Israel’s Deadly Assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla: Murder on the High Seas

Like the cop who batters someone senseless at a demonstration and then accuses the victim of “banging his head against my baton,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the victims of Israel’s brutal military assault on a peace convoy to Gaza of attacking Israeli soldiers. An Israeli deputy ambassador to the UN went further, saying, “What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and other weapons to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?”

Let’s straighten this out. The question to be asked is: what kind of country
sends heavily armed troops to assault a boat filled with unarmed, peaceful civilians, and slaughters nine or more of them as if they were enemy troops in a war zone?

It is undisputed that the boarded ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, and five smaller vessels, were in international waters. According to witness reports, including those of respected mainstream journalists who were on board, naval commandos, acting on the highest authority from the Israeli government, but behaving more like Somali pirates, boarded the Turkish ship with guns blazing, and continued to fire even as the activists on board had raised a white flag. The boarding, according to Marjorie Cohn, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and other legal authorities, was illegal under international maritime law, and in any event, given the fact that the ships were civilian, and the passengers non-military, even had they been in Israeli waters, could have been negotiated peacefully, had Israel wanted to do this.

There was no urgency. The Israeli Navy had the power to prevent the ships from landing without firing a shot. It admits it had nets that could have halted five of the vessels, and it has larger naval vessels that could have halted the Mavi Marmara, either by forcibly towing it, or by physically blocking its way.

NPR, in a particularly repulsive report on the bloody assault which killed 9 people and wounded many more, referred to it as a “bungled raid.” The New York Times, on Tuesday, in a news article, reported as fact, with no attribution, that “the operation seems to have gone badly wrong.” But this was no “bungled” action, or action that had “gone badly wrong. “ The Israeli attack, and the deadly methods it employed, were both clearly deliberate, and had to have been intended to send a message to those who would assist the imprisoned population of Gaza, who for four years and through an Israeli invasion of that territory almost a year and a half ago, has been kept on a starvation diet by an illegal Israeli blockade.

Israel clearly wanted a violent confrontation, as it didn’t need to initiate one to stop the ships from delivering their cargo. The Israeli claim that the violence was justified because some on the boarded ship offered resistance to the IDF attackers, using metal pipes, is absurd. Israel has been fighting an unfair, uneven battle of tanks and Uzis against stone-throwing Palestinians for so long that it apparently no longer even recognizes that the rest of the world sees it for the homicidal bully that it is. Israeli special forces clearly have the training to disarm untrained attackers wielding pipes or even knives (my own 16-year-old, 130 lb., 5’7” son, with his karate training, could handle that).

And let’s be honest here. Israel is trying to have it both ways, and the two official explanations are mutually exclusive: On the one hand the government claims that the commandos were armed only with “paint-guns” and were “caught by surprise” by the boat’s “violent” passengers, but on the other hand, it also says it was convinced that the flotilla was organized by what it calls a “terrorist organization” with “links to Hamas and Hezzbollah.” If the latter is true, there’s no way the commandos were allowed to board the ship without assault weapons and other heavy arms. If Israel actually knew the flotilla had no “terrorist” connection, then a violent, armed assault and the use of lethal force was unnecessary.

The reality is that we are dealing with a pariah state, no better at this point in its respect for international law and basic human rights (where non-Israelis are concerned), than North Korea. And maybe worse. At least the North Koreans fired their weapon at a South Korean military vessel. The Israeli Defense Force attacked a vessel filled with civilian peace activists, including elderly Holocaust survivors and young children.

While the captured peace activists were held incommunicado in Israel on a military base that is closed to reporters, Israel gushed propaganda like a wild BP oil well, trying to make the case that the boats were carrying contraband (ball bearings and sling-shots in one account). Such ludicrous assertions, ultimately disproven, hardly justify Israeli actions in the assault. Moreover, the speed with which such alleged contraband was “found” on a ship carrying thousands of tons of relief supplies, suggests either disinformation, or that something was planted, either by the IDF boarding party, or by Mossad agents before the ships had even set sail.

This Israeli raid confirms the total bankruptcy of Israel’s position in the world. By killing Turkish nationals and by violating the rights of a Turkish vessel, Israel has permanently poisoned its relations with the only real ally it has had in the Muslim world–a country that only recently actually allowed Israel to use its airspace to attack a suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria. It has also done enormous damage to relations with the US, where public support for Israeli policy towards the Palestinians was already tanking, following the brutal invasion of Gaza last year.

American political leaders are still scurrying around trying to avoid alienating the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). President Obama, the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, when confronted with the assault, could only work himself up to the point of expressing “deep regret” at the loss of life, and calling for in investigation (by Israel!) into “all the facts and circumstances” of the incident. Such limp and even-handed comments are unacceptable, and are becoming increasingly out of touch with public sentiment. Even given the shamelessly pro-Israeli slant to most US media coverage of this and other Israeli actions, many Americans, including many American Jews, are finding it harder and harder to support Israeli policy.

On Memorial Day my wife and I had dinner at the home of a some close friends who are Jewish. Three other Jewish couples were also present, two of whom, frequent visitors to Israel, mentioned that they were planning a trip to the country this summer. During the whole evening, there was no mention at all of the Israeli raid. It was as if we were all at the zoo looking at the tiger exhibit, and everyone was talking about rabbits. The other three couples who were guests, none of whom were familiar to me, my politics, or even the fact that I am not Jewish, said nothing. Our friends said nothing. And I clearly knew that if I said anything at all, all hell would break out. Clearly though, all the Jewish Americans present realized that the attack would be an explosive issue even amongst themselves, about which there would be irreconcilable differences of opinion.

It needs to be mentioned that those helicopters that lowered the Israeli commandos onto the ship were American-built. Most of Israel’s formidable military is either made in USA or paid for by the USA. Indeed as attorney Cohn notes, Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid since WWII. If public support in the US for Israel continues to erode, pressures to end that kind of military support will mount. Already, many in the senior ranks of the US military are criticizing America’s unquestioning backing of Israeli military and foreign policy, saying that it is leading to the needless deaths of American soldiers. Americans, even many Jewish Americans, are becoming increasingly critical of the Jewish state.

The irredentist, apartheid religious state of Israel is heading down a dead-end road.