By attacking Freedom Flotilla, a convoy of six ships carrying over 600 peace activists from some 20 countries and more than 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid for the besieged Palestinians of Gaza Strip, Israel has once again proven that it is a country that has no respect for humanity, and which violates international law with impunity. Israel’s commando operation has reportedly occurred in international waters, more than 70 nautical miles outside its territorial waters. And it has killed nine people, including eight Turkish nationals and one US citizen of Turkish origin.
There seems to be a serial pattern in Israeli behaviour that is manifested in violent form from time to time. Israel did unilaterally end its permanent physical occupation of Gaza in 2005. However, since then, it has mostly retained the air, sea and land blockade of the Palestinian territory. In 2008-2009, Israel undertook a military assault on Gaza, in which some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and the region’s infrastructure was massively destroyed. The UN Security Council resolution 1860, which was passed after the Israeli assault, had called for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel and medical treatment”.
For over 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, there are only two sources of food, medicine and other essential supplies: the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and Israel’s Ashdod port, from where international relief goods are transferred to Gaza. When and how much of external aid reaches Gaza from Ashdod is decided by Israel. Egypt has often come under Israeli pressure to close the Rafah crossing, over allegations that several tunnels in the border area are being used by Hamas to smuggle arms into Gaza.
Israel’s consistent denial of this basic life support contributes to Palestinian sufferings, consequently motivating peace activists from across the world to undertake potentially risky ventures such as the latest Freedom Flotilla. Since the summer of 2008, at least three such attempts have succeeded in reaching the shores of Gaza and providing relief to its besieged people. However, this time, the peace activists who boarded the three passenger ships, especially Miva Marmara, where most of the causalities occurred, were unlucky.
Among the hundreds who survived the armed assault and were taken into custody by Israel were three Pakistanis, Aaj TV anchor Talat Hussain, producer Raza Agha and aid worker Nadeem Khan. There were civil society activists, journalists and members of parliament from several European and Asian countries, including Israel itself. That three of the ships belonged to a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), meant that Turks constituted the majority of the passengers. The other three ships were owned by a Cyprus-based human rights group, Free Gaza Movement.
The truly international composition of over 600 peace activists who boarded the flotilla proves that the whole world is worried about the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza. The support to their just cause cuts across national boundaries, ethnic and religious divides. There were Muslims, Christians and Jews, people from the Left and the Right, motivated by this basic human desire to help a hapless population. Also present on Miva Marmara was a lady member of the Israeli Knesset.
And yet Yigal Palmor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, callously justified his state’s military assault on Freedom Flotilla by saying that “the sole responsibility” for the violent incident rested with activists who had “chosen violence and confrontation.” For his part, the ever intransigent Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected criticism of its blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying the measures were necessary to prevent missile attacks against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Such immoral and illogical rationale puts in jeopardy the whole Jewish discourse on holocaust. A nation’s claim to be a victim of genocide in history does not give it the right to get away with a genocidal conduct at present.
After all, the current radical Islamist discourse is based upon a similar claim of being a victim of repressive Muslim regimes and their external Western supporters, on the basis of which al-Qaeda and its affiliates all across the Muslim world and among Muslim populations in Western countries justify their terrorist activities. Whatever reasons Israeli government officials advance to defend inhuman and illegal armed attacks such as the one on Freedom Flotilla, the implications of their state’s violent conduct in the region will continue to haunt the international community—and, in fact, the state of Israel itself.
A purely Jewish state created in 1948, Israel has slowly but surely won international legitimacy. Turkey was the first Muslim republic to officially recognize Israel in 1949. Over two decades ago, the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat also decided to shun terrorism against Israel and has since then preferred to pursue a negotiated settlement of Palestine with Israeli leaders. For years, the Palestinian National Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has been negotiating a two-state solution to the problem.
Apart from this, over the years, a number of Muslim countries have dealt with the Jewish entity through backdoor channels, by opening trade offices, and even through open diplomacy. So much so that Saudi Arabia in recent years floated the idea of pursuing peace with Israel with a pre-conditional Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories it had occupied in 1967. In 2005, Pakistan had also made its debut diplomatic contact with Israel, with Turkey acting as an intermediary.
In fact, in the last couple of years, largely due to the high-jacking of Palestinian cause by radical Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, the majority of the Muslim world has been in favour of an internationally-mediated peaceful resolution of the Palestinian dispute. Iran and Syria are the only two Muslim countries still opting for a violent course through their proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. They will try to reap maximum benefits from the tragic situation following the Israeli assault on Freedom Flotilla.
What Israel’s militaristic conduct and its repeated occurrence does is to put in serious jeopardy the Muslim world’s consensus on practicing moderation and tolerance in inter-state relationship—a consensus that has been built after decades of international diplomatic effort, including scores of inter-faith dialogues aimed to bring Islamic and Western civilizations closer. Israel’s irresponsible behaviour makes it difficult for Muslim regimes to counter the radical Islamic discourse that justifies terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere as a response to Israeli state terrorism in occupied Palestine and beyond.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy in the history of the Palestinian national liberation movement is its hijacking by radical Islamists such as Hamas. It was always a secular struggle, in which Christian Palestinians played as much role as Muslim Palestinians. After all, George Habbash, the leader of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was a Christian. Obviously, Islamization of the traditionally secular Palestinian movement has not occurred in isolation. Israeli brutalities in the past 20 years have played an important role in transforming a relatively peaceful Palestinian intifada of the late 1980s to a suicide-bombing laden terrorist movement in the last ten years.
What has Israel achieved by attacked the Freedom Flotilla? Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Israel’s closest Muslim ally, has accused it of a “bloody massacre.” “We see clear murder taking place, and we see an aggressive country” that’s not regretting this, he said. Turkey has cancelled joint military exercises with the Jewish entity, while thousands of Turks attempted to storm Israeli Consulate in Istanbul.
After an emergency session, the United Nations Security Council has called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent” investigation into the raid by Israeli forces. It has regretted the loss of lives on the flotilla and called for the immediate release of the seized ships, as well as the civilians who were taken into custody following the raid. The whole of the Muslim world is in uproar after the tragedy. The UN Human Rights Council has also adopted a resolution to authorize an independent international investigation of the Israeli raid.
If Israel continues to engage in militancy, it will be very difficult for the world to deal with the sort of lethal terrorism campaign being waged at the international scale by al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates. Their justification for global and regional terrorism rests significantly on states such as Israel being the first to commit state terrorism. Moreover, if Israel continues to flout international law, then how can we expect Iran to abide by global norms governing nuclear proliferation?
Israel cannot run away from the reality that it will always be located in the Middle East. By acting irresponsibly and violently, the Jewish entity is making sure that it remains surrounded by permanent enemies, that whatever visible or hidden support it has been able to secure from the Muslim world in the past over six decades also evaporates over time. It is making sure that whatever recognizable progress the Muslim states have made in institutionalizing moderate, tolerant and progressive spirit in their foreign policies is wasted.
Recent years have also seen the dialogue between Western and Islamic civilizations make credible headway. A number of inter-faith dialogues have taken place between leading Muslim and Western states and blocks, such as the OIC and the EU. All of these positive developments are at risk because of Israel’s irresponsible, illegal and immoral violent conduct. Israel’s demand for security may be just, but such security cannot be realized through murdering international peace activists.
If not for the sake of the international community, at least for its own sake, Israel has to come to its senses. If the Jewish entity is not willing to modify its violent course, then it is the responsibility of the world community to coerce Israel for the purpose. There is simply no other option left now.
As for the Israeli security concerns, the International Quartet—the UN, the United States, the European Union and Russia—negotiating a peaceful end to the Palestinian dispute in the form of a two-state solution can guarantee that, with the cooperation of neighbouring countries like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.
Finally, if the international community moves credibly forward to ease the supply of humanitarian goods to the besieged Palestinians, the leadership of the Hamas movement has to respond in kind by moderating its attitude towards the Jewish entity. If Israel has to abide by the will of the international community, so should those among the Palestinians who still wish to destroy the Jewish entity—with Iranian and Syrian support. The world must lot let the Palestinians to become a simultaneous pray of Israel’s violent apartheid, on the one hand, and militaristic designs of Tehran and Damascus in the Middle East, on the other.