Saturday, June 5, 2010

Israel, the Mavi Marmara, and the Rachel Corrie

On Monday of this week, the Israeli military boarded a Turkish (humanitarian) aid ship that was attempting to deliver supplies through an Israeli blockade to Gaza.  Nine civilians on board the ship were killed in the ensuing batte.

I am putting the word "humanitarian" in parentheses because the legitimacy of the Turkish ship's mission depends on whose story you accept: the Israelis argue that the was a deliberate attempt to provoke Israel -- in other words, that humanitarianism was not the primary goal.

Following the incident, Israel has come in for major criticism. I watched an interesting debate on the Newshour about whether they have the right to impose a naval blockade; the pro-Palestinian commentator argued that blockades are de facto illegal under current international law, while his counterpart said that the UN itself sponsored a long-term blockade during the Balkan conflict of the 1990's.

On Tuesday, Thomas Friedman had harsh words for both Turkey and Israel:
On Turkey: "I have no problem with Turkey or humanitarian groups loudly criticizing Israel. But I have a big problem when people get so agitated by Israel’s actions in Gaza but are unmoved by Syria’s involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon, by the Iranian regime’s killing of its own citizens demonstrating for the right to have their votes counted, by Muslim suicide bombers murdering nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in mosques in Pakistan on Friday and by pro-Hamas gunmen destroying a U.N.-sponsored summer camp in Gaza because it wouldn’t force Islamic fundamentalism down the throats of children."

On Israel: "It is overwhelmingly in Israel’s interest to bring more diplomatic imagination and energy to ending this Gaza siege. How long is this going to go on? Are we going to have a whole new generation grow up in Gaza with Israel counting how many calories they each get? That surely can’t be in Israel’s interest. Israel has gotten so good at controlling the Palestinians that it could get comfortable with an arrangement that will not only erode its own moral fabric but increase its international isolation."
Recep Erdogan is still the prime minister of Turkey. My favorite line of Friedman's piece is his explanation of why the US should put lots of effort into its relationship with Turkey:

443. What are the famous blockades in history?  The one that immediately comes to mind is the blockade of Cuba just before the missile crisis, and I think that there may have been an important one during the Peloponnesian War ... any others?
I’ve long had a soft spot for Turkey. I once even argued that if the European Union wouldn’t admit Turkey, we should invite Turkey to join Nafta. Why? Because I think it really matters whether Turkey is a bridge or ditch between the Judeo-Christian West and the Arab and Muslim East. Turkey’s role in balancing and interpreting East and West is one of the critical pivot points that helps keep the world stable.
444. Does Benjamin Netenyahu have a defined term, or is his situation similar to the prime minister in Britain where -- if he loses the confidence of Parliament/the people -- he could be compelled to call elections early?

445. Supposedly there's an Irish ship - a mission structured similarly to the Turkish one - that will arrive in the "outside of Gaza and Israel" waters this weekend.  Evidently there's a former Nobel Peace Prize winner aboard -- who is she and what did she win the prize for?  Is it the anti-land mine woman?  What will be the outcome of this ship's attempted delivery?  It sounds as though the Israelis are going to try not to provoke any fighting this time around.  I've just done some reading.  The Irish ship is the Rachel Corrie (named for an American who was killed in Gaza in 2003). There are only 11 passengers on board (as compared to several hundred on the Mavi Marmara?); here's an excerpt from The Guardian:
The Rachel Corrie is carrying 11 passengers, including the Scottish Captain Eric Harcis. In addition to six British and Irish citizens on the ship there are six Malaysians, including an MP and a team of journalists ... a spokesman for the Malaysian travellers said they were "determined" to continue the journey towards Gaza. The ship is carrying school supplies, printing paper, children's shoes, wheelchairs, sports equipment and fire extinguishers. Its load was checked by the Irish government before it sailed, according to organisers. Israel bars cement and other building materials from entering Gaza, saying they are often used for building tunnels to smuggle in weapons and explosives.
In this morning's Post, Glenn Kessler reports on the Israeli explanation for what happened :
Israeli forces spent four hours trying to persuade the 300-foot-long Turkish ship to shift course away from Gaza, senior Israeli officials said in a briefing Friday for a small group of reporters.

The activists responded repeatedly with shouts -- "Go back to Auschwitz!" -- and kept the ship at its maximum speed of 10 knots. Now it was 4 a.m., and the ship was 70 miles from the Israeli coast.

Israeli officials ran through the calculations. Colliding with the ship could sink it, given its size and speed. Shooting at a ship with 560 passengers on board, including a baby, could result in casualties. So officials decided to dispatch one commando team (14 soldiers) who would board the upper deck by rappelling off a helicopter, and three other 14-man teams who would board the lower decks by sea.

The officials insist they had no choice but to enforce the blockade of Gaza, controlled by the Hamas militant group, because allowing selective ships to pass would have rendered it legally meaningless. "Either you have a blockade or not," one military official said.

Turkish officials have angrily said that the blockade is illegal, that the assault should not have taken place in international waters and that the use of force was disproportionate and even criminal.

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