As the international outcry over a deadly Israeli commando attack on the Gaza aid flotilla builds, we may well be witnessing a watershed moment that turns international public opinion against the Israeli siege of Gaza and decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories.
According to the UN, only a quarter of the supplies needed to meet Gaza's humanitarian needs are reaching the territory because of Israel’s three year-long blockade. Attempting to break the siege, the six-ship Gaza freedom flotilla sailed from Cyprus with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, including cement, water purification systems, prefabricated homes and electric wheelchairs. Among their passengers were a Nobel laureate, several European politicians and a Holocaust survivor.
Israeli authorities had vowed to stop the convoy but few expected the violence that erupted. Elite Israeli naval commandos descended from helicopters onto the decks of the Turkish Mavi Mamara 70 miles off the Israeli coast in international waters. Met with resistance from pipe and slingshot wielding aid workers and activists, the commandos opened fire with live ammunition killing between 10 and 19 people and wounding approximately 40 others.
Israeli authorities blamed the violence on the flotilla’s organizers for not heeding calls to turn back and claimed commandos only fired their weapons in self-defense. During the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli settlers fought bitterly with Israeli police, swinging pipes and throwing acid from rooftops. Yet somehow the Israeli police were able to overcome them without resorting to deadly force.
Despite attempts to deflect responsibility, the widespread international condemnation of the violent raid suggests that Israeli authorities will finally be held to account for their actions.
The UK, China and Russia have called for Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be lifted, France and Spain condemned the raid as disproportionate, Greece cancelled joint military exercises with Israeli forces, Sweden, Denmark and Jordan have summoned their Israeli envoys to explain the attack while Egypt opened the Rafah crossing to Gaza under pressure from the Arab world.
It is believed that most of the dead activists and aid workers are Turkish nationals and the incident has done potentially irreparable damage to Israel’s vital relationship with Turkey, one of its only Muslim allies.
Despite international outrage, the Obama administration has given Israel a pass to play by its own rules. Saying the attempt to break the blockade was “Neither appropriate nor responsible,” the US called for Israel – rather than an impartial body - to carry out a full investigation. Summarizing the US position, an American official said of the Israeli account of events "We're the only ones who believe them.”
Two more boats are on their way to challenge the blockade in the coming days and the Irish government has urged Israel to allow the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie to reach Gaza. Meanwhile a top Israeli naval commander told the Jerusalem Post "Next time we'll use more force".
The deadly raid is only the most recent in a string of high profile embarrassing events for the Israeli government and military in the wake of the devastation of Gaza, including the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai by Mossad agents traveling on the forged passports of friendly countries, the announcement of illegal settlement expansion during a visit from Vice President Joe Biden, the refusal to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington out of fear that its own nuclear weapons stockpile would be scrutinized and the decision to ban acclaimed Jewish-American academic Noam Chomsky from entering the occupied West Bank to speak at a Palestinian university.
Though Israel’s apologists are out in full force, they will find it difficult to spin this PR nightmare. The attack against a humanitarian aid ship in international waters was so brazen and reckless that we may well look back on the event as a vital tipping point. If there was ever a moment to push back against the Israeli occupation it is now. More people are questioning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians than ever before and those concerned with human rights and democracy must seize the opportunity to take action. Numerous emergency demonstrations to condemn the attack are planned in cities across the world.
Visit these links to see how you can lend your voice to the growing international chorus calling for justice.