On Aid: Or, A Discussion Of Israel’s Naval Blockade Of Gaza
“Israel regrets the loss of life but we will never apologize for defending ourselves.”
– Benjamin Netanyahu
Troubling things have been said in defense of Israel’s recent action against the flotilla of aid vessels. I have found much of what has been said by the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to be disturbing. “These weren’t pacifists. They weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.” Let us establish that I was not there. Let us also establish that I am working my opinion from what I’ve seen, and what I’ve not seen, in the coverage of this story. I reserve the right to alter my opinion as more evidence comes to light.
Let us start by considering this statement by the Prime Minister: “This wasn’t a love boat. This was a hate boat. I regret to say for many in the international community, no evidence is needed. Israel is guilty until proven guilty.”
I feel compelled to say, and more so embarrassed by this compulsion, that I am not an anti-Semite. I do not hold a soft spot in my heart for Hamas, or the actions they’ve perpetrated in the name of their struggle. I hope that you feel embarrassed at your own recognition that any discussion of this subject must be orchestrated around the notion that we must first prove our honor and publicly deny prejudice. If this awkwardness embarrasses you, as it does me, at the least we can agree upon that. We are guilty of prejudice, in this conversation, until proven guilty.
So, then, to evidence. Aside from a rhetorical imposition, where is the evidence? Where are the guns and rockets? Wouldn’t you, if you were the leader of this country, immediately move to show photographs and video of holds filled with missiles, ammunition and cheap machine guns to make your point? If you had that footage, would you be compelled to first spend time editing together clips of these people fighting against soldiers, decorated for battle, with crow bars? Why would you use material to establish their intent that relies on crow bars and not rockets? Roll this idea around in your brain like you would consider the taste of a new meal while we talk about other things.
Let’s talk about the blockade Israel established after they moved into Gaza in 2007. As a media consumer, you are bound to have heard a lot about the importance of stopping the influx of rockets into Gaza as defense for the blockade. And, I don’t argue against the importance of that idea. I don’t find it likely to be ultimately particularly successful, but it certainly isn’t an ‘out-of-the-box’ idea. So, we’ve established value for the blockade against armaments. Now, I ask you, do you know what else they’ve blockaded? What else? Food. Building materials. Mundane supplies.
In 2007, more than 2,000 families’ homes were destroyed, blown up or burned down with phosphorous grenades, in the fighting during Israel’s attacks. The blockade prevents any supplies that might be used to fabricate even semi-permanent housing for these families. Not terrorists. Women. Children. Mothers. Fathers. Families. More than this, Gaza is on a restricted diet. The blockade not only restricts types of food, but the total amount of food supplied. Each week, they let through only a certain amount of food. And it is not enough for those who need it.
This is part of why Israel insists that aid be routed through them. You supply aid as you like, but as part of the blockade Israel controls the rate of the flow. Be aware that when they say in the news that the vessels may have been carrying prohibited items, these intrinsically include prohibited foods and building materials. Now, if you were the leader of a country that stopped and boarded a vessel at sea to prevent prohibited items from reaching their destination, would you be eager to display on international television holds full of food and building materials? Common PR sense dictates the answer be no. News media consumers would say, “So, wait. Israel killed nine people at sea to prevent building supplies from reaching Gaza? I don’t understand.”
Here’s an assignment. Pretend you are respectable Benjamin Netanyahu and script a short two or three sentence cogent sound byte defending your actions.
Have you considered it? My argument would also be to ask people to focus on this clip set of aid workers beating the hell out of Israeli soldiers with crow bars. I would also quip strongly that they do not appear to be very love filled people. Not peace activists at all. And, hey, you don’t know what it is like living under constant threat of rocket attack.
But, let’s stop there. Let’s establish that there is a very full spectrum from “violent supporters of terrorism” to “peace activists”. Also, let’s consider the absurdity of the term “violent supporters of terrorism”. What does that mean? Because, and go with me on this, if they were doers of terrorism, we already have a word for that. So, what does a person do that makes them a violent supporter of terrorism without actually being a terrorist? And, remember, we have firmly established that logistical directors of terrorist organizations are also terrorists.
Apparently violent supporters of terrorism are people who beat armed, body armored soldiers with crow bars to prevent them from stopping food reaching Gaza.
Let’s talk about violence. I’m not a fan of violence. For any reason. Any physical combat is a life and death struggle. If someone attacks you, or you pick a fight in a bar, be very careful. At the end of it, they may not respect your idea that sometimes fisticuffs are just a little friendly game of fisticuffs. Lesson is taught, the fight ends.
I think about that when I consider how, as a human, I would react if men in battle armor with assault rifles roped onto the deck of my ship, in international waters, from an attack helicopter. Would I notice that some of them were only carrying paintball guns? Would I remember that the easiest way to defame your cause is to engage in violence? Would I be afraid when I said, “Oh bloody hell” and prepared to fight against people armed and dressed for battle? Would I get angry and refuse to be pushed around by a man with a gun wanting only to prevent me from helping people?
And, as I was being shot in the chest for my trouble, would I realize bringing a knife or a bat to a gun fight was a mistake? These people didn’t come for violence. The argument that anyone would prepare for combat with Israel’s Defense Forces by bringing along crow bars is nonsense. How would you prepare to fight men with attack helicopters, rockets, missiles, machine guns, and assault rifles? I can’t imagine it would have been too hard to pick up some crates of Kalashnikovs. No, I reject that argument outright.
This isn’t speakers’ corner and this certainly isn’t academic in concept. Israel really did shoot nine aid workers in international waters, after forcing their way on a ship sailing under Turkey’s flag. And whether or not Israel was looking for a fight, they certainly didn’t tool up in dress uniforms, lightly armed, under an Israeli flag to conduct a parley and a search. At the end of the day, men with guns hold the responsibility for a situation ending in the shooting death of another person. And given that they forced the face to face conflict, they handled an incredibly tense situation in a way that was highly likely to generate fear. They controlled the form of contact. Their choices, their tactics, are responsible for escalating the situation. Note the difference between responsibility, blame, and accountability.
The men picking up crow bars hold their own part of the blame. But, having the situation forced on you, can you say you would have reacted less fundamentally human than choosing between fight or flight?
“Yeah,” you say, “but weren’t these people bring aid to a terrorist hide out?” Some brief words on Gaza. Hamas was popularly elected, democratically, to public positions representing Gaza. Does that make Hamas any less a group of thugs and terrorists? No. And, sometimes one man’s freedom fighter is just another terrorist. But, is that all Hamas has done? Because, surely the elections were rigged or Palestinians living in Gaza support terrorism. Hamas has performed civil responsibilities as well. You know, things like taking out the garbage and working on public infrastructure. The problem with Hamas is that there is more to them than simple designs on terrorism. Israeli hellfire missile blow up your apartment trying to get the guy on the first floor? Hamas is there with government aid.
There’s no simple way for the West to interact with this group. And, I don’t set out to articulate a solution here. The point of mentioning this is to remind you that just because Hamas was publicly elected doesn’t mean that the public are explicit supporters of terrorists. Palestinians are human. And, right now, in Gaza, the only people doing anything positive in their lives is Hamas.
I don’t judge Hamas less strongly for this side of their organization. But, in real life, this complicates matters immensely. The least of complications is that the U.S. orchestrated the election so that there would be a democratically elected body to represent the interests of Palestinians. After the public election, not rigged, the U.S. decided to cut off interactions with them immediately. I’m not sure what the right answer is there. But, I can say that the politicization of insurgents and terrorist organizations is the first step in ending their violent ways. This is true, at least, for groups like Hamas. They are fundamentally different than Al Qaeda. Their actions are no less deplorable, but their cause and contributing factors to the conflict are undeniably fundamentally different.
Israel has a lot of tough questions to answer in the coming days. A naval blockade, executed in international waters, is an act of war. I don’t mean that rhetorically. It is literally in the definition of acts of war. Look at Germany in World War I and II. Look at the trouble the U.S. had during the Cuban Missile crisis. Without international support, a naval blockade in international waters is literally an act of war.
It may be justifiable to say something about not regretting actions taken to defend one’s self when lives are taken in collateral damage in going after actual terrorists living and operating in your country. I think any time the idea that loss of life is regrettable is followed by ‘but’ you are long on words and short on humanity. But, to say as much after shooting and killing nine aid workers in international water for bringing prohibited supplies is deplorable. If the aid workers were soldiers, of no state but soldiers still, and they were in possession of weapons I could understand. Agree? Still, no.
But, murdering aid workers defending themselves is not acceptable. Aid workers didn’t attack Israel. Israel brought the fight to them, in international waters, and the situation they created escalated unforgivably. Whether or not they fought, they did such on their boat, with their aid supplies, in international waters under another country’s flag. You think about the friends and family you have in the aid community. And think about how you might have felt when the respectable Benjamin Netanyahu said of your dead friend or brother or husband the aid worker:
“Israel regrets the loss of life but we will never apologize for defending ourselves.”
– Benjamin Netanyahu
Do they realize that killing aid workers, for any reason, puts them in the same category as bandits in the Sudan and the Taliban in Afghanistan? How does this help them defend Israel?
So, what do you think? In this very specific case, from what were they defending themselves? Who are they mocking in the aftermath by quipping about The Love Boat and hate boats? More importantly, where are the fucking rockets?