Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 1, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla

The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF.  Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel.  Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations.  It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.

It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid.  Naturally, there are two differing narratives.  The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering  10,000 tons of aid.  Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast.  When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships.  Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction.  Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board.

Israeli soldiers claim they were attacked upon boarding, with bats, clubs, knives, and slingshots with glass marbles.  Israel indeed has a video supporting such actions, and has even drawn circles around the attacks, as if they weren’t already visible.  However, when it comes to the Israeli use of  live firearms, no video is produced, conveniently.  It becomes nebulous at this point, where it is unclear whether Israeli soldiers were truly shooting out of self-defense.  Activists claim that excessive force was used by the soldiers and those who were killed were unarmed.  They also claim they were hit with clubs and electric shocks.  Indeed, over 20 activists are being treated for injuries in a hospital.  In any case, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, bats and metal rods against rifles do not seem like a proportionate battle, and it was not necessary for nine people to have to lose their lives.

610 activists are now detained in a prison in Beersheba, and 48 have  been deported.  Among those being deported include two Americans: one of  CNI’s former board members and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck; and Joe Meadors, a Navy veteran who served aboard the USS Liberty that Israeli forces attacked in 1967, killing 34.  Ambassador Peck’s wife confirmed that her husband was supposed to arrive in New York today, but there is no word yet on whether or not Joe Meadors and others have been released. Other activists include Turks, Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans, Americans, and even a Holocaust survivor.

Seeing as Turkey was  perhaps the most involved in organizing this project, helping launch the flotilla from Cyprus, sending 380 activists, and now having to bury some of them, its relations with Israel are perhaps most dire.  An infuriated Erdogan claimed: “Israel’s behavior should definitely, definitely be punished.” Turkey was considered to be Israel’s only friends in the Muslim world, and now it has seemed to lose even that.  The raid has incited international solidarity movements as well, such as Egypt opening its usually closed border with Gaza in order to allow the delivery of aid.

However, one of the most important actors in this situation is remaining silent.  The U.S. is choosing its words carefully; it is not placing blame on anyone but simply feels “regret about the loss of life.”  The U.S. also used its influence to change the incendiary language of the UN’s response to lukewarm, compromising with an indignant Turkey in order to tone down its direct condemnation of Israel.  Obama claims the deaths are regretful, but it is more important to focus on the long-term status of negotiations.  However, how far can one go to overlook clear violations of international law for the sake of diplomacy?  The repeated weak U.S. responses on Israeli international law violations does nothing to help the peace process, but rather hinders it as they are based on inequity.  In order to have progress in peace talks, the U.S. must uphold a standard of equity and enforce the idea that no one is above the law.

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