War and Peace, Gaza-Style

From The Washington Examiner


In the wake of Israel’s interception of a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza, international leaders and media are predictably jumping on the bandwagon to condemn the Jewish state.

Israel fell into a trap here. Its enemies, masquerading as “peace activists” (and in so doing, desecrating the term) contrived a no-win scenario for the Israelis: either allow a ship carrying weapons to breach a blockade necessary to Israel’s security, or stand up to this manipulative and threatening farce, risking a confrontation.

How do we know this flotilla, whose leaders call themselves “peace activists,” was not, in essence, a humanitarian peace mission? Because the government of Israel offered to help them to deliver the donated goods through the Israeli port city of Ashdod, using normal procedures to ensure the cargo was purely food and humanitarian items, not weapons.

This procedure effectively ensures there is no food shortage in Gaza. (According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “[w]ell over a million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel over the last 18 months – equaling nearly a ton of aid for every man, woman and child in Gaza”).

However, the leaders of the flotilla defied the protocol. After they pointed their ships for Gaza, Israeli navy warned them not to proceed there but to go to Ashdod instead. The leaders of the flotilla refused – and kept on heading for Gaza. Clearly, they were spoiling for a fight. One of the flotilla “peace” activists was quoted in an interview with Al Jazeera calling for either victory or “martyrdom.” I guess that’s peace activism, Gaza-style.

Ha’aretz, Israel’s most left-leaning newspaper, reports that when Israeli commandos landed on the deck of the largest ship to confront and stop the “peace activists,” the latter attacked them with knives and clubs, threw several of them from an upper deck to a lower deck, and tried to lynch some of them. “The soldiers said they were forced to open fire after the activists struck one of their comrades in the head and trampled on him,” according to Ha’aretz.

“They jumped me, hit me with clubs and bottles and stole my rifle,” one of the commandos said. “I pulled out my pistol and had no choice but to shoot.” The fact that several of the commandos were injured, two of them gravely, attests to the fact that the “peace activists” posed a serious threat.

(Anyone who would argue that the commandos used “disproportionate” force should consider what he or she would do if faced with the very real prospect of being lynched).

Morally and from the standpoint of international law, intercepting the ship was justified: No government allows unidentified goods and people to violate their border regulations. A tougher question is whether the Israeli government’s decision to order the raid on the ship was smart. Given the tendency of international media and governments to jump on Israel at any opportunity, and given Israel’s need for allies at this precarious time, might it have been better to just let this ship pass?

Unlike Israel’s enemies, its supporters, and Israelis themselves, always regret loss of life, even enemy life. And there is no denying that the misguided condemnation this unfortunate incident has prompted is a bad thing, especially at this juncture (a screenwriter could not create a more perfect storm for Israel as it stares down the threat of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran).

But as Ephraim Sneh, Israel’s former deputy defense minister, put it when I interviewed him last week: “In the Diaspora we asked for permission. [Israelis] did not build a state to ask for permission” to defend themselves.

Many of Israel’s usual critics will find fault no matter what, accusing Israelis of using “disproportionate” force even, for instance, when the only person killed in a defensive Israeli action is a terrorist ringleader. It seems Israel’s government is moving toward the position that, beyond the basic respect for human life that Israel regularly exhibits, the overriding priority is self-defense, and particularly at this crucial time, Israel cannot afford the paralysis that can result from too much emphasis on avoiding any potential criticism – especially the criticisms of those who reflexively condemn without a balanced and logical examination of facts.

This entry was written by and posted on June 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm and filed under Commentary.