I am in no way an expert in military affairs or in maritime law. But I have read various press reports and watched videos both from the Israeli Defense Force and Al Jazeera. Here are the two videos. Let me know what you see. But it has to be what you see not what you believe.
Here are my questions and observations:
1. This is not the first time groups, particularly “Free Gaza” have sent ships into Gaza. The Israeli navy either didn’t know that some were going in to Gaza or did nothing about them. On at least one other occasion an Israeli navy ship rammed a ship attempting to go into Gaza.
2. This, as far as I can tell, is the largest group of ships attempting to enter Gaza to date. Certainly the ships were larger, or at least one ship, the Mavi Marmara, was large enough to carry 600 passengers. Someone and news stories suggest it was Turks, put up a lot of money to pay for the ships. There were, by the way, ships sailing under the Turkish, Greek and US flags. There may have been ships registered in other countries as well.
3. There were, I understand, six ships in the flotilla. What happened on the other five ships? Why would the IDF open fire on one ship and not the others?
4. It is clear from both IDF videos and Al Jazeera’s video that some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara attacked Israelis after they slid down rope lines from helicopters.
5. I am not a military expert but watching Israeli soldiers sliding down ropes one by one onto a ship with 600 passengers does not seem to be the best way to mount an attack. In the IDF video soldiers land on the deck of the Mavi Marmara one by one and are attacked by people with objects that look like steel rods or baseball bats. Why would any commander put his soldiers at risk in such a fashion?
6. The reporter for Al Jazeera said that a white flag had been raised. I don’t think I saw a white flag but the ship is also painted white. Maybe there was a white flag that I didn’t see.
7. I did hear shots being fired. The IDF did not produce any pistols or rifles found on the ship. At the very least this suggests that the IDF has made some attempt at telling the truth. While claiming that there were guns on board the IDF did not produce any guns. It would have been very easy to toss a few pistols or rifles into the pile of metal bars, wooden bats and knives.
8. While I understand the desire to retaliate those on the Mavi Marmara would have served their cause better by not fighting back. Israel is susceptible to civil disobedience in ways that most of the surrounding Arab nations are not. And in fact simply sailing a ship towards a port on international waters is not even civil disobedience. Refusing to retaliate, however, would have made any attack by the Israeli navy that much more despicable. It was the sight of police using fire hoses and dogs against people who only wanted to use their right to vote and to be treated as equals in the 1950s and 60s in the south of the USA that ultimately turned the tide of the civil rights movement. If African Americans had used weapons from the start the “officials” would have had a public excuse to respond to force with force. One has to wonder if this is what happened on the other five ships.
9. On the other hand if no one had been killed or wounded the story would have never made the international news.
10. While Israel delivers aid to Gaza on a weekly basis it does not seem that the aid provided is sufficient to meet the needs of the people of Gaza. Curiously Egypt has also blockaded Gaza and, at least from what I’ve read, does not supply food or other supplies to Gaza. One has to wonder why.
11. If the people of Gaza are not receiving enough food it makes sense for people to try and provide the aid.
12. The Israeli government, with good reason, does not want to allow free access to Gaza by any ship as sooner or later a ship will carry weapons into Gaza.
13. Israel has withstood rocket attacks from Gaza lasting for years. One has to wonder what would have happened if Hamas had refused to use violence against Israel and sought to sit at a peace table with the Israelis. But Hamas already has a reputation for the use of violence in their victorious fight against Fatah.
14. In early 2009 Israel got tired of the rocket attacks and attacked Gaza. Lots of people were killed. Hamas and other groups in Gaza placed their supplies of weapons next to the houses of innocent people. There was at least one incident in which a white phosphorus rocket (used to provide light at night) fell in a neighborhood and set a house or houses on fire. How does one fight an enemy that hides behind the innocent?
15. There is a curious belief in the Hamas party that Israel’s abandonment of settlements in Gaza was a victory for them. Israelis are concerned that if they do the same on the West Bank that all Israeli cities would be open to attack by missiles. Further the border of the West Bank with Jordan is much longer than that of Gaza with Israel and Egypt. The probability that weapons would enter Palestinian territory would go up dramatically.
16. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority refuse to recognize Israel and are unwilling, as far as I can tell, to put that on the table as part of a peace settlement with Israel. Both organizations want at the very least for all those who left their homes in 1948 and their descendants to have the right to return to their homes. Israel will never allow this.
17. Hamas makes it clear in its charter that sooner or later Israel must be destroyed. Fatah which is currently recognized as the Palestinian Authority has also refused to put peace with Israel on the table.
18. Some in Israel want to exile all Palestinians. Attempts by Israel to protect itself and its settlers (particularly settlements in the West Bank) give the impression that Israel does indeed want to exile all Palestinians.
19. It must feel pretty lonely being Israel in the Middle East.
20. Most Israelis would love to have peace with the Palestinians. I suspect the same is true of the average Palestinian. The leaders of both sides at the present time seem to be convinced that a whole loaf is better than half a loaf. And so the violence goes on.
That’s what I saw and some conclusions I reached. Now some evaluation:
It seems to me that Israel is going to have big public relations problems after this event. If the public embarrassment (yes, killing people is worse than embarrassment but that is the best word available under the circumstances) to Israel is large enough maybe Israel would be willing to give more at the peace table. This would mean that the Palestinian leaders would have to be ready to make peace. I doubt that they are. So this will probably be one more incident in a long series of incidents in which people died and it will make no difference at all.
If the Palestinians were smart they would read Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Life in Palestine was much better for all before the second intifada. I hope that this tragedy will supply an impetus for peace. The land of Joshua, David, Jesus and yes, Saladin deserves more.
Oh, and for Presbyterians this will make things more exciting at the General Assembly. I doubt that Israel, Palestine or even Washington is listening with bated breath for the General Assembly to make a proclamation. I suspect that no one will care what Presbyterians think, no matter what the GA says.