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?
Corrected on : Updated on 6/4/10