The Gaza flotilla murders: Israel adds insult to injury
7 June 2010. A World to Win News Service. In a radio message demanding the surrender of the merchant vessel carrying supplies to Gaza 5 June, Israeli officials refused to call it the MV Rachel Corrie, the ship's legal designation. Instead they addressed it by its former name, the Linda. They refused to pronounce the name its current owners had given it in honour of an American university student because it was the Israeli military that killed her. An armoured bulldozer deliberately crushed her to death as she stood in front of a Palestinian home they were about to demolish. The fact that this time an Israeli military action went off without loss of life – unlike the murder of Rachel Corrie in 2003 and unlike the killing of at least nine people aboard the MV Rachel Corrie's sister ship the Mavi Marmara – has not disarmed the explosive contradictions involved in the current situation. In fact, Israel seems determined to add insult to injury.
The more facts come out about its seizure of the Mavi Marmara, the more the criminality of Israel's actions is highlighted....
Survivor accounts have concurred that the ship's activist passengers were hit first with tear gas, concussion grenades and rubber-coated steel and then live fire, from the sea and air. (Blog by The New York Times reporter Robert Mackey, 3 June, 2010) Turkish forensic doctors examining the nine bodies Israel turned over found that several had been shot at very close range, some in the head, one point blank. One man was holding a fire hose when he was killed. A photographer was shot in the head from above carrying an injured man. A 19-year-old was hit four times in the head and once in the chest. None of the bullets recovered from the bodies showed signs of having ricocheted before striking their victims. (The New York Times 3 and 4 June, CNN and the Guardian 4 June, Washington Post 5 June, 2010) This at least raises the question of whether or not there were cold-blooded executions. Another 48 people suffered gunshot wounds. Several hospitalised survivors interviewed by Al Jazeera TV showed bullet wounds in the back. They also had bite marks from attack dogs.
Yet the "international community" led by the U.S., UK and France has cautiously but firmly rallied around Israel. U.S. President Barack Obama and his government have refused to condemn these killings. Speaking on behalf of her government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "We expect the Israeli government to conduct a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation that conforms to international standards and gets to all the facts surrounding this tragic event." (Haaretz, 3 June 2020) What such an "investigation" is likely to yield is a repetition of the plainly ridiculous Israeli official claims that the dead activists were "mercenaries" in the pay of "Al Qaeda" and in the service of "Iran".
An Israeli self-investigation would be a step backward from previous practice. After Israel's December 2008 invasion of Gaza, the UN commissioned the international jurist Richard Goldstone to investigate the conduct of both sides. When his report turned out to be more critical of Israel than expected, Obama dismissed it as "controversial," and his government refused to let it to be brought before the UN Security Council. In fact, the U.S. even blocked discussion of it by the UN Human Rights Council. In opposition to the Goldstone report, Israel investigated itself, and found itself blameless in its invasion of Gaza.
Rather than express the slightest sorrow, the Israeli government has arrested and brought charges against the Israeli (Palestinian) citizens they seized aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters. The government and official opposition have refused to disassociate themselves from a notorious Facebook page calling for the murder of one of them, a woman who was roughed up and threatened with death by her fellow members of the Israeli parliament. It has also released a list of four Turkish and one U.S.-born activist aboard that ship whom it accused of ties to "Al Qaeda" and seeking to "form and train a commando unit for the Palestinian terror organisation." The Israeli government, far from seeking to calm the situation, is bent on revenge.
There is a method to Israel's madness, and even its most ridiculous accusations have serious aims. Specifically, there are two contradictory impulses at work in the Middle East, one seeking to depolarize the situation and the other actively seeking as much polarization as possible. The latter is what Israel is doing.
The Turkish government, caught between its very pro-U.S. stance and its appeals to Islam and pro-Palestinian sentiments, has been in the forefront of this first impulse. In 2008 it brokered secret negotiations for a peace treaty between Israel and Syria in 2008. One factor in their failure was the Israeli invasion of Gaza that embarrassed even the most avowedly pro-U.S. regimes like Egypt and Jordan, which long ago signed treaties with Israel. Further, although the Syrian government has expressed interest in reconciling with the U.S. and normalizing relations with Israel, Tel Aviv has refused to budge on giving Syria back the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In the last few months, Turkey joined with Brazil in an effort to persuade Iran to accept international controls on its enriched uranium stockpile and thus lessen the international tension around the Iranian regime's nuclear programme. Iran accepted the proposal; the U.S. rejected it, saying that the problem is not what will happen to the uranium Iran has already enriched but its capacity to enrich more in the future. Demanding that the Islamic Republic publicly renounce even the possibility of enriching its own uranium is asking it to commit political suicide.
In reaction to Turkey's diplomatic moves, over the last year Israel has gone out of its way to provoke its government and publicly humiliate its leaders. The fact that Israeli commandos chose to attack a Turkish ship and kill Turkish citizens has to be seen in this context. Now, after the Mavi Marmara murders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyu and his government have been foaming at the mouth in a way that deliberately makes the equation: Gaza Freedom Flotilla = Turkish government = Iran. This was what Netanyahu was up to when he linked the flotilla with what he called Iranian efforts to bring missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv into Gaza and declared that Israel had to act to preventing Gaza from becoming "an Iranian port on the Mediterranean." (Haaretz, 3 June 2010) His foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Turkey was becoming like Iran, which, he pointed out, like Turkey, had also once been a "good friend" to Israel. (Guardian, 6 June 2010)
Part of this is, of course, self-serving propaganda meant to portray Israel as the victim, not the perpetrator, but it is more than that. It is part of a whole approach meant to raise the stakes to the max.
What is the role of the U.S. in this? The interests of the U.S. and Israel are not identical. There are real contradictions between Israel's immediate interests and the U.S.'s broader goals and aims in seeking to consolidate hegemony in a region where it is waging two wars already. But the U.S. will never willingly give up its only reliable outpost and gendarme/sheriff in the region. So far at least it has not opposed Netanyahu's efforts – in fact, Tel Aviv and Washington seem to be more or less united in seeking to not only isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran, but punish perceived neutrality toward it.
At the same time, this does not prevent the U.S. from presenting itself as the only force that can restrain Israeli cruelty and lessen the suffering of the Palestinian people. This dual approach is exemplified by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. Supposedly embarrassed when the Israeli authorities announced the building of 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in Tel Aviv during his visit there to ask for a freeze on such settlements, he has become the most vociferous American government defender of the Mavi Marmara killings. Interviewed on TV about the blockade of Gaza, he declared, "What's the big deal here?" (Politico, 2 June 1010) More real support for Israel and more phoney pro-Palestinian moves can be expected from the U.S. in the future.
Part of what makes the situation so unpredictable is that there are processes in motion that have their own logic. The competing forces each have their own aims, but no one is in control. For instance, the U.S. might want a "two-state solution" that could offer what it calls a "political horizon" to Palestinians – hope for something better than today's brutal occupation and enforced poverty. But within Israel itself, there is no major political party or force that would contemplate any path other than going further in crushing the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's coalition government of "left" and "right" parties includes some of the world's most extreme religious bigots, people some Israelis call "Jewish Taleban". The spokeswoman for the opposition party, Zipi Livni, trotted out by the previous Israeli government as the face of secular, modern, "moderate" Zionism, recently stated that Israel's "problem" is not Ultra-Orthodox Jewish fundamentalism but the fact that secular Jews have failed to answer "the call of Judaism." (Haaretz and Y-net news, 28 May 2010. )
In an article called "The failure of the American Jewish establishment" in New York Review of Books 10 June 2010, Peter Beinart, an author sympathetic to Israel and Orthodox Judaism, laments the collapse of what he calls the "Enlightenment" or "liberal-democratic version" of Zionism. Beinart points out that Netanyahu wrote that the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would be an catastrophe equivalent to Auschwitz. That's a hard position to back down from, and it's not clear how much the Zionist storm troopers could accept it. It is significant that on 5 June when Jews and Palestinians held a rally to (mildly) condemn the attack on the Mavi Marmara, not only did ultra-religious Jews attack them, they also hurled insults at secular Tel Aviv residents in general whom they accused of spending too much time in cafés instead of fighting on the front lines.
The same kinds of contradictions apply to other actors on this scene. The Hamas leadership has repeatedly argued that its quarrel is with Israel, not the U.S., and that it would accept long-term coexistence with Israel, but that may be the kind of status-quo that the U.S. is not willing to accept. The Iranian regime has also sent out contradictory signals, as if trying to balance its lack of effective opposition to the imperialist world order by hyper-militant rhetoric against Israel. Here, too, this isn't just a question of talk. The Iranian regime's existence is threatened from several different directions, and the banner of Islam and the holy sites of Jerusalem is vital to the regime's ideological cohesion and political survival. As for the U.S., what it wants – to have its Israel and less Middle Eastern opposition, too – might be exactly what it can't get.
There is a lot of wishful thinking going around in the wake of the current Gaza crisis. Many people feel that it is "unrealistic" to struggle for the establishment of a single, secular state for all people instead of the religiously and ethnically-defined Israel. Yet as soon as Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is accepted, whether out of belief in Zionism or pragmatism, then you are pulled into the tangled logic of all that is done to protect this inherently unjust state of affairs. Further, it is also futile to expect that the Western powers will be willing to do anything fundamentally positive for Gaza and the Palestinians. While Hillary Clinton has described the siege of Gaza as "unsustainable", the U.S.'s aim seems to be to make it sustainable. Whatever adjustments might take place – for instance, European co-participation in maintaining a blockade of Gaza, as France has suggested, or letting in a few of the items now forbidden – these powers are not going to come to the rescue of the Palestinians in any way that can satisfy their national aspirations. This is not because these powers are particularly pro-Jewish but because of the role Israel plays in maintaining imperialist domination in the region.
Nor will the Islamic forces and regimes pose a fundamental challenge to this state of affairs, although even the limited challenge they do pose may be more than the West can tolerate.
The only real solution for the Palestinian situation – the establishment of a single secular state for all people – may seem unrealistic in the face of all the reactionary firepower arrayed against it from all sides, and it is not conceivable in the present imperialist configuration of the region. But none of the other solutions can be viable in the long term. Whatever happens in the Middle East, it is the status quo that is not sustainable.
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