Israel goes 4th in international waters


An estimated 19 people are dead. The world united in condemnation (of various degrees; my favourite is the “…regrets the loss of life” formulation, which says nothing at all really: the US, UN, UK and Tony Blair are all culprits). Israel’s really messed this one up. But what exactly did they think was going to happen? How could intercepting a ship full of angry activists, in international waters, not end badly? Surely someone could foresee this.

So: has the famous Israeli PR machine lost the plot? Or, is a more cunning strategy at play here? For the answer to this question, one only needs to look at how Israel usually handles confrontation; that is, how it deals with the Palestinians.

Israeli behaviour toward the Palestinians often appears contradictory. On the one hand, Israel condemned and punished radical groups like Hamas, while on the other Israel’s overt, unnecessary aggression in the Palestinian territories encouraged Hamas’s existence. A minor but illustrative example: every Friday, a group of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals gather outside the mosque of the small West Bank Palestinian village of Bil’in. They’re here with banners and slogans, to protest the incursion of the security wall into traditional village farmland. A disjointed march to the fence ensues, where Israeli troops wait, armed with tear gas, noise machines, rubber bullets and, on occasion, raw sewage. These weapons, in varying combinations, are deployed every week to disperse the protest, despite the fact that the protest is completely peaceful (bar a few poorly-aimed stones). Such a disproportionate response leaves protestors more bitter and angry than when they began; it is a response designed to drive people further away from the middle ground, to make people less amenable to peaceful, moderate solutions.

This template is repeated in almost all of Israel’s actions in Palestine, from the aggressive settlement expansion policy to the alleged war crimes committed in the 2009 war on Gaza, with each overly aggressive reaction pushing more people away from compromise into the arms of radical groups such as Hamas. In other words, Israel’s actions and reactions help to create the very radical groups which it claims to despise.

This much is an observable conclusion, and not particularly revelatory; what is more interesting is the motivation for this strategy of radicalisation. Underpinning it is a truth which is whispered but rarely vocalised: that Israel is happy with the status quo. That Israel – with all the land, all the prosperity, and now with increasingly effective security – sees peace as bringing not benefits but concessions, concessions which pose a much more serious threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Israeli state than do Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Imagine a Palestine united under a peaceful, moderate and forgiving political party; the international pressure on Israel to strike a deal and to make real concessions would be near irresistible. However, a fractured Palestinian opposition, with the radical, militant and terrorist Hamas in the ascendancy is easy to ignore; indeed, under the rubric of the war of terrorism, Israel is actively encouraged to ignore such groups. By pushing Palestinians towards radicalism, Israel is carefully ensuring that there is no partner on the Palestinian side with whom it must strike some kind of meaningful bargain.

This tactic isn’t new. The apartheid government in South Africa employed it to great effect, pushing the ANC from a relatively peaceful and moderate opposition party to a fully-fledged militant organisation; a move which allowed the ANC and its members to be demonised, a key factor in securing the continued support from white South Africans and the international community for apartheid’s racist policies.

And this is the policy that Israel tried to enact today in the seas (just) outside Israel. Board the boats; use some violence; pin it on Al-Qaeda and Hamas links; and push otherwise moderate, peaceful protestors further away from the middle ground, making them even less of a threat. But Israel has – perhaps fatally – misjudged the international mood, and does not realise that they have turned into the bad guys. And far from pushing opponents away from the middle ground, they have just pushed themselves away from the middle ground, and are increasingly seen as stubborn, selfish and abusive.

What has worked for so long against the Palestinians will not work against the whole world. Israel’s misjudged this one, and it is only a matter of time before they will pay the price in the form of serious political concessions, be it lifting of the blockade or real talks with the Palestinians (including Hamas).

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Israel goes 4th in international waters

  1. Milette Shanon

    I srael has not misjudged this. The palestinians were looking to provoke trouble and they got what they deserved. Why don’t they try being a more productive group…and shed some of their vicitimization problems. None of the Muslim countries want them. Stop blaming Israel. Your hatred and blame of Israel (and the world’s) is an extension of visceral anti semitism. WE WILL SURVIVE

    • chuck

      i am appalled by your reaction. It is so typical of someone who’s eyes are close to the world. Someone who is so critical of others that they fail to see there own faults. I am embarrassed to be a member of the jewish faith.

  2. Sarah

    Milette, firstly – the Palestinians themselves were not the ones ‘looking to provoke’ in this incident. These people were international activists looking to bring desperately needed aid to the Palestinians. It was not a bunch of rowdy Palestinians trying to get Israel to react, it was the world showing what they think of this ridiculous blockade.
    Secondly, as for your accusations of anti-semitism, please grow up. The writer has clearly done a well-researched and interesting piece on the conflict as a whole. There is criticism of Israel, yes, but that does not and will never equate to hating the Jewish people. It equates to criticising a government with ridiculous and hateful policies!

    • Mike

      Milette,

      How can you say that the Palestinians were looking for trouble? They’re under a blockade and crucial goods- from medical to food to building supplies- have been denied to them by Israel. Simultaneously, Israel has almost half a million settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

      I’m a Jew, and I find the blockade and settlements to be morally despicable. You might think that this makes me anti-Semitic, but I would say that it makes me morally conscious of what’s going on. All too often, here in the U.S., people say that any criticism of the Israeli government’s actions are automatically anti-Semitic. This is nonsense. Only little children, or people afraid to debate issues, need to say “foul card, no discussion, anti-Semitism”- how about instead you address the actual injustices Israel is alleged to have committed, from imposing a blockade on a poor, overly crowded population to allowing over 450,000 settlers to remain in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?

      • Milette Shanon

        guess what, they could have easily gone to the Haifa or Ashdod Ports…and ultimatley the “aid” got in anyway. Furthermore, Israel gives millions of aid to the Palestinians. Again, know your facts, if getting aid in is what they wanted they could have easily done it without provoking this incident. Furthermore, as far as humanitarianism is concerned…guess who ran to Haiti?

  3. Allison

    I agree with Milette. Were any of you aware of the fact that Israel has delivered more than a million tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza and continues to deliver 10,000 to 15,000 tons of such aid every week?

    The outcry that Israel was unfairly denying aid is false because both Israel and Egypt offered to have all the food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods delivered to an Egyptian or Israeli port.

    While there might have been real peace activists on those boats, the organizers used them and the media to provoke.

    Israel’s rules of engagement require its soldiers to fire only paintballs unless their lives are in danger. They clearly were. Videos show the so called “peace activists” throwing an Israeli off the top deck of the lead ship, beating up others with iron bars, stabbing a number of them, firing guns at one of them. On the other 4 ships there was no violence, therefore the Israelis did not have to use force.

  4. Allison

    The flotilla was told that the humanitarian goods could be delivered to either an Egyptian or Israeli port. That offer was refused, so that there could be a confrontation. Israel delivers 10,000- 15,000 tons of huminatarian supplies to Gaza every week, per this week’s U.S. News & World Report.

    Israel’s rules of engagement required its soldiers to fire only paintballs unless their lives are in danger. They clearly were. Videos show the so- called “peace activists” throwing an Israeli off the top deck of the lead ship, beating up others with iron bars, stabbing a number of them, firing guns at one of them. Ultimately, the Israelis were forced to use deadly violence.

    While there were mostly peace activists on those ships, those people were used as was the media, in an effort by the organizers to make the Israelis look bad.

    Did you know that the organizers of this mission were asked to deliver to messages to Gilad Shilad, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas a couple of years ago and they refused. How humanitarian is that?

  5. Phred

    One can’t help wondering if either Milette or Allison have actually been into Palestine to see for themselves first hand what the reality of the situation there is. Go there and see for yourselves and then let everyone know if you still have the same thoughts and feelings on this subject. You might just develope some compassion for people as a whole.

  6. `-. that seems to be a great topic, i really love it :~*

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