Israel on the High Seas
Published by marco on
The reason that so many people believe unquestioningly that the Israeli attack on the cargo flotilla was completely justified is that these people really and truly believe that there were terrorists on board. It’s hard for those who know that the boats were mostly filled with humanitarians, activists, foodstuffs and cement to imagine how people could really and truly believe that their main mission was to deliver missiles and suicide bombers. It’s faith, pure and simple; those that don’t doubt a word of the Israeli story—not matter how shaky—believe in the terrorists-are-everywhere myth in the same way that they believe in God.
It seems reasonable to assume that there were no rockets or other weapons. When the people on the boat saw the Israeli S.W.A.T. troops dropping from combat helicopters and grabbed themselves stout sticks in self-defense, it almost 100% means that they either (A) didn’t have anything better or (B) didn’t know how to fire one of the several hundred Katyusha rockets stored in the holds below. In any case, after doctoring the audio of the released tape, only releasing flattering footage and basically asserting and lying up a storm after having captured the fleet, the Israelis neglected to show the world all of the weapons they’d captured in their raid—and for which 9–19 people had given their lives. What they did manage to show was a pile of rusty tools and other implements one would expect to find on a boat—a collection incriminating only to someone who was already ready to believe anything the IDF had to say.
And the IDF as well as the Israeli government had much to say, though nothing unexpected. As detailed in the article, Obama’s Timidity and Deaths at Sea by Ray McGovern (Antiwar), the Israeli “spin-masters are already doing their best to smear the civilians on the ships with buzzwords, calling them “militants” and “terrorists” who “ambushed” and tried to “lynch” the Israeli commandos.” It doesn’t matter that lynching is generally an offensive act, not a defensive one. It doesn’t matter that the Israelis had to fly all the way out to sea in international waters and bungle an illegal boarding operation in which their weaponry outmatched their opponents to a ridiculous degree in order to be lynched. The western world is happy to listen to the Israelis tell stories of how their troops were ambushed that evening when they rappelled onto a Turkish ship in international waters.
While it’s easy to understand why Israel would frame the attack in this way, there is no good (read: ethical) reason for otherwise reasonable people to accept it. The video released by the Israelis shows the IDF commandos clearly being attacked with melee weapons (clubs, sticks, etc.). There seems to be no reason to doubt that this is exactly what happened. Resistance to an armed boarding seems like an appropriate reaction. Though most of us would probably have cowered before machine guns, it’s hard to argue that people have the right to resist boarding. It’s a mystery why this likely fact can be used to imply something sinister so effectively, especially for a people (Americans) who so jealously guard their freedom and property. It seems to be part of a pattern, though, as Americans are similarly blind to the right of Iraqis to resist their own occupation by the U.S.
The Israeli soldiers did not kill sheer boredom or a sense of superiority. They killed because that is what they were ordered to do. The argument is not that Israeli soldiers are evil: they are no more or less evil than the heavily indoctrinated soldiers of any other country. They almost certainly do have a sense of superiority and certainly don’t consider the Palestinians and their supporters as any approaching “real humans”. But again, that’s just standard for soldiers and their attitude vis-à-vis their enemies. It’s much harder to kill where there is empathy.
That they killed purely out of boredom or superiority would be hard to believe. But no-one reasonable is claiming that (which is what makes the claim a straw-man argument). The plan was to kill, otherwise it would have been planned differently. Sending soldiers on-board in the middle of the night was bound to provoke a reaction on one of the boats. Nighttime and opposition are all a soldier needs—even a commando—to either feel a real fear for his life or to at least be able to halfway convincingly claim that there was a legitimate fear for his life. After that, he can spray and pray and convince himself and the rest of the world that he was just trying to protect himself and his chums.
Soldiers follow orders and are turned into unquestioning killers with a combination of ideology, fear and lies. The killing was a foregone conclusion when the mission was planned. The Israeli military is professional enough to subdue stick-wielding opponents without killing them—they do it all the time in the occupied territories, though again not as often as they could. The real criminals here are those that planned this operation with clear intent to kill—most likely to teach the world a lesson. As detailed by a veteran Israeli reporter in the article, Exodus 2010 by Uri Avnery (Antiwar.com):
“[T]he preparations for the flotilla went on for more than a year. There was no secret. Everything was out in the open. […] The orders given to the forces and made public included the three fateful words: “at any cost.” Every soldier knows what these three terrible words mean. Moreover, on the list of objectives, the consideration for the passengers appeared only in third place, after safeguarding the safety of the soldiers and fulfilling the task. […] The propaganda of the government and the army tells a simple story: our heroic soldiers, determined and sensitive, the elite of the elite, descended on the ship in order “to talk” and were attacked by a wild and violent crowd. Official spokesmen repeated again and again the word “lynching.” […] But there is a grain of truth there: they are the victims of arrogant and incompetent commanders, irresponsible politicians, and the media fed by them. (Emphasis added.)”
This is always the problem with sending in troops—they will naturally consider their own safety and the safety of their comrades to be worth much more than those of the enemy, even when not directly ordered to do so. This is natural and acceptable in war, but in attacks like that on the flotilla, where there are only civilians on-board, it is purely unethical madness. Those soldiers should not be there because civilian deaths are only too likely to be the result. Luckily, no one really cares about ethics anymore or really understands what it means to be ethical. How else can it be considered to be acceptable to kill people without charging them with or convicting them of anything.
Again, it is here that the media has performed its service admirably: Americans are generally inured to the idea of apprehending “certain people” and detaining them for indefinite periods or killing them—even when they are Americans. The idea that people can expect a legal process has been nearly completely eroded. Luckily, the government and media are always there to let Americans know exactly who deserves such treatment. And, as long as it’s no one they know—and even better if the persons involved hold unpopular opinions or look different—Americans just shrug their shoulders and accept that the world is a bad place and we can’t stick to law and order when the enemy is clearly unwilling to do so. Make no mistake, it’s an utterly reprehensible and wholly amoral way to live, but that’s how things still are, even in the supposedly enlightened 21st-century.
Tilting at Windmills
The article, Why Israel’s narrative of the flotilla attack is failing so badly by Hussein Ibish, is hopeful and offers quite strong arguments as to why the story doesn’t add up but, as we’ll see later, that hardly matters.
“The entire Israeli effort since these realities became known has been to try to complicate the picture and shift the responsibility for the bloodshed away from the military commandos who stormed the ship, or their commanders, and onto the passengers themselves. […] At the very least, there is a huge missing piece, and probably many missing pieces, to the picture, even if many, if not most, elements of the Israeli narrative are accurate. It doesn’t even begin to explain how a large, well armed and very powerful navy was unable to seize control of an unarmed civilian ship without killing and injuring so many people.”
Ibish is quite well-versed in such matters and is clearly only playing naive here, as the point was quite clearly to make the point that no one is safe from Israel when it feels threatened. It’s the mad-dog theory of Richard Nixon. Of course the story doesn’t add up; why waste time and energy on a story that makes sense when any old story will do? Let the American media do the legwork of building a case for Israel—as they always do. The Israeli government can then just lean back and bask in their victimhood.
“[w]hy weren’t these “terrorists” armed with more than random items to be found on many a ship? If they came for a violent confrontation with Israeli military forces, they certainly came ill-prepared and the outcome strongly reflects that. The whole thing doesn’t add up, and that’s a charitable assessment.”
Questions such as the one Ibish poses above are highly salient and wonderful fodder for an evening’s discussion, but completely irrelevant because no one with any power whatsoever cares. But Ibish is not alone in fighting the windmills; there are isolated others who are also asking whether the people on the Mavi Marmara were really terrorists. The epithet has been gleefully repeated ad nauseum in the press, but what has the group actually done to earn it? According to the article, More Spin from Israel by Philip Giraldi (Antiwar.com), the humanitarian group that organized the flotilla “is not regarded by anyone but Benjamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman as subversive.”
Reactions from America
The article, Israel’s Latest Violation by Stephen Zunes (Antiwar.com), details many of the American reactions to the incident. Though an even marginally objective examination would raise some very big questions, the American reaction is that the facts are as clear-cut as the sun rising in the East.
“Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), whom the Democrats have chosen to lead the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, claimed that the killings were “wholly the fault and responsibility of the organizers of the effort to break through Israel and Egypt’s legitimate closure of terrorist-controlled Gaza.” Insisting that Israel’s act of piracy on the high seas was “a legal mission,” he claimed the humanitarian relief effort was actually “for the benefit of Hamas and as part of the international effort to delegitimize Israel’s existence.””
The article, Israel’s Defenders Mobilize, Threaten by Jim Lobe (Antiwar.com), has more examples of this sociopathic hyperbole—sociopathic because it completely disregards the fact that Israeli troops killed at least 9 civilians. The following citation from Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is long, but sufficiently gob-smacking at to warrant being included in full.
“As the international community is engaged in a biased rush to judgment against Israel and a diplomatic lynching, now is the time for the United States to firmly stand with the Jewish state and its people […] The U.S. must show the world that it not only supports Israel’s right to defend its borders and citizens against terrorism, but that it supports Israel’s right to protect itself from people who pretend to be ‘peace activists,’ and parade under the guise of humanitarians while supporting Hamas and violently attacking Israeli military personnel.”
Next to Foxman, Ackerman’s response appears reasoned and even-handed. The article from which the citation was taken includes many more equally ridiculous citations from others, calling for a “green light for Israel to strike Iran” or that the “White House […] does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.” Again, these claims are so laughable that they could be dismissed out of hand as the ravings of fringe lunatics, until one sees that they come from highly-placed administration advisors and very popular media figures.
“If the only way we can make the Israelis feel “secure” is by allowing them to engage in international piracy on the high seas, then perhaps this is the sort of high-maintenance relationship we can no longer afford. When Israelis are allowed to kill and kidnap Americans, without having to endure even a mild rebuke, one has to wonder what, exactly, is going on in Washington, D.C. Yes, the Israel lobby is one of the most powerful, but surely there’s someone in those circles willing to stand up for America and American interests – isn’t there?”
The important thing to do here, as an objective observer, is not to dismiss Ackerman’s comments out of hand. He is a man of great power in this issue and it would behoove those opposed to his murderous attitude to learn why and how he could possibly hold such an abhorrent opinion without blinking an eye. Is it really possible for him to say something like this because he is paid to by lobbies? That is highly unlikely; rather, it is far more likely that he is utterly convinced that Israel’s existence hangs by a string and that the whole world is out to get them. Utterly and unconditionally convinced of that fact. What can one do with such a person? The brainwashing runs so deeply that his mind automatically translates sensory input into a format that fits neatly within the established narrative. When victims of Israeli gunfire appear in the narrative, the only possible explanation is that these victims were terrorists bent on pushing Israel into the sea.
Reactions from Israel
The author of the article, Israel’s Greatest Loss: Its Moral Imagination by Henry Siegman (Haaretz), mentions a similar experience, wherein he “called a life-long friend in Israel to inquire about the mood of the country”. He was told that “that the world’s outpouring of condemnation of Israel is reminiscent of the dark period of the Hitler era.” Apparently, this man is in the majority opinion in Israel, where they’ve drunk their own Kool-Aid to the extent that they can no longer see when they are in the wrong—or at least that they are standing on morally shaky ground. Such a person is incapable of imagining how the flotilla attack looks to someone who does not accept that Israel’s existence is threatened. He believes that anyone expressing anything less than utter adulation for Israel is a secret Nazi. The people—if that term even applies—aboard the Mavi Marmara were terrorists, there is no doubt (in this person’s mind). Performing the thought experiment of considering the situation as if they were not and were really just trying to deliver foodstuffs to starving people is tantamount to treason.
This is something that can happen to any one of us. It is a weakness that can only be held at bay with practice, practice, practice. Given a situation, imagine it with the roles reversed or with other actors in the roles. For example, imagine the flotilla attack as if it had been perpetrated by Iran. One wonders what Mr. Ackerman or Mr. Foxman would think of that. It’s hard to imagine them defending Iran’s right to enforce a blockade, regardless of where it was.
Siegman (cited above) also touched on this inability of Israel to objectively judge its own actions.
“That intelligent and moral people, whether German or Israeli, can convince themselves of such absurdities (a disease that also afflicts much of the Arab world) is the enigma that goes to the heart of the mystery of how even the most civilized societies can so quickly shed their most cherished values and regress to the most primitive impulses toward the Other, without even being aware they have done so.”
Incidentally, Siegman’s editorial appeared in Haaretz, one of the most influential newspapers in Israel. No one with any knowledge of the U.S. mainstream media could imagine such an article appearing in any leading U.S. newspaper. Whereas the Israeli media at least possesses enough introspection and respect for other opinions that they are willing to publish editorials lamenting their lack of objectivity about their actions, the American media isn’t willing to go even that far.
Since actually sending food to a starving people barricaded from the rest of the world by a blockade—one that, though it may have been deemed legal by the rulers of the world is, at the very least, highly unethical and a clear example of collective punishment under the Geneva Conventions—is seemingly impossible under any foreseeable conditions (as dictated by the U.S. hegemony), those with a hint of ethics must seek alternatives. Luckily, the U.S. government has suggestions.
“Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations insisted that those wishing to aid the people of Gaza should use “non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms” and that “direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible.””
After all, Israel allows at least 20% of the trucks through that are deemed the absolute minimum to properly feed Gaza. On a good day. And the Israeli approach to deeming medical or other supplies as potentially dual-purpose makes the American sanctions that starved half a million Iraqi children and consigned countless others to lingering deaths in under-equipped hospitals look positively enlightened.
The Futility of Logic (or: Tilting at Windmills II)
Those that are unable to imagine the shoe on the other foot (as with the replace-Israel-with-Iran example above) or who can believe completely contradictory concepts without batting an eye are said to suffer from cognitive dissonance. The recent Israeli attack and justification thereof raises an especially thorny example, as detailed by Zunes below.
“The very people defending Israel’s right to intercept these vessels are the same ones who have been insisting that Israel no longer occupies the Gaza Strip since the withdrawal of its colonists and occupation forces from the territory in 2005. If that were really the case, however, Israel would have no legal right to prevent ships entering Gaza’s waters. They can’t have it both ways. They can either acknowledge that the Gaza Strip remains occupied territory since Israel has it under a sea blockade, or they can acknowledge that the ships have a right to enter Gaza’s port unimpeded. (Emphasis added.)”
It’s absolutely adorable that Zunes is still capable of writing the highlighted phrase above. Whereas he is 100% correct in a world where logic and reason hold sway, those of us living in this world—where gut reactions, prejudice and power-play agendas hold sway—must accept that Israel most certainly can—and will—have it both ways. This is because the reasoning Zunes used above is not only bookishly boring (nerd!) but goes against the grain of the established narrative. It will therefore be ignored.
Again, if we switch out Israel for a country that the U.S. does not unequivocally support, the U.S. would use such reasoning to force movement on one front or the other. Obama would probably deliver it with a flourish and verbal riposte, accompanied by the now-famous smirk he employs when he knows he’s right and has his opponent cornered. Would that he would use this power for good, but alas.
What if America were willing to, for once, treat this attack as if it had been perpetrated by a non-ally on an ally? Which international law or laws apply? On this topic, opinions are flying thick and fast, with people from all sides weighing in. Some proposals are so clearly biased one way or another that it’s not even worth mentioning them. Ray McGovern (cited above) himself cites “Craig Murray, a former British ambassador and Foreign Office specialist on maritime law” on this matter. As with most matters of law, it comes down not only to the facts of the crime—which are not in dispute—but to motive and jurisdiction.
If “the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel [then] the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship.” However, he goes on to say that the ship was sailing under a Turkish flag and that, because of the incident, “Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the attack by Israeli commandos falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.” Though the Mavi Marmara is Turkish in origin, it is actually a Comoros-flagged vessel. Comoros is a small, independent island nation lying northwest of Madagascar. Though Murray says that the ship is “Turkish territory”, he does not mention Comoros, which can mean either that the distinction doesn’t apply or that he is unaware of it.
The more interesting possibility is if Israel denies that the commandos were operating in its interests. Then the commandos committed “acts of murder [that] fall under Turkish jurisdiction”. In that case, Israel must hand over the commandos to be investigated and prosecuted under Turkish law. Naturally, that type of law only applies to nations too powerless to flout it. It is unlikely that there will be an independent investigation or that Israel will comply with any international requests or laws that do not serve its purposes.
The Real Issue
“[C]ritics of the Jewish state’s actions have to overcome a very steep presumption of Israeli rectitude ingrained in U.S. media and culture just to inform Americans about the facts. As a result, pro-Israeli legal arguments do not need to aim high. They do not have to be correct. They do not even have to have merit. In fact, to succeed, these arguments only need to be made. The trick is to refocus attention from the moral question ‘How could they do such a thing?’ to the legal question ‘Does the law permit them to do such a thing?’ (Emphasis added.)”
And there’s the rub. It’s the lesson all successful politicians learn: the side that sets the parameters of the debate is the side that wins. Any initial moral outrage—morality being an issue about which many people have an opinion—is quickly buried in the minutiae of international law—about which people are sure they know nothing and are wholly unqualified to even form an opinion. And that’s just perfect because then those people are willing to concede the job of forming a viewpoint to someone they consider to be more well-versed in such matters.
As Casey says, once the argument is made, people do the rest of work of convincing themselves that they are unqualified to judge the situation on their own. In a very short time, the cowed populace is taken from being very sure about how they feel about commandos killing activists on a boat in international waters to feeling like anti-Semites for even thinking such thoughts when even the experts aren’t sure that the commandos did anything illegal. The nine dead fade into the background as irrelevant because it’s quite possible that their murders were committed legally. It really is so easy to convince people that murder can be legal and that certain people just had it coming.
On the subject of setting the narrative and setting parametes, the article, Palestinians Need a State: Loosening Blockade is not Enough by Juan Cole (Informed Comment) makes the point that not only is the legality of the attack beside the point, but the morality of the single attack is as well. The issue is not the attack; the issue is not the blockade; the issue is the occupation; the issue is continued Palestinian statelessness.
“One problem with the focus the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla is that it may make it appear that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is the central issue. Then any Israeli loosening of the blockade would seem to be an advance. […] In fact, the blockade is not the problem but is rather a symptom of the underlying issue, which is Palestinian statelessness. Gazans have no state. What the Israelis deign to call the ‘Hamas regime’ is no such thing because it lacks sovereignty, over its borders, air, sea, imports and exports. (The idea that Israel is ‘at war’ with its own occupied territory is laughable.) […]”
So there are several levels of deflection involved here, each of which is a nearly insurmountable barrier erected by Israel and the U.S. to avoid ever discussing the real issues in a constructive way. The world is focused on the blockade now; further ships to be sent by Turkey and Iran will put the test to Israeli fanaticism—or that of Netanyahu. This is a good thing in the long run, though in the short run, the Israeli Army is likely to kill more civilians—they can’t give up now and let boats through, can they? Not when they’re fighting for their very existence.
Not only does couching such attacks as purely legal issues rob people of the feeling that they have a right to moral outrage, but it also puts all the focus on an avenue that can’t possibly result in any punishment. As Casey puts it:
“The irony in discussing Israel’s assault on the Free Gaza flotilla as a legal issue at all is that the law is completely irrelevant. There is no international court or tribunal with any effective authority over the Jewish state. No judgment issued by any judicial authority would ever be enforced against it. It will never be held to account by any jury or other fact-finder following the presentation of evidence.”
So, the mission is already accomplished: Americans no longer feel qualified to judge the attack one way or the other and, should something like the Goldstone report ever appear—which condemned Israel for war crimes in their December ‘08 – January ‘09 assault on Gaza—they can easily accuse all involved of anti-Semitism to great effect.
There is always Robert Fisk to remember the history for us that the rest of the western media tries so hard to help us forget. History is that which provides context to issues; it frames them as well. It helps people better determine whether something like the Israeli attack on the flotilla was a tragically unavoidable accident—as is nearly unanimously claimed—or part of a larger well-established pattern. The article, The truth behind the Israeli propaganda by Robert Fisk (The Independent), provides such context:
“I wasn’t personally at all surprised at the killings on the Turkish ship. In Lebanon, I’ve seen this indisciplined rabble of an army – as “elite” as the average rabble of Arab armies – shooting at civilians. I saw them watching the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinians on the morning of 18 September (the last day of the slaughter) by their vicious Lebanese militia allies. I was present at the Qana massacre by Israeli gunners in 1996 – “Arabushim” (the equivalent of the abusive term “Ayrab” in English), one of the gunners called the 106 dead civilians, more than half of them children, in the Israeli press. Then the Israeli government of Nobel laureate Shimon Peres said there were terrorists among the dead civilians – totally untrue, but who cares? – and then came the second Qana massacre in 2006 and then the 2008-09 Gaza slaughter of 1,300 Palestinians, most of them children, and then…”
“Instead, one must listen to Moshe Yaalon, then chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, who said in 2002 that “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people”. By massacring the Mavi Marmara’s activists — whose names and religion are still unknown — Israel wants Gazans to know that even the international community cannot save them.”
It’s not like the Israeli leadership is trying to hide its feeling about the Palestinians and their activists. They simply call them all Hamas-supporters and imply that none of them are worth consideration or protection from violence. And luckily for Israel—and, as mentioned above—the American mass media focuses its not inconsiderable power to help Israel spread and enforce this interpretation. Or, as the article, Thomas Friedman on the flotilla raid: It was definitely a “setup” by Alex Pareene (Salon.com), puts it:
“So this is the official Moderate Elite Opinion on the flotilla raid: Maybe Israel could’ve found a smarter way to prevent basic goods from reaching the people of Gaza, but those “humanitarian” activists were fucking asking for it.”
↩“Well, then came the Goldstone report, which found that Israeli troops (as well as Hamas) committed war crimes in Gaza, but this was condemned as anti-Semitic – poor old honourable Goldstone, himself a prominent Jewish jurist from South Africa, slandered as “an evil man” by the raving Al Dershowitz of Harvard – and was called “controversial” by the brave Obama administration. “Controversial”, by the way, basically means “fuck you”.”
The article, Who Is Afraid of a Real Inquiry? by Uri Avnery (Antiwar), has 80 questions for Israelis and their government that would be asked “[i]f a real commission of inquiry had been set up (instead of the pathetic excuse for a commission).”
Questions cover topics like
- “What is the real aim of the Gaza Strip blockade?”
- “Questions concerning the decision to attack the flotilla”
- “Questions concerning the planning of the action”
- “Questions concerning the action itself”
- “Questions concerning the behavior of the IDF spokesman”
- “Questions concerning the inquiry”
- Leading up to “What is our [the Israeli] political and military leadership trying to hide?”
The article, When Propaganda Is No Longer Necessary (Anonymous Liberal), also lashes out at the U.S. media, for whom Israel’s essential goodness is so deeply ingrained that it extends to absolving it of the murder of an American citizen a priori.
“There’s another rather disgusting tendency of the American Right on display in Johnson’s post: the blind assumption that any Muslim who is killed or captured deserves it. With his keen logic, he notes that if this kid was “shot five times at close range, four times in the head,” then “it is reasonable to infer that he was one of those attacking Israeli soldiers with a club, knife or other weapon and was shot in self-defense.”
“Yes, of course, the only logical inference one can make when presented with a corpse riddled with five gun shot wounds, including four to the head, is that person was shot in self-defense. Someone get this guy a job on CSI. Really, who needs propaganda when there are people out there who, without any prodding, already reason like this?”