It was like a game of chicken, only more deadly.
Hundreds of people on six vessels were determined to embarrass Israel and draw worldwide attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The Israeli government was determined to maintain its blockade of Gaza’s shores. After all, if this political protest group were allowed in, what would stop future ships from delivering weapons?
Neither side blinked.
Israeli commandos managed to take over five ships without drama. But on the sixth ship, violence erupted. At least 9 were killed. Seven Israeli soldiers were injured.
In the aftermath, a predictable war is being waged for American public opinion. “Pro-Israel” organizations are linking those on the flotilla with terrorist groups. “Pro-Palestinian” bodies are accusing Israel of committing a “massacre at sea.” Even Sarah Palin weighed in.
Some groups are showing that patience is the better part of valor, and are calling for a thorough investigation before casting blame.
But assigning responsibility cannot be the end of the story. Those of us who really care about Israel, and about Palestinians, need to be looking ahead. “Winning” the blame game won’t help anyone.
Let’s start by recognizing that at the root of this disaster is the effort to restrict the flow of people and goods to Gaza. This effort was initiated by Israel (and supported by the Bush administration and much of the international community) after Hamas’ surprise victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections four years ago.
This policy failed to improve Israeli security. To the contrary, rocket attacks from Gaza at Israel escalated culminating in the 2008-2009 Gaza War. And weapons continue to be smuggled into Gaza through tunnels that run under the border with Egypt.
The policy also failed to weaken Hamas. Because the aid that Israel permits to pass through its crossing points is so limited, nearly all regular goods for Gaza must pass through Hamas-controlled smuggling routes, giving them leverage to consolidate their regime. Today Hamas is even taxing these goods.
The policy has impoverished Gazans, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. Poverty rates so high that the UN estimates that more than 60% of households are now food insecure. As a result of the blockade, Gaza’s civilians are suffering.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A ban on smuggling weapons into Gaza can be sustained through an international regime without subjecting the entire population to misery, and without Israel adopting policies that are clear strategic liabilities. Such a regime can also include mechanisms to guarantee Israel’s security needs (like crossing points monitored by international forces).
My organization is calling on President Barack Obama to show stronger leadership on this issue. To work with the international community — including Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority — to create a new security regime for Gaza, before more blood in spilled. I hope you will join this call.
Noam Shelef is Director of Strategic Communications for Americans for Peace Now and editor of the Middle East Peace Report.
freegaza.org vai flickr/creative commons
By Noam Shelef