In the Middle East, it has long been understood that you should believe the threats of your enemies more than the promises of your friends. Since the date of its founding, Israel has been attacked verbally and violently by the Arab world that surrounds it. So Israel paid close attention when the so-called flotilla of some 700 activists, dominated by members of an extremist Islamist organization in Turkey known as IHH and other radical groups, boarded six ships filled with tons of “humanitarian aid” and stated that their real mission was to bust the Israeli naval blockade to establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world. They also freely admitted from the start that they hoped to provoke Israel (in the expectation that, as usual, the world would protest anything Israel did).
The outcry that Israel was inhumanely denying aid was proved false—beyond any reasonable doubt—by the fact that both Israel and Egypt offered to have all the food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods sent to Gaza if the boats agreed to land in an Israeli or Egyptian port. This was rejected by the flotilla leaders. Their “mercy mission” was nothing more than a cheap political stunt, swallowed by the few real peacemakers conned into joining it and, of course, by the world’s commentators.
The background is clear. In pursuit of peace, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, a move that required Israeli authorities to remove about 8,000 Jewish residents from their homes, in some cases dragging them out. Instead of gaining peace, in 2006 the Palestinians there voted by a large majority to support Hamas, the organization whose charter is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The next year, Hamas engineered a bloody coup in which it ousted with extraordinary violence the rival Fatah party and took complete control of Gaza. At that point, Gaza became a terrorist enclave controlled by a violent Islamist terrorist group, Hamas, backed by Iran.
What ensued was a rain of rockets and mortar shells fired from Hamas-run Gaza into southern Israel. Israel warned time and again that it could not stand idly by. In December 2008, Israel finally sent troops into Gaza. It worked.
Israel was understandably determined to preserve its naval blockade, as it understood that the flotilla was a sham. The convoy was not about freedom and it was not about aid. It was about helping Hamas, aiding its terrorist activities, and harming Israel.
Under international law, Israel has every right to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone in the interest of protecting Israeli citizens, who this year alone have been subject to 150 rocket attacks from Gaza. Blockades have long been legal in international law; witness the United States and Britain during World War II and the blockade of Germany and Japan on the high seas.
This is not to suggest that Israel should be exempt from criticism. Its special forces mishandled the confrontation. It is no excuse to say that they were surprised and inadequately reinforced, and were thus unprepared to subdue the mob violence.
Israel’s rules of engagement required its soldiers to fire only paintballs unless their lives were in danger. They clearly were. Videos show the misnamed “peace activists” throwing an Israeli off the top deck of the lead ship, beating up others with iron bars, stabbing a number of them, firing guns at one of them. Ultimately, the Israelis were forced to use deadly violence in an operation that was intended to be conducted with a minimum of violence, as revealed in the takeover of the five other ships. The result was a bloody battle in which nine combatants were killed and nine Israelis injured, some seriously.
Yet only Israel is selectively prosecuted in the court of public opinion. No other country would be denied the right of self-defense under comparable circumstances. No other country would be depicted in the global media as a barbaric aggressor, while Hamas terrorists and their fellow travelers are portrayed as valiant champions of human rights. This confuses the firefighter and the arsonist. It is yet another example of how Israel is constantly subject to a double standard. Where was the international outrage when the Gazans sent thousands of missiles and rockets toward civilians in Israel, or when North Korea sank a South Korean ship and caused nearly 50 deaths?
Astonishingly, the Israelis seemed to have been unprepared to deal with the other major battleground: world public opinion. The government had a month to prepare public opinion at home and abroad that an extremist Islamist organization, the IHH, not a humanitarian organization, was behind the flotilla. Officials were unprepared when they addressed the foreign media, neglecting to point out the connections between Hamas and al Qaeda in this venture. They seemed unprofessional in presenting the Israeli case, failing to make it in a timely and effective manner. And it took them 12 hours to get the videos out on the world’s screens. They failed to disseminate the interrogation of one of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara, who confirmed during questioning that he was one of the recruiters of the violent group on the ship. They also failed to remind the world that Israel has delivered more than a million tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza and continues to deliver 10,000 to 15,000 tons of such aid every week.
The cries to end the blockade altogether are misplaced and many of them mischievous. Les Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has proposed a solution that should appeal to all reasonable people. For those wishing to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, there should be an agreement to land aircraft, dock ships, and use land checkpoints at locations designated by Israel where contents could be inspected. Within a few days, the non-military goods could proceed to Gaza.
The Israelis understand the truth of what Cicero once said: “For what can be done against force without force?” Force here was indispensable if Israel was to exert its right of self-defense.
Israelis have learned that, in the face of Palestinian hostility and terrorist determination to kill Jews, they have to be ready to defend themselves. For six years they endured a campaign of indiscriminate murder. About 140 Palestinian suicide bombers crossed from the West Bank into Israel, killing 500 Israelis. Israel was, of course, denounced when it finally did something about this, announcing that it would build a wall and fence around the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Since 2006, when large sections were complete, there has not been a successful suicide attack launched from those areas. Similarly in Gaza, after Israel waged a controversial war, the number of rockets dropped by over 90 percent to 150 so far this year. That’s 150 too many attempted murders, but it is down from thousands in previous years.
And words remain potent. Israelis know that Palestinian television, in the West Bank as well as Gaza, is broadcasting sermons exhorting all Muslims to murder Jews to fulfill a religious obligation. On children’s TV, a popular Friday afternoon program called Tomorrow’s Pioneers featured a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur. After a few months, Farfur was “killed” on the show by an “Israeli interrogator.” His replacement, a bee character named Nahul, died when Israel prevented him from getting medical treatment. Nahul was replaced by Assud, a bunny whose name means lion and who vowed to kill Jews and eat them. This character also died, this time from an Israeli attack.
Kids fall in love with these characters who on TV evolve into shahids, or martyrs. The Palestinians believe that if they can indoctrinate their children at a young age—that Israel and the Jews are the enemy—then they won’t have much trouble recruiting them for terrorism against Israelis as they grow older. Brainwashing is carried out not only on television. Last year, more than 120,000 Palestinian children attended Hamas-run summer camps where they were given training with toy guns.
The only fair conclusion is that Hamas, headquartered in Gaza, is still determined to destroy Israel. Even worse, the support it enjoys among a substantial number of Palestinians means it can virtually veto any diplomatic progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
How is it, in light of this admitted record, that Israel is hauled before the court of world opinion as an international thug while Hamas gets a free pass to kill, incite hate and violence, and stage its phony “relief” flotillas? How is it that so many refuse to see that the sole purpose of this event was to portray Israel as the oppressor of Palestinians—so that any Israeli action could be twisted to indict the state and sabotage any progress on peace talks?
Fortunately, the Obama administration refused to participate in such moral hypocrisy, as it steered the United Nations Security Council into a neutral protest and then blocked demand for an international inquiry into Israel’s conduct.
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Updated on 6/4/10