The Associated Press reports that “Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing at least 10 passengers in a predawn raid that set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis”:
Israel said the forces encountered unexpected resistance as they boarded the vessels. Dozens of passengers and at least five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the confrontation in international waters.
The Israeli military said in a statement: “Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval blockade (of the Gaza Strip) … During the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the protesters, who attacked them with live fire.”
The Israeli raid has “triggered widespread condemnation across Europe; many of the passengers were from European countries. The raid also strained already tense relations with Israel’s longtime Muslim ally Turkey, the unofficial sponsor of the mission, and drew more attention to the plight of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.”
Greater international attention and sympathy to the plight of Palestinians suffering under the Israeli-Egyptian- (and U.S.) enforced siege of Hamas-ruled Gaza is precisely what Israeli authorities were hoping to avoid. In the days and weeks leading up to the launch of the flotilla, the Israeli government and its American mouthpieces were hard at work both to downplay the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and to present the flotilla’s sponsors as supporters of terrorism. (The evidence for the latter claim seems to amount to the usual game of “Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden,” wherein everyone who has ever contributed money to a Palestinian cause is linked to global jihadism.)
Responding to claims that the aid flotilla itself represented a “provocation,” Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine writes, well, yeah: “The whole point of the ‘Gaza flotilla’ was to get a reaction out of Israel and call international attention to the problem of the blockade of Gaza…like all other acts of civil disobedience it was designed to provoke a response.”
Writing that the attack “is likely to create sustained international attention to the way Israel has treated the Gaza Strip in a way that nothing else has since the Gaza war and possibly since the beginning of the blockade,” Ibish suggests we compare the flotilla “to the ‘Mississippi Freedom Summer’ in which young white Americans from around the country went to the bastion of Jim Crow in order to organize local African-Americans, register them to vote, educate them and confront segregation”:
They knew it was a dangerous situation, and they were shocked but not surprised when James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were abducted and killed by the KKK as the project just got going. There were many other acts of quasi-official violence meted out to the volunteers, and while the organizers obviously would have preferred to have avoided all of that, they expected it and it was part of their strategy. The largely but not entirely unstated reasoning was that the country would continue to ignore massive violence directed towards the African-American community in Mississippi, but could and would not remain oblivious to similar violence directed towards young, white, middle-class college students from New York City and other metropolitan centers. This, indeed, proved the case. The violence directed at the Mississippi Freedom Summer shocked the conscience of the country and was among the numerous decisive moments in the civil rights movement that ultimately succeeded in dismantling the apparatus of formalized racism in the United States.
Like segregation in the American South, the siege of Gaza (and the entire Israeli occupation, for that matter) is a moral abomination that should be intolerable to anyone claiming progressive values. It’s sad that it should require the deaths of non-Palestinians to finally shake the international community from apathy and inaction, but, as with the tragic murders of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, if it contributes to ending the situation then that’s a positive outcome.
Unfortunately, the killings will also likely result in the strengthening of support for Hamas vis a vis more moderate Palestinian leaders, causing greater unrest, and stirring more violence.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a written statement that “the United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has expressed his “full backing” for the raid, has canceled his scheduled meeting tomorrow with President Obama.