Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Mean, Hateful, And Stupid

The Israeli attack on the boats carrying humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza has at least temporarily focused the world's attention on something other than the BP Gulf spill. Predictably, the two stories share a couple of common factors, the biggest of which is the "he said, she said" coverage.

Israel claims the deaths and injuries were caused by the boats' illegal attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza, a blockade imposed for security reasons once Hamas took over Gaza. The passengers on one of those boats set up an ambush and attacked IDF forces as they boarded.

The passengers on the boats claim they were in international waters, and the boat attacked was sailing under a Turkish flag. The IDF forces boarded the boat with guns blazing. The passengers had no traditional weapons and used whatever was at hand in self-defense. The boats were not smuggling weapons into Gaza, they were carrying medical and relief supplies for the people of Gaza.

The Israelis claim there were 9 deaths. The Pro-Gaza activists on board the ship claim 16.

Regardless of the true facts (which, in all likelihood, will probably never come out), the Israeli decision to challenge the small flotilla with an overwhelming military force was a really, really stupid one by all news accounts, including this one from the L.A. Times.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy criticized Israel's "disproportionate use of force." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence. The European Union's foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, said the bloc was deeply concerned, and she called on Israel to conduct an inquiry. British Foreign Secretary William Hague deplored the killings and called for an end to the Gaza blockade.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the raid "banditry and piracy" on the high seas and "murder conducted by a state." Turkey, whose citizens accounted for more than half the flotilla's passengers and which has been an ally of Israel, recalled its ambassador to Israel and warned of further actions.

Ma Zhaoxu, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said his nation "is appalled and condemns the Israeli navy's attack on the Turkish fleet shipping humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip."

Greece, Egypt, Sweden, Spain and Denmark summoned Israel's ambassadors, demanding explanations for the violence. Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel's air force chief. Germany called for an immediate investigation but was careful not to directly place blame, adding that it was seeking information on six German citizens believed to have been aboard the ships.

For decades the rest of the world, led by the United States, has cut Israel all sorts of slack for its behavior with respect to the Palestinians under the theory that the small country had a big security problem, one that it had a right to address. And for decades the small country has pushed the boundaries of decency in its treatment of the Palestinians because the rest of the world could be counted on to look the other way after muttering a few "tsk tsks".

This time the Israelis pushed too far, if the initial reactions of the rest of the world are any indication. Israel has deeply angered its one ally in the region, Turkey, and given the Arab League yet another reason to be distrustful of its small neighbor. If past history is any indication, the action has also strengthened the claims of Hamas (no innocent party itself) that the only way to deal with Israel is with bombs and terrorist attacks.

The blockade of Gaza itself was a wretched act insofar as it deprived its inhabitants of the most basic of needs: clean water, food, medical supplies, and materials for infrastructure. The vicious military attack upon the protesters of that blockade was even worse.

The response of the White House has been cautious (no surprise there). It would be nice if more than a few words deploring the loss of life emanated from the one location that has kept Israel afloat all these years, and even nicer if some harsh language issued within the next day. Recalling the American Ambassador, even summoning the Israeli Ambassador to the White House would at least signal to Israel and to the rest of the world that such behavior will no longer be tolerated.

Sadly, I doubt any of that will happen. It wouldn't be prudent.

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