Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Freedom Flotilla and Israeli 'pirates'

Mavi Marmara From the Air, Flickr image by freegazaorgThe attack by Israeli forces on a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza might have left more than 10 activists dead. The survivors, mostly Turkish, have been taken to Ahshod, where dozens have been hospitalised. Others have been imprisoned or deported. The attack by elite commandos was conducted in the dark and in international waters, a situation which has prompted accusations of piracy.

The language used by Israeli officials to justify the attack is strong. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described scenes of clubbing, mobbing, beatings and stabbings, and gunfire. The aid organisations sponsoring this effort were said to be fronts for jihadist causes, stacked by 'suicide' activists. According to Deputy Defence Minister Danny Alalon, 'The organisers are well known for their ties with global Jihad, al-Qaeda and Hamas. (Their) intent was violent, their method was violent, and the results were unfortunately violent.'

Alalon has claimed that the flotilla was smuggling arms. The civilian activists on board apparently sought to 'lynch' the commandos, who were there to 'pacify' rather than 'disperse' the crowd. The troops seemed to have been deployed in reckless fashion.

The arguments by Israel in justifying the attack, along with their overall stance on the blockade of Gaza, have proven tenuous. The blockade is a de facto occupation of the territory, asserting control over the land and halting vital aid. The position is even more extreme than that of the previous Olmert administration, under which a lone ship, with supplies, was allowed to reach Gaza.

While the standard views are repeated with each crisis (that terrorist states — Syria and Iran — are supplying militants to mount rocket attacks on Israel), the humanitarian premise is woefully neglected. The amount of material and food provided is inadequate, precipitating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Building materials such as cement are disallowed. Occasionally, Israel will dispense with strictness and show a tempered quality of mercy, but given the destruction of homes in Gaza and the need for building materials, that quality is thin.

The Israeli position suggests mistrust of the countries from which the flotilla departed, notably Turkey, who, the accusations suggest, did not search the ships adequately. The crisis is set to get more extreme. Turkey has condemned the attacks as piracy. Turkey has long-standing military and economic association with Israel; Israel now risks losing a vital partner.

The reactions in Israel have been varied, but even those lukewarm to the activists have admitted that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) may well have been lured into a trap. Restraint gave way to aggression. In the opinion of Yossi Melman of Israel news service Haaretz, 'The flotilla organisers wanted deaths, casualties and blood and billows of smoke. And that is exactly what Israel gave them.' Then, the dark message: that the entire conflict Israel faces with the Palestinians is not one of justice or of logic but of 'consciousness, emotion and gut-feelings'. Other methods might have used that would have prevented casualties: sabotage, for instance.

A pessimistic Gideon Levy, Haaretz’s Cassandra in residence, describes the Israeli establishment as having climbed new summits of propaganda — that tainted information is being disseminated: that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; that the occupation has ended; that the flotilla constitutes 'a violent attack on Israeli sovereignty'.

The activists have been reckless in their own way (peace gestures can themselves be seen as provocative), and have indeed promised more flotillas to run the blockade. But Israel is no underdog in this power game, however much the IDF might purport to be. Branding activists as terrorists and denying the human situation in Gaza will not help an Israeli cause that is proving more alienating the longer it persists. If there is an inquiry into this incident, it will have to be wide ranging and international.

Binoy_KampmarkBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Freedom Flotilla, Israel, Gaza



submit a comment

Existing comments

With 500k settlers and the almost entire appropriation of water resources by Israel in the Palestinian Occupied Territories the two-state solution is no longer viable. The alternative one-state solution is unacceptable to Israel, for it would mean (for simple demographic reasons) the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Israeli government is aware of this dilemma, and doesn't have a clue what to do about it - hence the constant recourse to mindless violence to postpone the inevitable day of reckoning.

Leander Gonzaga | 02 June 2010  

This whole episode was a provocation by those purporting to give 'aid'. There are aid organisations pouring millions of dollars into Gaza. Israel, while abused by the Gazans gives them help. what Gazans expect Israelis to do. Line up for another Auschwitz.

As a Catholic and thinker I am appalled at the media naivete in this matter - taking the Islamic side. Don't ever forget that the Islamic side of the barricades is very much in favour of Hitler's policies, that is among those who even believe he existed. Israel, surrounded by enemies has a right to its self defence. Those people in the aid boats were provocateurs and manipulators of the media, that's all.

Skye | 02 June 2010  

The pirates in the world are overwhelmingly from Muslim countries. Israel will not demand a ransom for captives. But Muslims kill Israeli captives or demand ransoms. Who in his/her right mind could call the Israelis pirates. It shows a gross lack of understanding of the current politics of the situation.

Skye | 02 June 2010  

Here we go again...trendy leftie Eureka Street. Do you really believe that some of theose ships were not carrying contraband or that islamic militants were not involved. Israel has the smartest intelligence in the world. Do any Islamists paly fair ? When last did an Israeli or woman from any other race or creed save Islam place explosives under her garments and blow up innocent people in restaurants and public transport ? Wake up to truth ES and try and do away with your paranoia about always swimming against the tide.

philip | 02 June 2010  

After seeing the pictures, hearing the speeches and observing the posturing of the despots I must conclude that Israeli Intelligence is an oxymoron.

Dermott Ryder | 02 June 2010  

Very good analysis of events - Israel was drawn into a trap of giving Syria and Iran what they wanted. In any UN inquiry, the role of the Turkish PM must be investigated as his comments two weeks ago were exactly about forcing Israel's hand. And what is the role of Iran in this? In 2009 Israel intercepted a ship bound for Gaza with weapons on board and bombed another weapons shipment in Sudan. In 2007 they bombed a nuclear reactor being built in Syria by North Koreans. In 2006 (Israel/Lebanon war), Iranian soldiers were found dead in Hezbollah positions in Lebanon - yet there was no reaction from Western media. The game of war is complex and western media fail to comprehend anything past single events to sell newspapers and airtime. Simplistic and sensationalist reporting for the sake of commercialism
There is one aim in all this - and that is to isolate Israel from alliances and supply. Iran is involved deeply in a range of orchestrated events aim purely at this outcome.
As the war drums beat louder, it is the average Palestinian who will continue to suffer - having little influence in the political game.

Jim Buzan | 02 June 2010  

For some interesting opinions from within Israel itself, see the following op-ed pieces from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.






One doesn't have to be one of Philip's card-carrying 'islamic militants' to appreciate the stupidity of what Israel has done.

Warwick | 02 June 2010  

I applaud the people who continue to put their lives on the line to relieve the agony of Palestine. Israel's belligerence tells me it wants nothing to do with peace. I've been waiting to give ES a pat on the back and now I can. Well done, Binoy Kampmark.

Nathan Socci | 02 June 2010  

Much has been made in the media about the effects of the Israel and Egypt's embargo of Gaza. You would be forgiven for thinking that everyone in Gaza was on the point of starvation. That's why this humanitarian flotilla's supplies were so desperately needed. REALLY??

Check out this link.


It shows what nonsense the Western media has been peddling. Food shortages, concentration camp conditions and sundry other lies are exploded by this article. Shops are well stocked. There are fine restaurants to dine in. An Olympic pool was just opened.

If Israel is trying to exterminate the Palestinians, then they are doing an extremely poor job of it.

John Ryan | 02 June 2010  

Am I a little paranoid or do some of the replies to this article seem a bit 'pat'? (Skye, Philip, Jim, John) The Israelis have a well organised propaganda network and i wouldn't put it past them.

The facts are simple: a flotilla of vessels bringing aid to Gaza are boarded in international waters in the dead of night by armed commandos with the result that more than 10 people are killed by the Israelis. Yet somehow the Israeli government blames the victims.

Certainly the aim of the flotilla was primarily to bring world attention to the ongoing blockade of the gaza strip, and certainly those on the vessels resisted the Israeli troops. But reports today are of the commandos firing shots at the ship before they even landed. Paul McGeogh's reporting from the actual scene will be very interesting.

chris | 02 June 2010  

Philip, I was in Colombo in Sri Lanka in April 2006 when what you have described happened. A young Tamil woman walked into the Army's Headquarters and blew herself up. She was by no means the first (in fact, the LTTE is credited with having "invented" suicide bombing).

Having said that, it seems to me that there's too much emotion caught up in this Israel/Palestine situation for there to be any rational discussion about it. Opinions are too entrenched. What a mess.

Erik H | 02 June 2010  

Much has been made in the media about the effects of the Israel and Egypt's embargo of Gaza. You would be forgiven for thinking that everyone in Gaza was on the point of starvation. That's why this humanitarian flotilla's supplies were so desperately needed. REALLY??

Check out this link.


It shows what nonsense the Western media has been peddling. Food shortages, concentration camp conditions and sundry other lies are exploded by this article. Shops are well stocked. There are fine restaurants to dine in. An olympic pool was just opened.

If Israel is trying to exterminate the Palestinians, then they are doing an exrtemely poor job of it.

John Ryan | 02 June 2010  

Chris - I am Catholic and voice my own opinions on this matter. I happen to believe that this whole incident was an Islamic provocation. Do the people who are on the side of the provocateurs support Hamas? Will they be prepared to condemn Hamas which fights for the total destruction on Israel?

Skye | 02 June 2010  

Just seen a report on TV of the fishing port at Gaza where the flotilla was due to dock. Cars driving about - some are 4 wheel drives... Where does the petrol for these cars come from? Why, the same place that the electricity for Gaza comes from - Israel...

Funny sort of anti-humanitarian blockade, don't you think????

Saul | 02 June 2010  

Binoy, you write of an 'Israeli cause' - I don't see apartheid as a 'cause', never saw it that way when it was practiced in South Africa and I don't see it now as it's practiced by Israel. Since when is it noble to inflict malnutrition and unnecessary death on a population, since when is it noble for people seeking medical attention to die while waiting at Israeli checkpoints, since when is it noble to deem things like crayons and chocolates and building materials as luxuries that need to be denied to the people of Gaza? I salute the courage and compassion of those who, like the 80 year old Holocaust survivor, tried to bring food and medical supplies to a people under siege.

Anna McCormack | 02 June 2010  

The world condemnation should have been properly focused on the flotillas's leaders and international sponsors whose refusal to adhere to international law and Israel's numerous warnings was the direct cause of the unnecessary loss of life and serious injuries suffered by the Israeli military.

Ron Cini | 02 June 2010  

Israel is a criminal enterprise and has been for 62 years, it is time the criminals were made to pay for their crimes against humanity.

Tasering Aussie journalists is not a good look but for the first time the SMH has not taken Israel's side so that is a good thing.

And for god's sake Skye and others - it is not legal to stop aid going to any country and it is certainly not legal to use force to enforce and illegal blockade.

Marilyn | 03 June 2010  

I am tired of reading about the so-called abusive Israelis and their so-called Palestinian victims with the latter always winning the PR war. Read the Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef 2009 for a non-emotive description of both parties' participation in this conflict.

Robin Wilamen | 03 June 2010  

Why does the international community, especially the press, so quickly jump to condemn Israel but give a free pass to a senior Afghani official when he publicly calls for converts from Islam to be killed?

"International Christian Concern, June 2:

Washington, D.C. (June 2, 2010) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Afghan parliamentary secretary called for the public execution of Christian converts on the parliament floor.
On Tuesday, the Associated Free Press reported that Abdul Sattar Khawasi, deputy secretary of the Afghan lower house in parliament, called for the execution of Christian converts from Islam. Speaking in regards to a video broadcasted [sic] by Afghan television network Noorin TV showing footage of Christian men being baptized and praying in Farsi, Khawasi said, "Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them."

Were Israel to call for the execution of apostates from Judaism, would it be met with such a collective yawn? I doubt it. But when Israel so much as defends itself against cutthroats, the world is outraged.

Patrick James | 03 June 2010  

When Israel strikes you hard across the face the only solution is to turn the other cheek and set more vessels to sail to continue the challenge to Israel's Gaza blockade.

There is no moral justification in holding the Palestinian people hostage because of Israel's fear and terror of Hamas.

This is not the route to peace. It has already seriously strained good will between Israel and Turkey. The UN Security Council is right to be concerned.

In order to show good will towards its critics Israel will have to conduct a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation of the flotilla incident. It needs to take responsibility for the loss of civilian lives and must immediate release the ships and civilians it holds.

Nathan Socci | 03 June 2010  

In January 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Authority's general legislative elections. However, Israel continues to play on international paranoia and instead of accepting the position labels the Hamas leadership terrorists, and engages in even worse activities than, say, the British army against the IRA (nothing there to compare with the blockade of Gaza - even though the Americans and others were happy to engage in gun-running for the IRA). Perhaps the problem is that Israel does not recognise Good Friday and is unable to learn anything form the Northern Ireland imbroglio.
Incidentally, does Saul (on the road to Tarsus?) really believe that the average Gazan is running around in 4-wheel drive vehicles - or are they all there for use as rocket launchers? Probably, of course, they are used by relief agencies to move the abundant supplies that the Israelis allow in - that is, according to John Ryan's sources.

Antony Ames | 03 June 2010  

Antony Ames, if you don't trust 'my' sources, why don't you look up the site of the one of the fancy Gazan restaurants for yourself? Here it is http://www.rootsclub.ps/index.php.

It would be hard not to be impressed with the fine cuisine that is on offer. Look at the luscious courses that are offered. If this is life under an embargo, VIVE L'EMBARGO.

John Ryan | 03 June 2010  

Oh dear, the photo of the Palestinian restaurant is out of the hasbara play book.

Marilyn Shepherd | 04 June 2010  

Is it possible to send soldiers down abseiling ropes with weapons at 4 in the morning and still claim ' self-defence'? Is that not enough to give the lie to Netanyahu's propaganda? Sure the flotilla was trying to make a point, trying to attract attention, trying--let's face it--for a media stunt to make Israel look like thugs in the eyes of the world. By God could they have anticipated how horribly successful they would be? Killing ten people is not " looking like thugs". It is being a murderer. Israel is now resisting the call for an independent enquiry? How damning and how inexcusable. Can any Israeli defender justify a fear of the truth? The world knows from this display that Israel sees itself as being bound by different rules. Remember the 3 British 'independent' enquiries into Bloody Sunday? All of them found 'self-defence'. Just they couldn't find any injured soldiers is all.... Proportionality anyone? If I see Mark Regev again peddling the opposite of remorse I will vomit.

Andrew Coorey | 04 June 2010  

The tragedy is that the Israelis have destroyed the economy of Gaza over the years. Hamas provides welfare to its inhabitants and they were elected by the people. Admittedly some are extremists but peace will not come to Gaza until Israel has serious talks with Hamas and face the reality that Hamas exists and a real economy has to be restored and "good will" returns to all sides.

John Ozanne | 04 June 2010  

I agree with your article. I am somewhat surprised that many comments repeat the Israeli argument that the attacking Israeli forces were acting in self defence. While a few of the flotilla members used knives and whatever they could lay their hands on to repel well armed and trained soldiers the majority stayed below and did not participate in the violence.

To be sure the organisers of the flotilla intended to provoke Israel,but all they were using was humanitarian aid to show how undiscriminating and cruel the Israeli blockade of Gaza really is. There is no evidence so far that the flotilla carried arms. I think the flotilla demonstrated how ruthless Israel's blockade is.

Tony santospirito | 04 June 2010  

Andrew Coorey, you must not have seen the video clips on the internet that I have seen. On those the Israeli commandoes are armed with paint ball guns. They are set upon with knives, clubs and iron bars. Whatever you may say about the rights and wrongs of boarding, they were hardly met by peace activists.

If you doubt the intention of these "peace" activists, check out this clip. http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2489.htmhttp://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2489.htm
It was featured on Al Jazerra. Notice what our peaceful activists are chanting. "Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Mohammed will return." This is a reference to Mohammed's sacking of the Jewish town Khaybar in 629.

Now that is just the sort of slogan and reference that will set them into a quiet and humanitarian frame of mind.

Patrick James | 04 June 2010  

More Media hysteria for a 'cause' that they helped to create. Take account at least once in your 'biased' presentation of events.

H.G. | 04 June 2010  

If Israeli soldiers use paintball guns, I presume Picasso used AK47s for his canvasses.

Antony Ames | 04 June 2010  

Antony Ames, look at the clips. If you do you will see that the Israeli soldiers did not intially go in with leathal force. Those guns they first had were paint ball weapons. Once they had had enough of being stabbed and bashed, they then resorted to lethal force.

Did you also look at the clip from MEMRI? Consider the possibility that these activists were not so peaceful.

Patrick James | 04 June 2010  

Who will speak for the victims of this massacre?

From the Guardian newspaper in the UK:

Patel claimed that as soon as the Israeli Defence Force helicopter appeared above the Mavi Marmara, "it started using immediately live ammunition" without any warning being issued.

After the first victim fell the white flag was raised, he said, but Israeli forces continued firing. "I think the Israeli soldiers were shooting to kill because most of the people who died were shot in the top part of their bodies," he said. He believed that later victims were injured in their legs after a "tactical move" by the commandos to wound rather then kill.

Alex Harrison, a Free Gaza activist who was on the smaller Challenger yacht, which was crewed mainly by women, said the Israelis used rubber bullets, sound bombs and tasers against them.

"Two women were hooded, they had their eyes taped," she said, describing how the yacht was quickly overwhelmed. "We stood and tried to obstruct the armed, masked men and maintained no other defence and still they used violence."

Autopsies Reveal Intensity of Israeli Military Force


Nathan Socci | 09 June 2010  

Similar Articles

Australia in Crisis Group firing line

  • Eve Lester
  • 01 June 2010

Some countries including Australia turned a blind eye to atrocities committed during the Sri Lanka conflict. The International Crisis Group has called upon these countries to ensure proper international investigation of war crimes. This includes granting asylum or other protected status to witnesses.


Arresting Mexico's borderland femicide

  • Ellena Savage
  • 26 May 2010

Some 5000 women have been killed in Juarez since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1994. These women are not 'essential victims'; we do them a favour if we realise their victimhood lies in their abuse, not as a quality they possess for being female and working-class.