International condemnation of the Israeli response to the recent attempt to break the Gaza blockade is in full force. The criticism came in almost knee jerk fashion based solely on the results of the confrontation and without any analysis of the facts leading up to and during the event itself. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon quickly "condemned" the Israeli action and called for an investigation of the facts. Common sense would have dictated that the investigation and analysis of the facts precede any condemnation or other judgments, but the political culture of the United Nations has been decidedly anti-Israel for decades, so this is not surprising.
The intense reaction from many of the world's governments and non-governmental organizations seems focused on the regrettable deaths of nine of the participants. Thus the first question that should be addressed is "Could the confrontation and the loss of life have been avoided?" The answer is unequivocally "yes". The planned action by the political activists organizing the "flotilla" was well known in advance but, an important fact that has been little discussed is the fact that the Israeli government announced that the flotilla would be intercepted. Also, the Israeli's announced that the goods bound for Gaza on board the ships could be delivered to Israel, inspected and then taken to Gaza through the regular land based entry points. If the primary goal of the activists was to deliver these materials, why was this option not taken? Some comments by the participants and their supporters are revealing in this respect.
This analysis is from the New York Times on June 2, 2010:
"The supporters of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla had more than humanitarian intentions. The Gaza Freedom March made its motives clear in a statement before Monday’s deadly confrontation: “A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade.”
"On Tuesday in a bustling neighborhood in Istanbul, the (sponsoring) Turkish organization was celebrating a strange success. “We became famous,” said Omar Faruk, a board member of the group, Insani Yardim Vakfi, known by its Turkish initials, I.H.H. “We are very thankful to the Israeli authorities"
Sixty-eight year old American citizen, and long time pro-Palestinian activist, Greta Berlin co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the co-sponsors of the "flotilla", says that "she does not accept Israel as a Jewish state, though she contends that is part of a larger philosophy which opposes all national borders."
One can't help but wonder if she is opposed to the national borders of the proposed Palestinian state.
What these comments make clear is that the Turkish group and the Free Gaza Movement were engaged in a planned provocation. Unfortunately, like so many politically inspired provocations by activists groups, it was poorly planned and got out of hand as a result. Perhaps expecting customs agents or their equivalent, the activists on board the major Turkish vessel were crudely armed and chose to create a physical confrontation with the Israeli commandos as the injuries to several of the commandoes attest. Acquiescence in the face of superior force would have been the wiser choice and would have gained the same international attention, albeit without the outrage that the unnecessary deaths brought on. Expecting armed members of the military to submit to clubbings and stabbings is nonsensical no matter what one's political motivations might be.
There are sound reasons both for and against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. It represents a delicate diplomatic problem that the parties themselves need to negotiate. The interference of outside non-governmental groups is almost always counterproductive. These groups, are driven solely by rigid ideology, or in the Turkish participation, by a religious identification. Such motivations exclude the possibility of compromise through negotiation.
The Israeli sea blockade of Gaza and their response to this effort to defy it are two separate issues that have now been conflated. The activists now have their "martyrs" as the Turks are calling them, and Israel still has a significant security issue complicated by the "pre-investigative" reaction of world political leaders and media pundits. The core issue here is the physical security of the state of Israel as determined by whatever Israeli government is in power and the intransigence of the governing Hamas party in Gaza which does not recognize Israel's right to exist and will not renounce violence as a political tactic. This confrontation and the overwrought reaction by Western governments represents a major setback for progress in the resolution of these issues as Hamas, although not a participant in the action, will be emboldened by the support demonstrated by political figures abroad. Hamas may well become more aggressive and Israel more defensive and the sixty-two year old Israeli-Palestinian crisis will go on.