IN THE MEDIA
Tales of violence on the high seas lack context
Jun 2, 2010 | Lauren Jones
ABC – The Drum
2 June 2010
Sensational reports about Gaza tell tales of violence on the high seas. However, five of the six intercepted boats in the flotilla that attempted to breach the Israeli naval blockade were peaceably stopped by Israeli forces, who repeated an earlier offer to transfer all aid on board to Gaza via an Israeli port.
Only on the large Turkish flagship the Mavi Marmara, did any violent clashes take place. Some of the boats may have carried aid relief, however examining the flagship of the flotilla reveals a different story.
These were no ordinary peace activists. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television network, for instance, recorded passengers on board this ship chanting “Khaybar Khaybar! Ya Yahud, jaysh Mohammed swaf ya’ud!” which translates as “Khaybar Khaybar! Oh Jews, the army of Mohammed is coming!”.
Khaybar is the name of the last town in Arabia inhabited by Jews, which was defeated by Muhammad’s army in 628. Many Jews were massacred in the battle, which marked the end of the Jewish presence in Arabia. Its use by flotilla participants sent a sinister message for the Jewish state in particular and a clear exterminatory threat to Jews in general.
The same footage shows one of the organisers saying that the flotilla would have one of “two happy endings – either martyrdom or Gaza”. This paints a picture not of peacable protestors, but of a hateful mob anticipating the violence to come with relish.
The Israel Defense Forces boarded the boats armed not only with their rifles but also with their handycams. The footage taken was released on YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms. It depicts the storming of the Mavi Marmara and shows how these organisers intended to achieve their martyrdom.
In the video, soldiers descend from helicopters onto the ship, only to be met by a lynch mob armed with metal pipes and knives. A soldier is thrown off deck by the mob as another is surrounded and beaten with poles. The IDF has also released footage of captured weapons caches from the flotilla, including smoke torches, slingshots with pre-packed stones, metal bars, hammers, baseball bats, hunting knives, dozens of gas masks and boxes of Molotov cocktails.
Far from constituting a humanitarian crisis, Israel maintains a humanitarian corridor, acting as a conduit for international organisations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross for the transfer of food products, clothing, and equipment for essential civilian infrastructure into Gaza.
In 2009 alone, 738,000 tonnes of food supplies were sent into Gaza and 4,883 tonnes of medical equipment and medicine. In the first quarter of 2010, 150 trucks of medical equipment and supplies have entered Gaza.
Palestinians in need of medical attention are permitted access to Israeli hospitals via a medical corridor, again enabled by Israel. In short, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Access to certain building materials such as cement, however, continue to be restricted, as Hamas often diverts these materials and uses them for rebuilding its arsenal, constructing bunkers and rocket launch sites, in making rockets and mortars, which are used against Israeli citizens.
With these security arrangements in mind, Israel would not allow the flotilla direct access to Gaza in the first place over concerns of weapons being smuggled to Hamas terrorists. Israel offered to transfer all aid cargo on the ships into Gaza as long as the flotilla agreed to first dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod for a weapons inspection before any of the ships were even boarded.
The protestors refused this offer and Israel responded by warning them that they would be boarded if they refused to comply.
Revealing their intentions were not truly to deliver aid to Gaza but rather to gain maximum publicity, the militants took the decision to divert their course in order to meet the Israeli navy at daybreak and thereby optimise press coverage. Their decision not to take the most direct route to Gaza and rather to divert their path shows that the aid on board was merely a pretence for a carefully orchestrated stunt.
Australians on board the flotilla may have had reasonable intentions, but if so, they were duped by malicious, attention-grabbing, violent organisers who were colluding with terrorist group Hamas.
Over the past decade, Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets into southern Israel from Gaza; the naval blockade of Gaza was designed to prevent further rockets being smuggled in. Israel legitimately suspected that the flotilla was carrying weapons for Hamas and therefore had no choice but to react as it did.
A blockade to prevent the smuggling of weapons into a combat zone is legal under international law. Rather than delivering aid, this flotilla was feeding into the sinister Hamas agenda of smuggling in weapons and destroying Israel’s public image.
That five of the six boats were taken peaceably indicates that Israel never intended to harm any civilians. Israel was wise enough to film the incident, thereby providing irrefutable evidence that its soldiers were attacked first, and acted in self defence. Fortunately, the violence was confined to one boat and the aid on board the flotilla will reach Gaza in one piece.
As for Gaza, the naval blockade will only ever be lifted once Hamas meets the demands of the international community to renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist.
As long as Gaza is controlled by a government that deliberately inflicts suffering on its own population to advance its aim of destroying Israel, peace will remain elusive.
Lauren Jones is the National Public Affairs officer with the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).