People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 06, 2010


Massacre at Sea: Israel as a Rogue State


Prabir Purkayastha


THE Gaza Freedom Flotilla of six ships carrying 700 international activists and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid was attacked by Israel, killing from 9 to 19 and injuring dozens. The attack was launched on early hours of May 31st morning and in international waters, 65 miles from Gaza coast. Till date, Israel has not released the names of the dead and injured and allowed only limited access to those it has illegally detained and taken to Israeli port of Ashdod.


Two more ships are making their way to Cyprus with the purpose of running the Israeli blockade.  One of the two ships is named after 23 year old Rachel Corrie, who was killed in West Bank while trying to stop Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes. The Israelis have again reiterated that they will use force to stop these two ships.


The attack was pre-planned with Israeli group of seven ministers meeting and deciding that they would not allow the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to break the three year long brutal siege of Gaza that Israel has imposed. In the 2008 Gaza war, more than 1400 Gaza residents were killed and large sections of Gaza completely demolished. Israel intensified the Gaza blockade after the war and does not allow whole range of goods including building materials and even school supplies. That is why the flotilla was carrying both, apart from medicines.


Israel has argued that the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza was breaking international law. What it failed to inform the world is what international law was the flotilla breaking? It also claimed that its soldiers were attacked with knives and sticks, when they boarded the flotilla ships. That massacring activists could be justified by their carrying sticks and knives itself speaks volumes of the Israeli mind-set. Even if this is taken as true, it misses the point. Under international law, the activists on board of the ship had the right to defend themselves – it was the Israeli forces that were violating international law by boarding a ship in international waters flying the Turkish flag.


What is interesting is the spin that western media is giving to the assault on the flotilla. The focus is exclusively on who fired first. That the act of boarding a Turkish ship in international waters could be a violation of international law was not even on the table. Neither was any discussion on the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.


Richard Falk, an international legal scholar and the UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said in his reaction to the assault on the flotilla,, “Israel is guilty of shocking behaviour by using deadly weapons against unarmed civilians on ships that were situated in the high seas where freedom of navigation exists, according to the law of the seas,” Falk said. “It is essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behaviour, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts.”


Falk also stated, “The people on these boats would have some right of self-defence,” as they were the ones who were under unprovoked attack. Falk has earlier, and now again, termed the Israeli blockade of Gaza illegal.


Israel’s claim of self-defence is preposterous, because Israel’s self is not located at sea. Their argument that these ships were running the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and therefore violating some 34 specified international laws is farcical. The last time we looked, Israel's have yet not become international law! In any case, the blockade has been declared illegal by UN resolution 1860.


The Israeli propaganda machine, duly repeated by western media talked of the Israeli commandos invoking their right of “self-defence”. The commandos rappelling on to the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, had  committed an unprovoked act of aggression against Turkey, as the Turkish ship was flying the Turkish flag and therefore the ship is legally Turkish territory. Aggressors forcibly capturing a ship of another country cannot claim a right to self-defence. Attackers do not have the right to self-defence: the passengers under attack do.


The green signal given to the Israeli forces to use force against the Gaza flotilla, means that the political leadership was fully involved with breaking of international law and committing crimes on high seas. It is another matter that it is only one in a long series of violations of international law that Israel continues to do with impunity under the protection of the US and its other allies.


The reaction this time may not be so easy for Israel to ride out. The flotilla had citizens from 50 countries including Nobel laureates, 35 members of parliament, journalists, cultural and social activists. The flotilla had a large number of Turkish and Greek nationals. Turkish and Greek ships were involved – three ships were flying Turkish flags while two others were under Greek flag; one ship was under US flag. The ships also carried important Israeli Arabs, including the head of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, Mohammed Zeidan; the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ra'ed Salah; and Knesset member Hanin Zuabi (Balad ). All this means that this is one time Israel cannot hope that the reactions even amongst its friends will be just window dressing.


Turkey has already recalled its Ambassador from Israel and cancelled joint naval exercises with Israel. Turkey is important for Israel as it has been one country in Israel’s neighbourhood that has maintained strategic relations with Israel. Earlier, Israel struck new diplomatic low ground, when the Turkish Ambassador was called into its Foreign office and purposely humiliated by giving him a lower seat than the Israeli deputy foreign minister. Turkey has to either swallow an even more serious insult where a ship flying its national flag is boarded on high seas and its nationals killed. Or it will have to square up to Israel and do more than just routine diplomatic protests. Already, the Turkish government is under enormous pressure as huge mass protests are taking place in Turkey.


West Asian countries have also started making noises. Egypt has summoned the Israeli Ambassador, Arab League urged its members not to deal further with Israel. Mahmood Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President called for a three-day long mourning in Palestine. Even the European countries made more than their usual token noise, with country after country condemning the assault on the flotilla.


Does it mean that it will lead to any change in Israel’s policy towards Gaza? Probably not. Israel’s public position is that siege of Gaza is defence of Israel and anyone breaking that siege is attacking Israel. For Israel, its every act has to be linked to defending Israel because then only its international brigade can get into the act. The problem is that if the siege of Gaza was to get rid of Hamas it is patently not working. So why is Israel still continuing with such a policy?


Israel today is caught into its own myth-making. Having sundered all relationship with reality, it sees the world in terms of its own propaganda. Thus Hamas are by definition terrorists and evil, while Israel and its military forces by definition pure. All this of course works even better when it is built on a structure of racial exclusion. It is this mind-set that determines that Turkey can be insulted because it is after all a Muslim country and Turks are not very different from Arabs. Once this mind-set operates, boarding Turkish vessel and shooting Turkish activists is similar to what Israeli forces did in Gaza. As the world has looked away from Gaza and the West Bank, Israel is only surprised that it is being held to a different standard now. 


The key issue for Israel is that it continues to receive protection from the US for all its murderous actions. The US has yet to condemn what has happened, only expressing regret and promising to study the incident further. In the UN Security Council, it blocked all mention of Israel in the final communiqué. As long as Israel is shielded by the US, it will act with impunity without fear of any consequence for its violent and illegal acts.


The only part of the UN Council's resolution that is significant is that it reiterated  the importance of implementing UN resolution 1860, which calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance to Gaza's 1.5 million residents. The flow of materials have been severely hampered by Israel's three-year long illegal blockade of Gaza Strip. However, under US intransigence, there are no teeth to this resolution: Israel therefore still remains protected from the consequences of its wanton brutality.


The problem for Israel is that this incident took place under cameras, in spite of Israeli forces jamming radio transmission. Yes, the pictures are poor quality, taken from cell phones. But they do tell the essential story. A story that has little to do with violent activists in league with terrorists. It simply shows again the reality of Israel – a rogue state that commits atrocities at home, in Gaza, in West Bank and now on high seas.  A picture that will not go away with a thousand lies. A crime whose stench cannot be overcome with all the perfumes of Arabia.


The time has come for the international community to assert their collective will and bring this rogue nation to heel. For us, as citizens of our country, we must strengthen the movement for boycott, sanctions and disinvestments of Israel and its institutions. The Indian government cannot rest with just issuing a statement of condemning violence. It must stop all military and strategic relationship with Israel. As a minimum, it must immediately stop its Free Trade Agreement talks with a country that does not even allow free flow of humanitarian materials into Gaza and its 1.5 million people.