I woke up this morning in Amman, Jordan, to the alarming news that things had turned bloody in the Mediterranean. The latest reports are indicating that Israeli forces have killed some 16 humanitarian activists and injured many dozens more on board of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a humanitarian convoy of ships attempting to deliver aid to the besieged Gaza Strip.
Gaza has been under a devastating and unlawful blockade since Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, and the blockade was further tightened when Hamas took control of the crowded strip after a military confrontation with political rival Fatah. The blockade persisted despite Hamas's strict observance, and repeated Israeli-initiated breaks, of a ceasefire agreement that mandated an easing of the blockade.
The blockade caused "dire shortages of food, water, cooking gas, fuel and access to medical care," leading to a very serious humanitarian crisis, including hundreds of civilian deaths due to lack of access to adequate medical care. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the blockade had led to a "catastrophe" in Gaza, while former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, commenting on the effects of the blockade on Gaza, said "their whole civilization has been destroyed, I'm not exaggerating." A headline in the UK's Times Online indicated that some Gaza families had literally been reduced to eating grass.
It is against this backdrop that the Freedom Flotilla has joined several previous convoys, some successful and others not, which sought to break the siege on Gaza by delivering humanitarian aid.
This Morning's Events:
It's not readily clear what exactly transpired on the ships after Israeli forces (initiating the confrontation) stormed them in international waters, but Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's preposterous assertion that the humanitarian activists were connected to al-Qaeda has indicated from the beginning that Israel has no intention whatsoever to be serious in explaining its actions. But who can blame them for reaching for the absurd? To appreciate how tough it is to explain their actions, all one has to do is imagine the opposite scenario: What if it were Hamas militants that attacked humanitarian ships in international waters on their way to deliver humanitarian aid to Israel? Is there anything Hamas could possibly say to make its actions seem defensible?
Attempting to tow a slightly less absurd line of argument was Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, who told the BBC that the aid convoy was to blame for the violence, because "unfortunately this group were [sic] dead-set on confrontation." Except, of course, the aid convoy was not going to Israel, but to Gaza (you know, where we're told Israel's occupation ended years ago). So, unless Regev wants to suggest that Israel was acting to protect Gazans from a confrontation with the aid convoy, he should come to terms with the obvious fact that it is Israel's unlawful siege on someone else's land which is "dead-set on confrontation" with a world that has lost patience for a policy of mass devastation and economic strangulation of an entire people.
Global Outrage & Future Implications:
The costs of Israel's blunder were immediate: Turkey withdrew its Ambassador to Israel, and joined Greece in cancelling joint military exercises with it; while several EU countries summoned their Israeli Ambassadors to protest Israel's conduct. Hezbollah's first reaction, after an emboldened speech by its leader several days ago, was to state that it considers all Lebanese citizens among the abducted activists to be "hostages," seemingly justifying potential retaliatory actions by Hezbollah. A meeting between Obama and Netanyahu has been cancelled, and protests against Israel's atrocity have been organized throughout the United States and across the world. And if this morning's actions lead Turkey to join the Hezbollah-Syria-Iran alliance, the strategic costs to Israel may be flat out disastrous.
To reiterate, Israel is confronting a world that is getting increasingly fed up with its occupation, its siege of Gaza, its illegal settlements and home demolitions; and it faces a choice: it can either begin to behave within minimum standards of decency and legality towards a real end to the occupation and a peace agreement with the region, or it can become even more belligerent and violent, paving its way towards greater global isolation. Its arrogance of power seems to have taken it down the latter path, and it may be in need of friends to save it from its own reckless behavior.