The Israeli commando attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, 2010 has again proved that the Zionist state does not care for any international law when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. The attack was launched at night, on open sea in international waters (about 60 miles from the coast of Gaza), on the flotilla carrying about 700 unarmed peace activists (including the Swedish author Henning Mankell) and aid workers from several countries including Turkey. The ships were carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid including medical supplies and construction materials, but no arms. The aim was to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, being rigorously enforced for the past four years, in violation of a UN resolution.
At least 19 persons are reported to have been killed (Al-jazeera) on board the 'Mavi Mamara' with a large number injured. Due to 'media curfew' imposed by the Israeli authorities, the exact numbers of dead and injured are not yet fully known. Western media quotes Israeli sources to put the number of dead at 10. The Israeli military said that five of its personnel were also injured.
The unprovoked attack on an unarmed flotilla, whose main aim was to bring much needed relief materials to the people of Gaza under a deadly Israeli blockade is the latest example of Israeli brutality towards the lives, properties and dignity of the Palestinian people as a whole but especially of those living in Gaza strip. The Israeli rulers launched a barbarous war on Gaza during December 2008-January 2009 and used all types of modern weapons (except nuclear bombs) including chemical weapons (phosphorus bombs). Their aim to eliminate the Palestinian resistance once for all failed then due to the stiff resistance of the people and public protests throughout the world.
Since the Palestinian people refuse to accept the realities of the Israeli colonial conquest in West Bank and Gaza, they are facing the 'collective punishment' of the occupiers. Tactics such as constant harassment, denial of free movement, and limiting the sources of food, medicine, shelter, water, and other necessities for survival have long been Israel's strategy to force the Palestinians into total subjugation. Since February, 2009, the Gaza strip has been turned into a large scale 'detention centre' by Israel's military blockade on the land and on the sea. Tragically, the Mubarak regime in Egypt is also an indirect partner in this crime against Gaza.
The incident has provoked widespread reactions and protests throughout the world, including Western Europe. Turkey was furious since the attacked flotilla had Turkish flags and many of those on board were its citizens, including 9 killed. Moreover, the attack occurred in international waters outside the legal jurisdiction of Israel. It was indeed a gross violation of Turkey's sovereignty and insult to its national dignity.
While most Muslim countries in the Arab world and elsewhere have no diplomatic relations with Israel due to its illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands and its hostile policies towards the Arabs and Muslims, Turkey has maintained good diplomatic and other relations with Israel for many years. In recent years, Turkey has been helping the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. But now, Israel's relations with Turkey are bound to deteriorate. Whether Israel's displeasure at the recent role of Turkey along with Brazil to play a significant role in defusing the crisis on Iranian nuclear issue played any part in storming the Turkish flag bearing flotilla is not very clear.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the storming of the flotilla as a "massacre". The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, described it as a "war crime".
The UN, Turkey, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Russia, France and many other countries have severely criticised the Israeli actions, while the US and Britain have asked for 'credible investigations'.
Israel's propaganda offensive
Israel was quick to mount a PR offensive to face the growing international criticism and anger by setting out its version of events. It said that the 'extremists' on board attacked the commandoes with 'knives' and 'rods', and that they were looking for 'confrontation'.
"We found ourselves in the middle of a lynching," an Israeli spokeswoman told reporters in the Israeli port of Ashdod. "It was a massive attack," she said. "What happened was a last resort." She defended the indefensible, i.e., Israel's action in international waters was permissible because its security was threatened. Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, went one step further and described the activists as 'allies of Hamas and al-Qaida'. They would have opened an arms smuggling route to Gaza if they had been permitted to land there, claimed Mr. Ayalon.
This is a typical ploy by a powerful aggressor to justify its actions by blaming the victim. An act of piracy and murder by the Israelis is justified on the excuse of the so-called 'massive attack' by those on board the ship. To suggest that Israel's security was threatened by a few 'knife' welding peace activists is not only laughable but also a clear insult to our intelligence. The claim that the activists were 'allies of Hamas and al-Qaida' nothing but a piece of ultra-Zionist propaganda to gather support from powerful western leaders and ignorant/misguided supporters of the discredited 'war on terror'.
After the massacre, the dead and surviving activists were all taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod. They are "expected to be processed in a large white tent on the quayside, where they would be offered the choice of immediate deportation to their country of origin or going through the lengthy process of the Israeli courts system." But the Israeli authorities have not yet disclosed the names, nationalities, and physical and mental health of the 'detainees'. They will probably wait until international criticism slows down in tone and intensity.
Role of the US and Britain
Consider a hypothetical incident where the Iranian Navy personnel illegally board ships of Israel or other countries in international waters (Arabian sea, for example) and kill some passengers on the pretext of threat to its security. What would happen in such a scenario? One can easily guess that, in such a situation, the US, Britain and Israel would immediately muster worldwide condemnation of Iran (with or without UN resolution), demand unequivocal apology, impose all pervasive sanctions, give an ultimatum of say 24 hours, and then launch aerial and missile attacks on Iranian targets. Just remember the deadly fire works on Iraq in 2003! And the attack would be launched in a lightning speed to protect 'freedom of international navigation' and to change an 'evil regime' in Tehran on charges of 'threatening regional and world peace'. Is this a simple fantasy?
But what they do when it comes to similar actions (and more including illegally occupying other people's lands and resources, forced evictions, racist-apartheid policies to the Arabs, etc) by Israel? Although the US and Britain are the only powers to stop Israel's various criminal and genocidal acts, they would not do anything.
In this context, the question arises: are the US and Britain unwilling or unable to deal with Israel's aggressive policies? Many people believe that Israel is a military and strategic or 'colonial' outpost of these two imperialist powers, while others would suggest that Israel is the 'master' and the US and Britain are its 'neo-colonial' domains. It is argued that no US administration can go outside the boundaries set by the all powerful pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee), which is the most influential player in American politics. AIPAC sets the agenda of the US administration, especially in the foreign and war policies related to the Middle East. The pro-Israel lobby in Britain is also very powerful although it advances the Israeli cause with great finesse. The question of war and peace in the Middle East is, of course, much more complicated and involves several dimensions related to history, culture, economy and regional hegemony.
The role of western media has been mostly one-sided, directly or indirectly giving credence to the Israeli version of all events related to the Middle East. They talk about democracy, freedom, human rights, justice and fair-play but seem mostly indifferent to the terrible injustices caused by Israel's aggressive policies in the region.
Jonathan Cook, an eminent writer and journalist, has made the following comments on the massacre on the Gaza bound flotilla (http://www.counterpunch.org/ May 31, 2010).
"Israeli soldiers invaded these ships in international waters, breaking international law, and, in killing civilians, committed a war crime. The counter-claim by Israeli commanders that their soldiers responded to an imminent "lynch" by civilians should be dismissed with the loud contempt it deserves."
"The Israeli government approved the boarding of these aid ships by an elite unit of commandoes. They were armed with automatic weapons to pacify the civilians onboard, but not with crowd dispersal equipment in case of resistance. Whatever the circumstances of the confrontation, Israel must be held responsible for sending in soldiers and recklessly endangering the lives of all the civilians onboard, including a baby and a Holocaust survivor."
"Israel has no right to control Gaza's sea as its own territorial waters and to stop aid convoys arriving that way. In doing so, it proves that it is still in belligerent occupation of the enclave and its 1.5 million inhabitants. And if it is occupying Gaza, then under international law Israel is responsible for the welfare of the Strip's inhabitants. Given that the blockade has put Palestinians there on a starvation diet for the past four years, Israel should long ago have been in the dock for committing a crime against humanity."
"Today Israel chose to direct its deadly assault not only at Palestinians under occupation but at the international community itself."
But the big question remains: would the western leaders, especially in the US and UK, finally act to prevent the Israeli atrocities in the occupied territories?
[The author is a former Professor, Dhaka University (Bangladesh) and Lecturer, Cardiff University (UK)].