solution is two states living in peace side by side. Forget it, the two state solution is dead.  Talk of a two state solution is now nothing more than a fig-leaf behind which the likes of Tony Blair hide their ineffectuality.  Time to start thinking about the mechanics of the one state solution – which is what exists at the present time, really.

(14)  As far as the way out of this mess is concerned, I am with Gideon Levy in an interview on PM this evening.  Israel had better start learning to talk to Hamas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul, as always you have delivered very well thought out and clearly stated comments. This post is a definite "keeper" for my Palestine archives which I started in the mid-late 1990s.I would like to forward this, with your permission, to www.dangerouscreation.com because the points you make need wider distribution. Regards, PaulRB-Doha.