June 8, 2010
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
ON THE high seas, outside territorial waters, the ship was stopped by the navy. The commandos stormed it. Hundreds of people on the deck resisted, the soldiers used force. Some of the passengers were killed, scores injured. The ship was brought into harbor, the passengers were taken off by force. The world saw them walking on the quay, men and women, young and old, all of them worn out, one after another, each being marched between two soldiers…
The ship was called “Exodus 1947”. It left France in the hope of breaking the British blockade, which was imposed to prevent ships loaded with Holocaust survivors from reaching the shores of Palestine. If it had been allowed to reach the country, the illegal immigrants would have come ashore and the British would have sent them to detention camps in Cyprus, as they had done before. Nobody would have taken any notice of the episode for more than two days.
But the person in charge was Ernest Bevin, a Labour Party leader, an arrogant, rude and power-loving British minister. He was not about to let a bunch of Jews dictate to him. He decided to teach them a lesson the entire world would witness. “This is a provocation!” he exclaimed, and of course he was right. The main aim was indeed to create a provocation, in order to draw the eyes of the world to the British blockade.
What followed is well known: the episode dragged on and on, one stupidity led to another, the whole world sympathized with the passengers. But the British did not give in and paid the price. A heavy price.
Many believe that the “Exodus” incident was the turning point in the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel. Britain collapsed under the weight of international condemnation and decided to give up its mandate over Palestine. There were, of course, many more weighty reasons for this decision, but the “Exodus” proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I AM not the only one who was reminded of this episode this week. Actually, it was almost impossible not to be reminded of it, especially for those of us who lived in Palestine at the time and witnessed it.
There are, of course, important differences. Then the passengers were Holocaust survivors, this time they were peace activists from all over the world. But then and now the world saw heavily armed soldiers brutally attack unarmed passengers, who resist with everything that comes to hand, sticks and bare hands. Then and now it happened on the high seas – 40 km from the shore then, 65 km now.
In retrospect, the British behavior throughout the affair seems incredibly stupid. But Bevin was no fool, and the British officers who commanded the action were not nincompoops. After all, they had just finished a World War on the winning side.
If they behaved with complete folly from beginning to end, it was the result of arrogance, insensitivity and boundless contempt for world public opinion.
Ehud Barak is the Israeli Bevin. He is not a fool, either, nor are our top brass. But they are responsible for a chain of acts of folly, the disastrous implications of which are hard to assess. Former minister and present commentator Yossi Sarid called the ministerial “committee of seven”, which decides on security matters, “seven idiots” – and I must protest. It is an insult to idiots.
THE PREPARATIONS for the flotilla went on for more than a year. Hundreds of e-mail messages went back and forth. I myself received many dozens. There was no secret. Everything was out in the open.
There was a lot of time for all our political and military institutions to prepare for the approach of the ships. The politician consulted. The soldiers trained. The diplomats reported. The intelligence people did their job.
Nothing helped. All the decisions were wrong from the first moment to this moment. And it’s not yet the end.
The idea of a flotilla as a means to break the blockade borders on genius. It placed the Israeli government on the horns of a dilemma – the choice between several alternatives, all of them bad. Every general hopes to get his opponent into such a situation.
The alternatives were:
(a) To let the flotilla reach Gaza without hindrance. The cabinet secretary supported this option. That would have led to the end of the blockade, because after this flotilla more and larger ones would have come.
(b) To stop the ships in territorial waters, inspect their cargo and make sure they were not carrying weapons or “terrorists”, then let them continue on their way. That would have aroused some vague protests in the world but upheld the principle of a blockade.
(c) To capture them on the high seas and bring them to Ashdod, risking a face-to-face battle with activists on board.
As our governments have always done, when faced with the choice between several bad alternatives, the Netanyahu government chose the worst.
Anyone who followed the preparations as reported in the media could have foreseen that they would lead to people being killed and injured. One does not storm a Turkish ship and expect cute little girls to present one with flowers. The Turks are not known as people who give in easily.
The orders given to the forces and made public included the three fateful words: “at any cost”. Every soldier knows what these three terrible words mean. Moreover, on the list of objectives, the consideration for the passengers appeared only in third place, after safeguarding the safety of the soldiers and fulfilling the task.
If Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, the Chief of Staff and the commander of the navy did not understand that this would lead to killing and wounding people, then it must be concluded – even by those who were reluctant to consider this until now – that they are grossly incompetent. They must be told, in the immortal words of Oliver Cromwell to Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
THIS EVENT points again to one of the most serious aspects of the situation: we live in a bubble, in a kind of mental ghetto, which cuts us off and prevents us from seeing another reality, the one perceived by the rest of the world. A psychiatrist might judge this to be the symptom of a severe mental problem.
The propaganda of the government and the army tells a simple story: our heroic soldiers, determined and sensitive, the elite of the elite, descended on the ship in order “to talk” and were attacked by a wild and violent crowd. Official spokesmen repeated again and again the word “lynching”.
On the first day, almost all the Israeli media accepted this. After all, it is clear that we, the Jews, are the victims. Always. That applies to Jewish soldiers, too. True, we storm a foreign ship at sea, but turn at once into victims who have no choice but to defend ourselves against violent and incited anti-Semites.
It is impossible not to be reminded of the classic Jewish joke about the Jewish mother in Russia taking leave of her son, who has been called up to serve the Czar in the war against Turkey. “Don’t overexert yourself'” she implores him, “Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…”
“You?” exclaims the mother, “But why? What have you done to him?”
To any normal person, this may sound crazy. Heavily armed soldiers of an elite commando unit board a ship on the high seas in the middle of the night, from the sea and from the air – and they are the victims?
But there is a grain of truth there: they are the victims of arrogant and incompetent commanders, irresponsible politicians and the media fed by them. And, actually, of the Israeli public, since most of the people voted for this government or for the opposition, which is no different.
The “Exodus” affair was repeated, but with a change of roles. Now we are the British.
Somewhere, a new Leon Uris is planning to write his next book, “Exodus 2010”. A new Otto Preminger is planning a film that will become a blockbuster. A new Paul Newman will star in it – after all, there is no shortage of talented Turkish actors.
MORE THAN 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson declared that every nation must act with a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. Israeli leaders have never accepted the wisdom of this maxim. They adhere to the dictum of David Ben-Gurion: “It is not important what the Gentiles say, it is important what the Jews do.” Perhaps he assumed that the Jews would not act foolishly.
Making enemies of the Turks is more than foolish. For decades, Turkey has been our closest ally in the region, much more close than is generally known. Turkey could play, in the future, an important role as a mediator between Israel and the Arab-Muslim world, between Israel and Syria, and, yes, even between Israel and Iran. Perhaps we have succeeded now in uniting the Turkish people against us – and some say that this is the only matter on which the Turks are now united.
This is Chapter 2 of “Cast Lead”. Then we aroused most countries in the world against us, shocked our few friends and gladdened our enemies. Now we have done it again, and perhaps with even greater success. World public opinion is turning against us.
This is a slow process. It resembles the accumulation of water behind a dam. The water rises slowly, quietly, and the change is hardly noticeable. But when it reaches a critical level, the dam bursts and the disaster is upon us. We are steadily approaching this point.
“Kill a Turk and rest,” the mother says in the joke. Our government does not even rest. It seems that they will not stop until they have made enemies of the last of our friends.
(Parts of this article were published in Ma’ariv, Israel’s second largest newspaper.)
A disaster was averted yesterday (June 5) at Tel-Aviv’s Museum Square, when rightists threw a smoke grenade into the middle of the protest rally, obviously hoping for a panic to break out and cause the protesters to trample on each other. But the demonstrators remained calm, nobody started to run and just a small space in the middle of the crowd remained empty. The speaker did not stop talking even when the cloud of smoke reached the stage. The audience included many children.
Half an hour later, a dozen rightist thugs attacked Gush Shalom’s 86 year old Uri Avnery, when he was on his way from the rally in the company of his wife, Rachel, Adam Keller and his wife Beate Siversmidt. Avnery had just entered a taxi, when a dozen rightist thugs attacked him and tried to drag him out of the car. At the critical moment, the police arrived and made it possible for the car to leave. Gush spokesman Adam Keller said: “These cowards did not dare to attack us when we were many, but they were heroes when they caught Avnery alone.”
The incident took place when the more than 10 thousand demonstrators were dispersing, after marching through the streets of Tel Aviv in protest against the attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Not only was this one of the largest peace demonstrations for a long time, but also the first time that all parts of the Israeli peace camp – from Gush Shalom and Hadash to Peace Now and Meretz – did unite for common action
The main slogan was “The Government Is Drowning All of Us” and “We must Row towards Peace!” – alluding to the attack on the flotilla. The protesters called in unison “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies!”
The demonstrators assembled at Rabin Square and marched to Museum Square, where the protest rally was held. Originally, this was planned as a demonstration against the occupation on its 43th anniversary, and for peace based on “Two States for Two Peoples” and “Jerusalem – Capital of the Two States”, but recent events turned it mainly into a protest against the attack on the flotilla.
One of the new sights was the great number of national flags, which were flown alongside the red flags of Hadash, the green flags of Meretz and the two-flag emblems of Gush Shalom. Many peace activists have decided that the national flag should no longer be left to the rightists.
“The violence of the rightists is a direct result of the brainwashing, which has been going on throughout the last week,” Avnery commented. “A huge propaganda machine has incited the public in order to cover up the terrible mistakes made by our political and military leadership, mistakes which are becoming worse from day to day.”
Lying About The Gaza Flotilla Disaster
It’s been one lie after another in the US media about the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound relief flotilla. No matter that the Israeli media views the whole incident as a debacle for Israel, in this country the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd is on overdrive defending the operation. As usual, facts don’t matter to them.
Except they do.
The first thing you need to know about the Gaza flotilla disaster is that the intention of the activists on board the ships was to break the Israeli blockade. Delivering the embargoed goods was incidental.
In other words, the activists were like the civil rights demonstrators who sat down at segregated lunch counters throughout the South and refused to leave until they were served. Their goal was not really to get breakfast. It was to end segregation.
That fact is so obvious that it is hard to believe that the “pro-Israel” lobby is using it as an indictment.
Of course the goal of the flotilla was to break the blockade. Of course Martin Luther King provoked the civil authorities of the South to break segregation. Of course the Solidarity movement used workers’ rights as a pretext to break Soviet-imposed Communism.
The bottom line is that the men and women of the flotilla had every right to attempt to destroy an illegal blockade that Israel had no legal standing to impose and which was designed to inflict collective punishment on the people of Gaza. (There is no truth to the story that Israel would have delivered the goods on the ships to Gaza if asked; the Israelis never made that offer and, judging by years of precedent, would have blocked any delivery).
As for the Israeli argument that its soldiers were attacked, that is ridiculous. Israeli commandos were ordered to board a civilian ship in international waters and the government that sent them claims that the resisting passengers attacked them without provocation. This is like a carjacker complaining to the police that the driver bashed him with a crowbar that was under the seat. Neither carjackers nor hijackers should expect their victims to acquiesce peacefully.
Here are the facts about life in Gaza today — facts that only can be changed by breaking the blockade. These data come from the American Near East Relief Association (ANERA), which provides relief to Gazans to the extent permitted by the Israeli (and American) authorities. ANERA is neither “pro-Israel” nor “pro-Palestinian.” It has no political agenda at all. It merely determines what human needs are and tries to respond to them.
8 out of 10 Gazans depend on foreign aid to survive.
The World Food Program says Gaza requires a minimum of 400 trucks a day to meet basic nutritional needs – yet an average of just 171 trucks worth of supplies enters Gaza every week,
Clothes that were held in the port of Ashdod for over a year were released into Gaza but arrived covered with mold and mildew, unusable.
95% of Gaza’s water fails World Health Organization standards leaving thousands of newborns at risk of poisoning.
Anemia for children under the age of 5 is estimated at 48%.
75 million liters of untreated sewage are pumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day – because piping and spare parts are not permitted.
During the 2009 bombing:
More than 120,000 jobs were lost as Gaza’s industrial zone was destroyed… 15,000 homes and apartments were damaged or destroyed… 1/3 of all schools were destroyed.
None of these can be rebuilt, because construction supplies are kept out by the Israeli authorities.
Also, check this out from The Economist. It is a partial list of commodities allowed into Gaza and commodities banned.
So what is the blockade about?
It is not about stopping terrorism. Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel an indefinite cease-fire in exchange for lifting the blockade. And, on a half dozen occasions, Israel accepted the deal but did not live up to its side of it. In fact, the 2009 war began after Israel ignored its commitments under the Gaza cease-fire agreement, continued the blockade, and then provoked the resumption of attacks on Sderot through a series of targeted assassinations of Palestinians (Israel claims that no cease-fire agreement curtails its right to kill any Palestinian it deems to be a terrorist).
Israel asserts that it will not accept any long-term cease-fire agreement with Hamas because Hamas does not recognize its right to exist.
But Israel does not need the permission of anyone — let alone Hamas — to exist. All it needs from Hamas is an end to violence and that is precisely what Hamas is offering, in exchange for lifting the blockade.
This is not to say that Hamas need never recognize Israel. It should. But it is ridiculous to insist on recognition as a precondition for anything. Recognition would be the end result of negotiations, not a precondition for it.
But that is not what Israel wants. It wants to destroy Hamas because it is a terrorist organization. And that makes sense until one realizes that the African National Congress, Sinn Fein, the Israeli Irgun, the Algerian FLN and a host of other resistance movements were called terrorist organizations before negotiations brought them to power. Former Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir were both unabashed terrorists prior to their entrance into respectable politics. And so what? If dealing with terrorists — as Israel has repeatedly done with Hezbollah — will help achieve a worthy goal, why not do it? After all, if negotiations fail, one can always walk away.
But Israel will not change its self-defeating policies until we change ours. And there is no evidence that is happening (at least, not until after the November elections, for obvious reasons).
For now, our policies are joined at the hip with Israel’s. We support the blockade of Gaza. We oppose any efforts at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. We even back Israel’s opposition to the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel full peace and normalization of relations with every Arab country in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
Enough is enough. The Obama administration needs to join the rest of the world in demanding an end to the Gaza blockade as a first big step toward the resumption of negotiations.
The attack on the flotilla was one of the most disastrous blunders in Israel’s history. At last, the whole world sees Israel’s policy of collective punishment for what it is — a means to perpetuate the occupation forever. Only the United States government has chosed to close its eyes.
The occupation is killing Israel. And we are on the sidelines letting it happen. Some ally