Blood in the water – Israel attacks the Freedom Flotilla
A random choice from some of the generic reports in the mainstream media right now for background:
Israeli naval forces stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters before dawn on Monday, killing up to 19 pro-Palestinian activists, most of them reportedly Turkish nationals.
The bloody ending to the high-profile mission to deliver supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip plunged Israel into a diplomatic crisis on the eve of talks between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [The Age]
While most of those dead may well have been Turkish nationals, the flotilla was actually full of people from all over the world, including MPs, NGO representatives and even a Member of Israel’s Knesset. According to AJE the passengers also include people from Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Norway, Palestine, Serbia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
There was a good dealing of complaining on twitter that the mainstream media was ignoring the flotilla while it was still on its way but once the blood started to flow they jumped right on it. It is now making front-page news almost everywhere. Al Jazeera English, once again leading the charge when it comes to reporting about Palestine, has a great live-blog here.
Allegations have been flowing thick and fast about what exactly happened on those boats. According to FreeGaza.org’s blog:
Under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck.
Here is the Israeli version from JPost:
International activists aboard the ships opened fire on IDF soldiers who boarded the ships to prevent them from breaking the Israeli-imposed sea blockade, the IDF said Monday.
According to the IDF, the international activists “prepared a lynch” for the soldiers who boarded the ships at about 2 a.m. Monday morning after calling on them to stop, or follow them to the Ashdod Port several hours earlier.According to the IDF, the international activists “prepared a lynch” for the soldiers who boarded the ships at about 2 a.m. Monday morning after calling on them to stop, or follow them to the Ashdod Port several hours earlier.
The Israeli army also issued a statement on the attack, claiming that the activists on board the ship were armed.
During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. [Hat-tip AJE]
Before I talk about the diplomatic aftermath I would like to first of all throw in my opinion on this, though it’s probably self-evident and those of you that follow this blog will already know it. Israel deserves nothing but condemnation in the strongest possible terms for what it has done here. There was absolutely no good reason for it. At this stage, I do not believe that the activists on the boats were really armed. I believe that they may have tried to defend the ship from being boarded, but consider that it was in international waters at the time, I don’t see what’s illegitimate about that. Boarding a ship in international waters may well constitute an act of piracy thus making self-defense perfectly reasonable.
In any case, pitting a bunch of activists armed only with “knives and sticks” (as reported by someone on Twitter) against Israel’s highly trained commandoes with automatic weapons and missile-laden gunboats seems pretty disproportionate to me. One thing I don’t understand is how there could have been such a comprehensive failure on the part of the IDF to subdue the activists peacefully. Surely one of the most well-trained armies in the world is capable of non-lethal means of arrest?
Some people are claiming that Israel had the right to respond to ‘non-state actors’ breaching its ‘legal blockade’ and violating its ‘authority’. I’ve even heard talk of ‘territorial waters’ (lost that link but whatever). My response to this is that it sounds incredibly weak. My knowledge of international law is hazy but I don’t understand how this blockade is legal in the first place, people in Gaza are clearly starving and it has been condemned left right and center. If state actors are too crippled by realpolitik to do anything about it then kudos to ‘non-state actors’ for taking up the mantle. Moreover, Israel formally disengaged from Gaza as an (illegal) occupying force in 2005. Are they not then Gazan territorial waters that the Israelis are illegally occupying with their blockade? Clearly my knowledge here is hazy so if anyone wants to correct me with links to international statute, please do so.
So to the fallout. I’m not going to provide links on all these because I want to get this post up quickly and a lot has happened in the past few hours. Take my word for it or google it and if you can’t find a source for anything I’ve posted then let me know.
The Turks are pretty angry, there have been reports of 10,000 marching in Istanbul, the Turkish word for Israel was trending way before the #flotilla hashtag hit the top 10 (though there have been allegations that Twitter was blocking the hashtag, this sounds flimsy to me but if it were true it would be a pretty big deal), and this is going to be a major diplomatic incident between the Governments. The Turkish ambassador has reportedly been recalled.
Arab-wise, the Arab League issued condemnation of Israel. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Emir of Qatar was the first to condemn the attack. Lebanon’s PM Saad Hariri called the attack “dangerous and crazy”. The PA’s Saeb Erekat called the attack “a war crime”. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Israel’s charge d’affairs and the Egyptians have summoned the ambassador. Moqtada al-Sadr has called for a large anti-Israel demonstration in Baghdad.
Greece has cancelled joint-military exercises with Israel over the attack. Ban Ki Moon has ordered a full investigation and explanation from Israel. There have been plenty of strong words reportedly issuing forth from the EU. Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have recalled ambassadors from Israel.
But this is all just the beginning. Forgive me if I’ve missed any key countries up there and I am still waiting to hear on the official positions of many others such as the US, UK, Russia and Australia. I don’t know where all this talk is going to end up, so far we have seen the usual from the international community: condemnations, some strongly worded and some mild, recalls of ambassadors and the like. This is nothing new. We saw this after the al-Mabhouh assassination.
Whether this will be a watershed moment in the way the world views Israel, only time will tell. If the reaction on Twitter is anything to go by (the first time I’ve seen anything Palestine-related trend first) then hopefully the world may be waking up to the realities of what’s happening in Palestine.
PS. Apart from the AJE liveblog mentioned above, the Guardian also has a pretty comprehensive one here.
UPDATE: Check out Updates in a fresh post here.