Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israeli Overkill Strikes Again

Civilian provocation or trigger-happy soldiers...what do you think?

About 600 "peace activists" from 20 countries were on board 6 yacht-type vessels carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid (wheelchairs, medicine, clothes etc.) to Gaza when a confrontation ensued with Israeli defense forces. At least 9 activists were shot dead, many more were wounded (including an American woman shot in the eye with a teargas grenade), and several Israeli soldiers suffered non-life-threatening injuries

Among the 600 peace activists were:
  • 1 retired American ambassador in his 80s
  • 1 member of the Israeli parliament
  • 2 Egyptian lawmakers
  • Volunteers from Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, and the U.S.
  • 40 British citizens whom the British Foreign Office said were accompanying the aid
Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman has already come out on the record, saying that "the sole responsibility" for the incident lies with activists who have "chosen violence and confrontation."

It is difficult to understand, though, how the peace activists "chose" confrontation and violence.

By all accounts, the aid vessels were in international waters over 70 miles outside Israeli territorial waters when, according to Israeli Member of Parliament Hanin Zoabi, who was accompanying the aid flotilla, the Israeli Navy fired on the ships for 5-minutes before commandos rappelled from helicopters onto the decks of the ships. Zoabi says the passengers on board the ships were unarmed.

Did Israel believe the ships were smuggling arms into Palestinian territory, as has happened in the past?

It's unlikely, given the scenario. Not only is 600 passengers and a convoy of 6 ships obviously too big a group to be attempting anything sneaky, but the flotilla had in fact planned to reach Gaza in broad daylight the following day so that they could document the delivery.

Additionally, it's not like these were Iranian speed boats. The vessels were all from a friendly nation--Turkey, whom Israel trusts enough to sell weapons to, and which was the first Muslim country to recognize modern day Israel as an independent nation, just after Israel's founding.

Israel's rhetoric after the fact seemed aimed to tarnish the reputation and intention of the civilians accompanying the flotilla. Israel arrested the hundreds of peace activists, and has charged them with illegally entering Israel, which, if true, might give Israel more leeway in how it dealt with "intruders."

But those arrested did not enter Israel illegally. They did not even enter voluntarily.

As Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister noted in his strenuous objection to the Israeli action, the civilians "did not enter Israel illegally; rather they were essentially seized from international waters, taken into Israel and asked to sign documents confirming that they entered illegally."

In an absurd proof that Israel knew nothing untoward was happening with the aid flotilla, after killing 9 and arresting 600, Israel actually allowed the aid the ships were carrying to be delivered to its intended destination. Palestinian officials have confirmed that five trucks were allowed into Gaza, carrying wheelchairs.

Perhaps most tellingly, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Major Avital Leibovitch accused the peace activists of having planned the conflict. Speaking on NPR's All Things Considered, Maj. Leibovitch claimed that the activists "waited for them [the Israeli commandos]. They planned this." Saying, "it's more than an attack. I describe it as a lynch because when you have one Navy Seal and 10 activists jumping on him trying to break his arms and legs, for me, it's a lynch."

Maj. Leibovitch did not explain how the peace activists might have lured the Israeli navy and its helicopter commandos over 70-miles beyond their borders, or how the civilians might have first engaged them in the skirmish.

It's interesting to note Maj. Leibovitch's incorrect use of the word "lynch." Anyone as fluent in English as the Major is, but who is familiar with the term lynch, would know that nobody ever says "it's a lynch," but rather, "it's a lynching." So it seems that the Major did not know the term on his own--that the term was new to him.

Perhaps Maj. Leibovitch was coached to invoke the word "lynch" on U.S. National Public Radio in an effort to strike a chord with a listening audience that is generally thought to be liberal, and sympathetic to demographics who have historically been the victims of lynching. But while NPR listeners may be left-wing, they are definitely intelligent, and they can see through a flimsy political excuse a mile away.

When you shoot at someone, then jump onto their property from a helicopter, and they fight back, you aren't being lynched; you're just being fended off.

As usual, Israel's general approach seems to be that occasionally, in the course of keeping Palestinians in their place, a civilian is accidentally and tragically killed through military action. But if that civilian, in the course of being accidentally killed, attempts to save himself and avoid his own accidental death by fighting back, then while his death may still be regrettable, as Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman has already said, "the sole responsibility" for the incident lies with the dead civilian who has "chosen violence and confrontation."

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