Today, with a second flotilla halted in Greek waters, is there a winner in the situation?
Aside from the realization that these flotillas are anything but humanitarian missions, which even some of its organizers admit, and which they demonstrated by refusing Greece’s offer to deliver their supplies, not really.
In late May 2010, passenger ship the Mavi Marmara, packed with armed activists protesting Israel’s blockade of Gaza, was halted and boarded by Israeli soldiers to redirect it to the Port of Ashdod, where the ship would be inspected. Violence quickly escalated; before the night was over, nine passengers were dead, and several soldiers were injured.
To say that international response slammed Israel would be an understatement: the incident seriously harmed Turkish-Israeli relations and countries around the world castigated Israel harshly.
In that way, it seems, the first flotilla was a success, despite the tragic violence that pushed it so far into the public eye. Although said to be a “humanitarian aid” trip, it was obvious that the point of the Mavi Marmara was to raise awareness of the Gaza blockade. And that it did.
But what of this second flotilla? Launched earlier this week, all but one ship in the 2011 “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” were either stopped by Greek authorities or experienced propeller problems and were unable to leave port.
The one ship to make it to the coast of Gaza was an eight-passenger vessel, which docked on Tuesday — not exactly a huge political statement.
We believe that if these activists want to support the Palestinians, they have every right to — through lawful channels. Challenging Israel’s lawful blockade, purely to garner media attention is not acceptable.
Meanwhile, as columnist Jay Bushinskly noted in last week’s Chronicle, the blockade really hasn’t succeeded in keeping arms and weaponry out of the Gaza Strip. Virtually anything can be smuggled in through tunnels lacing the borders, including luxury cars.
So Israel must reassess the blockade even as the flotilla remains bottled up. Is it doing the job for which it was intended? Is there a better way?
This time, thankfully, Israeli soldiers were not forced into violence and no lives were lost. But with a proposed “fly-in” protest said to begin later this week (activists hoping to disrupt airport operations, declaring “Palestine” as their destination upon landing in Israel), we can only hope that future demonstrations don’t escalate into violence.
These activists have a right to take a side, but to put themselves, and Israeli soldiers, in danger is just foolish.