Much has been said and written about the maritime events off the coast of Gaza. Those events have created excuses for changes in diplomatic status and have once again led to attacks on Israel. It goes without saying that the loss of life as the result of such an incident is tragic. The key question however is WHO is responsible for this incident. World opinion seems to indicate that Israel is 100% responsible. If we were to look at the actual facts leading up to and surrounding the incident, however, a different picture emerges.
Here are some key facts I want to share with you. (With thanks to both UJC and AIPAC for gathering this information and more.)
Neither Israel NOR Egypt permits shipments into the Hamas controlled Gaza strip without them first being inspected. This only makes sense in light of Hamas’ commitment to continue smuggling in arms and firing rockets into civilian populations. When the Israeli Defense Naval Forces intercepted the six ships attempting to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip early Monday morning they were simply enacting a long-standing policy of controlling the border.
The actual interception only took place after numerous warnings from Israel. The Israeli Navy requested the ships to redirect toward Ashdod where they would unload the cargo and transfer it to Gaza after being inspected.
The ships were reported to be carrying 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza. Israel pledged to deliver the goods but only after the ships were inspected. The inspections were important to help ensure that arms and material to fortify Hamas’ bomb making facilities were not mixed in with the humanitarian aid. Israel’s commitment to allowing such aid to enter Gaza should not be questioned, especially in light of the fact that Israel provides 15,000 tons of food and medical supplies to Gaza each week. These goods would simply add to what Israel wads already doing.
Moreover, I just got off of a series of conference calls on the matter and was not surprised to learn that much of the supplies that Israel sends into Gaza is taken by Hamas who then distribute it when they choose, often forcing Palestinian citizens to pay for goods that Israel supplied for free.
If the goal of the flotilla was to bring humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza (rather than prompt an international incident) this would have been the path they followed. Moreover, the IDF stressed that the passengers could then return to their point of departure on the same vessels. This was clearly NOT the goal of the flotilla however. The Free Gaza Flotilla itself was organized by an extremist Islamic organization in Turkey. Their refusal to enter the safe harbor in Israel for customary cargo inspection procedures compelled Israel to intercept the ships.
The demonstrators on the boats were prepared for a conflict and when the IDF naval personnel boarded the ships, as they warned they would, the soldiers were attacked with knives, crowbars, metal clubs, and sledge hammers. Moreover, it has now emerged that there were several attempts to take the Israelis hostage. In addition, a soldier was stripped of his weapon and thrown to a deck 30 feet below and that weapon (or others that were already on the boat) was then used to fire upon the Israelis.
Only when naval forces determined that their lives were in immediate danger did they employ riot dispersal means. The results were tragic… but likely planned as the demonstrators had clearly prepared these weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a release from the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest puts it…
The coming days will be difficult ones for Israel — particularly as many in the international community have already begun to respond with great criticism and use this as an excuse to delegitimize Israel. Israel, within its rights to prevent delivery of materials that put Israeli citizens in harm’s way, was placed in an extraordinarily difficult position. All evidence to date suggests that Israel acted in a manner that sought to avoid violence. As evidenced by the lack of violence on 5 of the 6 vessels, participants on one ship clearly sought a violent confrontation in an effort to create an international incident and to discredit Israel.
And as ARZA- the Association of Reform Zionists of America- states-
As so often happens after incidents such as this one, foreign governments were quick to condemn Israel for excessive use of force without full facts. Editorials in Israel note a mixed reaction to the Government’s action while still all affirming the right of sovereign self defense. The government of Israel has responded that Israel has the right to blockade Gaza ports to prevent weapons from entering that area and that Israeli Navy personnel were prepared to deal with protesters, not people armed with knives, crowbars and other weapons.
ARZA expresses its sorrow at the loss of life and expresses the hope that all those injured will soon recover from their wounds. ARZA further expresses the hope that governments and individuals will not rush to judgment but will wait for all the facts to emerge before coming to any conclusion. As is so often the case when dealing with incidents that occur in a very unsettled part of the world, it is often difficult to ascertain the facts but very easy to jump to conclusions.
The entire incident is regrettable and serves to highlight the issues currently facing Israel and the Middle East. There are many questions that deserve to be asked but one thing is clear… Israel did not enter this with the goal of creating an international incident and a loss of life. The organizers of the flotilla did. Sadly, once again only part of the story is being reported by the larger media.
I will be adding some links that might be of interest shortly…
Respectfully, Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen