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Israel and the Freedom Flotilla: Can We Get Some Context Please?

June 4, 2010

Context?! WTF do you mean you want some context?!

Israel’s recent attack on a humanitarian ship, carrying food and medical supplies to Gaza, has sparked international outrage, and the usual gross distortions, half truths, and outright lies from Israel’s apologists. However, while the international media (with a few honorable exceptions) has an easy time convincing viewers and readers that most, if not all, of the Palestinian and Lebanese people killed by Israel are crazed, sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorists beyond redemption, it is not that easy to portray a humanitarian convoy, made up of peace activists, as a group of lunatics and killers. Other authors, more eloquent and furious than I, will discuss in greater detail what happened, revealing the absurdity of Israel’s claims (such as the claims that the activists attacked the commandos with knives and guns, the commandos were only acting in self defense, and the most egregious of all, that these peace activists had intentions to harm Israeli civilians, or had weapons on their boat, destined for some nasty terrorist group).

I’ll leave it to others to dissect what happened that morning, to expose Israel’s nonsense, to reveal the truth. I’ll also leave it to others to expose the hypocrisy of various governments regarding this incident (if China, North Korea, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Bolivia, or Venezuela killed innocent people trying to deliver food and medicine to an area that desperately needed it, one need not ponder for long to figure out how the global community would have reacted). Instead, what I wish to do is to bring context, and history, to this debate. Simply put, even those harshly critical of the slaughter will consider it a once-in-a-lifetime event, an aberration, an exception to the rule. However, placing this incident in context, in history, reveals that this is far from an aberration; Israel has committed similar crimes repeatedly throughout the decades. I would like to emphasize that this action is far from the exception, far from an aberration. For example, the following was written in 1989:

Outrage over hijacking does not extend to Israeli hijackings, that have been carried out in international waters for many years, including civilian ferries travelling from Cyprus to Lebanon, with large numbers of people kidnapped, over 100 kept in Israeli prisons without trial, and many killed.

Noam Chomsky, 1989, “Necessary Illusions,” Pluto Press, page 118

Plenty of state and non-state actors have used hostage taking to further their demands, throughout the ages; Israel is obviously not alone in this. However, Israel does commit hostage taking with remarkable frequency, and with the even more remarkable feat of getting the global media to look the other way when it does so. What proof do I have for this claim, that Israel does it rather often, you ask? Well, let me just say, Israel is a country of laws; it cannot go on doing things which are clearly illegal. So Israel simply decided to legalize hostage taking (for a brief time, to be sure).

In 1997, when Israel was still occupying South Lebanon, 21 Lebanese individuals were in Israeli jails, some for up to a decade, deprived of due process and tortured by the South Lebanese Army (Israel’s puppet thugs in Lebanon), with an Israeli officer supervising the torture.

These men were, by the accounts of Human Rights Watch, hostages, to be returned once Israel saw the release of its own Missing in Action soldiers, still in Lebanon. In November 1997, the Supreme Court approved of the use of these 21 individuals as ‘bargaining chips.’ In the words of the President of the Court at the time:

A detention is legal if it is designed to promote state security, even if the danger to state security does not emanate from the detainees themselves.

Norman Finkelstein, 2005, “Beyond Chutzpah,” University of California Press, pages 214-216

Note: in 2000, the decision was reversed, although purely on pragmatic grounds.

Let me pose a mental exercise for our dear readers: a country, or a group in a country, takes another country’s soldiers, denies them due process, treats them cruelly, and will only release these soldiers in a swap for prisoners in the other country. Does this sound familiar? If it does, who does it remind you of? Afghanistan? Iraq? Sure, maybe, but also: Israel.

The first airplane hijacking in the Middle East… was carried out by Israel, in December 1954, when a Syrian Airways civilian jet was intercepted by Israeli fighters and forced to land at Lydda airport.

Noam Chomsky, 2002, “Pirates and Emperors, Old and New, International Terrorism in the Real World,” South End Press, pages 66-67

Mr. Chomsky (as always) provides irrefutable proof, straight from the diaries of Moshe Sharett (the Israeli Prime Minister at the time): “We had no justification whatsoever to seize the plane,” and also the fact that the US State Department kindly informed him that, “Our action was without precedent in the history of international practice.” Source, Ibid.

Perhaps you will excuse me if I have forgotten this point up till now, but let us not forget one of the most ghastly examples of Israeli hostage taking there is. In 2006, the people of Palestine voted for a group the Americans and Israelis did not like, Hamas. When this group took power in Gaza, after a bloody fight with its rivals, Fatah, the international community simply cut off Gaza’s ties to the outside world, allowing less than a trickle of food and supplies in, and preventing its people from leaving the Strip (effectively turning it into the largest prison on Earth).

True, Hamas had killed 1,000 innocent people in horrific suicide bombings, blowing up discos, pizza parlors, buses, and other civilian targets. Let us be clear, Hamas may have claimed these bombings as acts of resistance, but in the harsh lights of reality, they are nothing more than acts of murder. However, when Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel, a man who was by all accounts a war criminal who was responsible for the deaths of almost 20 times as many innocent people, did the USA put sanctions on Israel?

After Israel (partially) retreated from Lebanon in 1982/83 (still occupying South Lebanon until 2000), Israel decided to take a parting gift: 1,200 Lebanese people (mostly Shi’a Muslims), to be held in Israeli jails until Israel saw fit to release them, based on South Lebanon’s ‘good behavior’ (that is, obedience). As one reporter put it:

They were not criminals; they were scooped up as insurance against attack, when the Israelis were finally quitting Lebanon.

Noam Chomsky, 2002, “Pirates and Emperors, Old and New, International Terrorism in the Real World,” South End Press, pages 70-73

The same reporter referred to them as, “Hostages in Israeli jails.” By 1985, 766 remained in Israeli jails; 400 for ‘terrorism’ and the remainder for political activities. Another fun fact: when Israel refused to release these remaining hostages on (what else?) security grounds, some family members took an American airliner (TWA flight 847) hostage. The taking of the American airliner hostage is (rightly) remembered, the taking of the Lebanese civilians hostage, by Israel, was forgotten soon after it was reported. The reaction of the American press was (naturally) to deny the Lebanese had any real grievances, that the hostages would have been released by Israel, with just a little more time. Source, Ibid.

In conclusion, while it is absolutely essential to examine the brutal attack on the Freedom Flotilla, to expose Israel’s half-truths, lies and apologetic, one must not forget that this incident is far from the exception. Israel has a long history of piracy and hostage taking, and this attack on the Freedom Flotilla is just the latest chapter in this brutal history. We must place this attack in context, in order to better understand the nature of these crimes. Only by obtaining an accurate picture of Israeli military policy, can we organize to bring about meaningful change.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. pashka permalink
    June 4, 2010 10:21 pm

    The all-clarifying truth can be compressed into a single phrase, that fascism in Weimar Germany was merely a response to Zionism – just like in the Western World, Russia and Australia today, Zionists took over, through ethnic corruption and deceit, all major human endeavors like media, finances, education, etc., and effectively made criticizing this ethnic corruption an official crime, called anti-Semitism.

  2. Yerushalmi permalink
    June 7, 2010 7:37 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your article, but I don’t understand two things. Lets start from the point of view that Israel is the bad guy.

    First, why the Hamas doesn’t want to recieve the aid which was sent to his people? Don’t they want to improve the situation in Gaza? Or perhaps they are happy to keep it as it is as it helps them to gain more international power and increases the pressure on Israel while they make sure that thier citizens don’t have any food to eat or cement to build?

    Second, How can Turkey lecture Israel after the way they treat the Kurds and the Armenians? It just doesn’t make any sense to me when I hear that a country which occupied another country (Kurdistan) and starve and give no rights to a large group of its population can actually lecture Israel on humen rights? What I find even more ironic, is that Iran, the state which kills its students on a monthly basis every time they go and protest, a state which doesn’t even know how to pronounce the words humen rights can criticise Israel.

    Please try and answer the questions without telling me how Israel is bad. I really want to get an answer.

    Some food for thoughts…

    • snugglebus permalink*
      June 7, 2010 9:46 pm

      Hi Yerushalmi – you make two really good points…but like the article title suggests – context is everything.

      Like you said – Hamas doesn’t want to accept the aid for political reasons. Outwardly it said it would not accept any aid until all the activists Israel detained were freed. But of course it was much a symbolic refusal to accept Israels desire to treat the aid as neutral – that is to say, equal if it were to come via Israel permitting it into gaza, as it would be if the aid came via the violation of the blockade. As isreali officials have made clear, the actual amount of the aid is relatively insignificant – representing around a day’s worth of aid Israel permits at present into gaza. the aid instead is symbolic, in the sense that it was an expression of the injustice of israel controlling the flow of goods into gaza under the previso that hamas are bad, and would wish to harm israelis. of course it would, but the reasons and solutions (if there are solutions) to this are not the suffocation of gaza’s population.

      second, turkey’s treatment of its kurdish population is bad…but lets be clear, it is in no way equivalent to the situation in gaza or the relationship between israel and the palestinians. one reason for this is the obvious historical reason, i.e the case of israel’s occuptation of palestine is historically unique. but also, though turkey has certainly violated the rights of its kurdish population for years, and continues to do so to an unacceptable degree (precisely one of the reasons why turkey will find it so hard to progress towards eu membership), in my view kurds themselves would not define it as an equivalent injustice. i say this as someone who lives in the kurdish region of iraq. you simply don’t see that sense of equivalence among kurds themselves in my experience. this is in no way to defend the turks treatment of kurds which is an outrage (turkey still for example forces kurds to change their names to turkish names from kurdish ones), but simply to say that this does not undermine in any way the claim by turkey that israel should not have shot 9 of its citizens in international waters.

      furthermore, the kurds status as a opressed minority within turkey is importantly clearly different to the case of gaza – israel is a colonial power, a state that oppresses not a minority within its borders but a sovereign people within what limited borders they are currently allowed even within Israel’s unjust occupation…israelis themselves in fact being the oppressing minority within the borders of a country that was once palestine.

      i apologise because i know i didnt answer your questions exactly as you would have wanted, i.e. without reference to bad things that israel has done, but simply to say what you mention is important but doesn’t change the reality of the events that unfolded so tragically admist the flotilla, and continue in the blockade of gaza, which cannot be but be considered unjust by even those that themselves are imperfect respecters of rights.

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