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Forget what country did it. Consider, first, the facts: Armed commandos attack an unarmed ship in international waters, open fire and kill nine civilians, including one American.
What do you call that? An act of piracy. It doesn’t matter what country did it. It would have been wrong for Iran to do it. It would have been wrong for North Korea to do it. It was wrong for Israel to do it – and the United States should simply say so.
How long are we going to defend Israel, no matter what mistakes it makes? And when will we finally learn that supporting Israel does not mean supporting everything a particular government of Israel might do – no more than being a patriotic American means supporting every policy of Barack Obama’s.
There is no justification for Israel’s decision to use military force to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the shores of Gaza, especially after the United States had warned Israel to use “caution and restraint.”
Defending the operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that Israel has the right to defend itself. Of course, it does. Nobody disputes that. But six ships bearing 700 peace activists and 10,000 tons of construction materials, medicine and school supplies presented no threat to Israel’s security – a fact reinforced when Israel allowed the cargo to be unloaded and taken by truck to Gaza, just one day later.
Did passengers on board the Mavi Marmara strike first? Yes. But only with knives, iron pipes and slingshots. And only after armed soldiers boarded and attempted to take over their ship. In response, cornered Israeli troops opened fire in what can only be described as a badly botched military exercise resulting in an unnecessary and excessive use of force.
Israel’s ham-handed operation unleashed a flood of condemnation worldwide, but nowhere more severe than inside Israel itself. Writing in the New York Times, novelist Amos Oz accuses the Netanyahu government of being “fixated on military force” and operating under the “mistaken assumption that Hamas’ control of Gaza can be ended by force of arms.” In the Israeli daily Haaretz, columnist Gideon Levy laments: “The country now has a blind captain in the cockpit, flying his blindfolded passengers with exemplary precision toward the destination he envisioned” – where the whole world is against Israel, even the United States.
In this case, however, Netanyahu may have outsmarted himself. Ignoring pleas for restraint from the United States, he approved “Operation Sea Breeze” in order to strengthen Israel’s naval blockade against Gaza. Instead, by overreacting, he made the strongest argument for ending it.
Before the commando raid on Turkish ships, few people knew the Israeli blockade even existed. Now, the whole world does. They also know how futile, how fickle and how cruel it is. Import of concrete and other building materials are banned, as a result of which it’s impossible for residents of Gaza to rebuild homes, businesses, or schools destroyed in the last conflict. Export of furniture, textiles and other products formerly manufactured in the territory is also banned, resulting in 40 percent unemployment.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials insist there’s no “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. Yet the list of household items refused entry at various times includes light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee, chocolate, nuts, shampoo and conditioner. According to the U.N., 70 percent of Gaza families live on less than one dollar a day, and 60 percent of Gazans are “food insecure” – meaning they go to bed hungry.
Originally sold as a means of making Israel more secure, the blockade of Gaza, now in place for three years, has had just the opposite effect. It has not made Israel more secure, but it has strengthened the hand of Hamas, caused great suffering among the population of Gaza and further alienated the Arab world against any accommodation with Israel.
The only hope is that after one more disastrous display of force even Israel’s hardliners will realize that military force alone will not end Hamas’ control of Gaza or solve the Palestinian problem. The only solution is a two-state solution. And the only way to get there is by resumption of peace talks.
If that happens, if this military disaster serves to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the peace table, even the deaths of nine peace activists will not have been in vain.