Well, that certainly didn’t turn out how I predicted.
Israel boarded the flotilla, as expected, though (unusually and critically) did so in international waters. I suspect that detail is going to be important. Violence ensued, with conflicting stories about who did what and when, and not only are the flotilla spokespeople’s stories conflicting with that of the IDF, each side’s story is inconsistent with itself. It should be noted that none of the passengers on the ships have been able to give their side of the story yet – so far everyone is having to rely on statements and videos released by Israel. When they are released, we will have more to go on. Undoubtedly they will be kept in detention as long as possible to ensure the Israeli side of events is given the most time possible in the public eye.
In the meantime, some key points:
- The ships were “thoroughly searched and certified before they left port”, according to the Free Gaza Movement organiser Renee Jaouadi, and the passengers vetted. This can be checked, but even if it did happen like that, questions about the thoroughness of those procedures would always remain.
- The flotilla was given ample opportunity by Israel to send the supplies through them instead of trying to break the blockade. This supports Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s assertion that “the sail was a provocation”, and shows that the blockade runners did not have a purely humanitarian agenda, as they claimed.
- The IDF says two pistols were stolen from their commandos, and used against them. This corroborates the “unarmed” story of Jaouadi, and contradicts Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s assertion that “we found weapons that were prepared in advance and used against our forces”. It also begs the question, how the heck were random passengers able to steal guns off special forces??
- Israel’s repeated statements that its blockade is legal under international law, and breaches of it illegal, are dubious at best. Incredibly, they completely negated this argument anyway by attacking in international waters, outside the blockade area. While not ‘piracy’ as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it was still an illegal boarding. That suggests that any violent action taken by the passengers is classifiable as self-defence (as claimed by Jaouadi), and the killings have no justification whatsoever.
- Demands for an investigation are coming from many quarters, but most are merely asking Israel to investigate itself. That would be an injustice, and I join those calling for an independent inquiry.
So what I thought would be a minor incident, with the flotilla organisers getting what they want (a confrontation to highlight the plight of Palestinians ) and Israel getting what it wants (prevention of any breach of their blockade), has turned into anything but. Some foolhardy decisions have made a potential win-win into a lose-lose, at least for those injured and killed. At a more abstract level, it can be viewed as a victory for the flotilla organisers, because their hoped-for confrontation went beyond anything they anticipated. If they did want to have a violent encounter, Israel played right into their hands.