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Freedom Flotilla and Israeli 'pirates'

  • 02 June 2010
The 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.