Posted on: May 31, 2010 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 34

Having worked on the issue of Israel and its myriad conflicts for many years, one gets used to tragedy and even to stunningly abhorrent behavior. And indeed, I have seen more than enough of both from all sides in this conflict.

But every once in a while, things take a turn, and that turn is punctuated by a singular, stunning event. The murderous raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla this day was one such event.

The Mavi Marmara, one of the ships that was stormed

I waited to start writing this until there was some official statement from Israel. I did that because I want to start off with Israel’s explanation for this horror. Here’s what the IDF spokesperson said, in part:

During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that it seems as if part of the participants onboard the ships were planning to lynch the forces.

I am sure, as is always the case, there will be those who believe this version of events. But frankly, I can’t see how anyone can do so unless they are so desperate to justify Israel’s action here that they’ll believe anything. Let’s examine the IDF’s version of events.

We begin with the point that these were civilian ships and Israel boarded them with commandoes—soldiers who are disposed toward combat situations and are not meant to police unarmed civilians. They’re fighters, that’s their purpose. But the IDF claims that an assortment of international activists deliberately provoked a violent confrontation (using potentially deadly weapons, but which still leave them ridiculously overmatched) against heavily armed and trained soldiers in order to “lynch them.”

Does that seem remotely credible? It only seems so if you believe the activists on board these ships were willing to risk and actually sacrifice their lives in order to create a scandal for Israel. Of course, Israeli hasbara (propaganda) is well-practiced in casting all Arabs and Muslims as suicidal lunatics, aided by the suicide bombers who represent an infinitesimal percentage of those populations. But this collection of international activists, including many Jews, Americans and Europeans, apparently are also willing to give their lives, and rather cheaply, according to this story.

No, the IDF version of these events doesn’t begin to pass the laugh test.

When I first heard confirmed reports of this massacre, I thought of the Kent State shootings in 1970. That horrific tragedy, like this one, was the result of a government using ridiculously disproportionate force against civil disobedience.

But at Kent State, the shootings resulted from high tensions and one person losing control, causing others to follow his lead. Was that the case here? I suppose one must allow the possibility, but the quick response of the government certainly gives the appearance that it was not that simple.

Friends and colleagues can tell you, I have been very critical of the Free Gaza Movement’s politics. Before this incident, I had criticized them for refusing to carry a letter and package from Noam Shalit to his son, Gilad. I’m familiar with many of the core activists and know some of them personally. I know their agenda is more than humanitarian; it is more than breaking the siege on Gaza, and it is more radical than I am comfortable with.

But I also know they are non-violent, and quite serious about that. They’re also not stupid, which any group of civilians would have to be to intentionally get into a violent clash with a significant military force. And while I may not be on the same page with them politically, they are entitled to their political views. And the action itself of breaking the blockade, carrying goods to the besieged Strip and showing some support for the million and a half innocent people of Gaza who bear the burden of this policy that has only strengthened Hamas is brave and positive.

The bottom line is that Israel raided these ships with commandoes, and the end result was a great deal of needless bloodshed. And apparently, according to the IDF spokesperson, as reported by journalist Gregg Carlstrom, they couldn’t even wait to do it until the ships had passed out of international waters, which makes it, if no explanation is forthcoming, an act of piracy as well.

Israel crossed a line today, in a way not dissimilar (though certainly of a much smaller scope, thankfully) to the line they crossed in their massive attack on Gaza in 2008-09. Whatever Israel’s detractors have said over the years, this incident, like Operation Cast Lead, was far beyond anything Israel has done in the past.

This was a shocking massacre, and there’s no way to pretty that up. These were people engaged in direct action of civil disobedience. True, the siege on Gaza should simply be lifted, but being that it’s there, yes, Israel can be expected to take action to stop the flotilla. But this doesn’t just go above and beyond and justification, it zooms light years past it.

The IDF talks of gunfire, but apparently the guns in question were taken from soldiers during the confrontation, not precipitating it, according to the IDF spokesperson’s statement: “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. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines. ” All of this begins with the Israeli tactics used to raid the ships.

Israel’s excuses are weak. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Ynet, “It was obvious to all that this was a media provocation, aimed at reaching a confrontation with Israel…We are not Shiite suicide attackers, and it is the soldiers’ duty to defend themselves.” If it wasn’t such a tragedy, I’d be rolling my eyes.

It is now up to the international community, and especially the United States, to take action. If the Obama Administration is to have any credibility left on this issue at all, it must forcefully denounce this action and call for an end to the siege of Gaza. The latter is not likely to happen, but the former is an absolute must. Without it, Obama will begin to be seen throughout not only the Arab and Muslim world, but also by Europe as little different from his predecessors on the Middle East issue.

No doubt as well the leaders of AIPAC, the ADL, AJC and similar groups will be quick to support the IDF’s absurd story here. The Jewish telegraphic Agency offers portent by simply parroting the IDF line and framing the incidents as “Protesters on ship bound for Gaza killed in rioting.”

We can do better, and we must. If there is to be any hope of stopping Israel from committing to this suicidal and murderous course it is on, and bringing its supporters around the world down with it, incidents like this must be denounced firmly, with calls for real accountability. This was a serious crime and it cannot be tolerated or excused away.

34 People reacted on this

  1. Obviously the Israelis were expecting trouble, else why send a strong MILITARY force? But the inexcusable part it to do all of this on the high seas. That is simply piracy, and should be condemned as such by the international community.

  2. Who do u think will stand up to condemn the worst of people from the sons of Adam? They’ll be given excuses no matter what they do. The least that the so called international community can do is just verbal talking instead of actions.

    I think ur just dump stupid person if u still think that thz people never think of u Muslims, they have already declared war against Islam long time ago, this s not a surprise.
    They can do nothing against Islam, Muslims have lost their lives for their religion with patience and perseverance.
    May peace be upon those who have died upon the path of truth

  3. Every sovereign has the right to elect its own leadership. Other countries may or may not accept the results but they have no right to militarily prevent commerce with that state, especially in international waters. There are so many witnesses to this crime that the truth can not be obfuscated with propaganda. I would hope that Jews all over the world will denounce this atrocity, if for no other reason than to preserve the state of Israel.

  4. Okay Hussein, let’s stop with the cataclysmic netherworld talk, shall we?

    As a Muslim, I think your little schpiel here is the sad ranting of a self-victimizing and narrow-minded brain. It’s not productive, it’s not healthy, and it’s not the facts.

    I say that as a Muslim person who loves Islam and is inspired by this Qur’anic verse among many: “Stand up for the sake of Justice, as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourself and your kin.”

    I obviously think on the legal aspects of the situation here, with the incident taking place on international waters, a military against civilians, a ship carrying humanitarian aid to folks in the Gaza strip who sure could use it, Israel has a tough case to make against the tide of reality and that of justice.

    But Hussein, I have to tell you, you can’t narrow the world by seeing everything in a sort of Manichean/black and white/us against them world view. Yeah, there are a lot of people out there who misunderstand and hate Islam out there (just like you, surprise surprise, misunderstand and hate others), and the numbers has of lately been growing due to world events, but as a Muslim, you ought to stop victimizing yourself based on a perceived siege on your identity, and strive for justice on behalf of all innocent people, and that includes Jews and those of other faiths. In fact if you truly understood your own faith, you would not think as you currently do. Ma’as-salaam.

  5. […] 6:15 PM: Opinion and analysis round-up: there is a growing gap between what’s the talking heads are saying in Israel rigth now – focusing on the threat to the soldiers lifes and the insuffianct force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara – to what’s going on in the world, where this is viewed as a brutal attack on civilians on international water, or as Moshe Yaroni puts it, Israel’s Kent State. […]

  6. Moshe, watch this video and then try telling me that the people on that boat were harmless “peace activists” :

    As soon as the first soldier repelled down, they snatched him and started beating him nearly to death with metal clubs. Then they did the same with the second soldier. Then they threw one soldier overboard.

    Yeah, peace activists. Sure.

  7. […] 6:15 PM: Opinion and analysis round-up: there is a growing gap between what’s the talking heads are saying in Israel rigth now – focusing on the threat to the soldiers lifes and the insuffianct force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara – to what’s going on in the world, where this is viewed as a brutal attack on civilians on international water, or as Moshe Yaroni puts it, Israel’s Kent State. […]

  8. […] Moshe Yaroni, writing in Realistic Peace: The bottom line is that Israel raided these ships with commandoes, and the end result was a great deal of needless bloodshed. And apparently, according to the IDF spokesperson, as reported by journalist Gregg Carlstrom, they couldn’t even wait to do it until the ships had passed out of international waters, which makes it, if no explanation is forthcoming, an act of piracy as well. […]

  9. @V : how many soldiers got hurt or died? Maybe one or two injuries. How many activists killed? 10. What a proportionate response, just like the Gaza occupation, where 10 Israeli deaths = 1500 Palestinians.
    Plus, if someone raids your ship in international waters, why wouldn’t you lynch them? The Israeli Navy had no authority to be there; what did they expect, that they’ll raid the ship like pirates and everyone will sit back and wait to be arrested?

  10. @ZS: the IDF did not board the ship like pirates – they announced all the ships that they were approaching a restricted area, and that they were required to kill their engines. Since the Marmara did not heed the instructions, it was boarded.

    Pirates board with weapons and kill everyone in sight – the IDF did not. They boarded with paintball guns, with intention to peacefully seize control of the ship, as per international law.

    The moment the first soldier repelled down – he was beaten nearly to death and then thrown overboard. Is that your idea of “peace activism””?

    The IDF has proven time and time again that it takes every possible measure to ensure as few civilian casualties as possible, unlike Hammas, whose main and only target is civilians.

    Hammas does not attack military bases or military personnel – they fire rockets at civilian population and have been doing that for the last 10 years. When they send a suicide bomber – they don’t send him to explode in a military base, but in a pizza shop full of innocent people in the middle of Tel Aviv.

    I don’t know where you pulled that 10 Israeli deaths = 1500 Palestinians number, but I guess numbers are easy to make up. You want to talk about civilian casualties? Check your facts, and check Hammas’s methods of operation.

  11. V, it looks like they are defending themselves from armed attackers

    and using primitive, possibly improvised weapons against men rapelling from a helicopter wearing battle gear and carrying guns … hmmm

    maybe you think gandhi should have been on the vessel? … but which?

    the helicopter or the boat?

  12. No matter. Israel will, as usual, revert to its ‘we are the victims” rationale – everyone hates us and we must defend ourselves against the raging hordes of peace activists intent on breaking an illegal embargo. Many will continue to swallow the propaganda. Israel had to defend itself against Rachel Corey as well. It had to to defend itself against the women and children in Gaza – and will evoke its own version of the Twinkie Defense with ever new act of aggression. This is why Jews such as I have turned away from Israel in huge numbers. We are ashamed to be associated with the settlers, the occupation, and the policies of what has become a Fascist state. For shame.

  13. V
    You are a sayanim right?
    Your position is because israel announces that it will pirate a ship in international waters that it’s ok to do it?
    And that people have no right to try to repel boarders, especially heavily armed boarders?
    So, once again this it’s the victims fault. Sorry, I know that israel is the perpetual victim in every matter (boo hoo). Gaza is victimizing Israel. The palestinians are just sore losers- sore at having most of their land stolen by the poor victim, israel.
    You people are masters of propaganda but i don’t think you can lie your way out of this one.
    And don’t call me an “anti-semite” -I love kosher dill pickles.

  14. @namo: again, the soldiers were not “armed attackers” – they were carrying paintball guns, and even those weren’t in their hands, but slung behind their backs.

    An Armed attacker is an attacker that points their gun at you, not carrying a paintball gun in a position that doesn’t allow immediate “firing” of it.

  15. I don’t understand why are people so amazed at this Israeli action? What Piracy………..etc? Might is right. The only law which never fails. If the bombings of Gaza during the last US presidential election, were speechlessly tolerated by both the Presidents, who kept mum on technical grounds, why expect any condemnation from Obama, now? Don’t know about other countries but US was never run by Presidents. Presidents there are run by the Arms lobby, the Oil lobby and the Finance lobby, Arms lobby being the leader. Why would Obama (the president of the country producing WMDs, using WMDs, never apologizing for WMDs) denounce state violence?

  16. So the actions of a country protecting itself is being compared to the killing of peaceful college students?Are you freaking braindead?Are you aware of who it was on these ships?They were not members of the “love boat”,they were Turkish sponsored terrorists hell bent on destroying Israel.

    But why should I expect anything less from a mindless liberal.
    Liberalism is a mental disorder

  17. And who are the ones saying the activists were terrorists? None other than that wonderful, fully credible state of Israel and the fat Netanyahu. Israel is a criminal rogue state and fatso needs to be brought before the Hague.

  18. Do you or your readers have any inkling about international maritime law?

    The Israelis have a legal, declared Naval blockade of a belligerent nation that has declared war on them and is actively engaged in hostilities. This is perfectly legal under international law.

    An attempt to run a declared Naval blockade by any ship of any nationality is an act of war. The Israelis would have been perfectly within the tenets of international law had they simply blown those boats out of the water and been done with it.

    They instead showed their normal (and in my opinion ill-advised) restraint and simply boarded the ships in order to divert them from running the blockade. This is standard procedure for the Israelis and they obviously were not expecting violent resistance or the boarding parties would have been better armed.

    The claims that the disparity in body count is indicative of some sort of unreasonable force is laughable. The PURPOSE of defending oneself is to prevent your own death. The fact that some of the attackers lost their lives is a shame, but they were the aggressors. Them’s the breaks. Declare war on a sovereign nation by running a legitimate Naval blockade and you should probably expect it to get ugly. The very fact that your readers lament that the Israeli’s efforts to defend themselves was successful speaks volumes. It’s just a shame none of those damn Jews were killed isn’t it? I suppose you would be satisfied had they waited until some arbitrary number of Israelis were dead before using lethal force? Or perhaps not.

    This was a set-up from the get go and the Israelis fell right into the trap. Luckily, they are experienced enough with the propaganda techniques of their enemies that they actively filmed the events so that the world can see what really happened.

    Here’s hoping that, in the future, after a suitable warning, they simply fire an missile at any ship attempting to run the blockade and send them to the bottom of the sea…as is their right under international law…no muss, no fuss, no Israeli’s being beaten with pipes or thrown off the deck.

    They’re going to be vilified by anti-Semites like the ones here no matter what they do so they may as well exercise the full power afforded by international law in defending their nation rather than relying on some non-existent goodwill they expect to garner from their very humane and measured responses to these blatant acts of war. Of course, if they had the political will to do that, Gaza would be a parking lot by now, so I have no doubt that the kabuki theater will continue.

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