Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Attack on the Free Gaza Flotilla

Update at 1 pm. The Israeli Foreign Minister and the IDF Spokesperson's Office have come out swinging, making all sorts of claims without presenting any proof. All the spin in the world fails to answer the main question, which is why military commandos were sent to take on an unarmed humanitarian flotilla in international waters. Whether the operation was a premeditated massacre, spontaneous IDF riot, or merely a ridiculously disproportionate use of deadly force, it clearly deserves an international and independent investigation.

This is the ninth attempt of Free Gaza to get its boats in. Reasonable people have to ask themselves the questions, why was there such a failure now? And the answer lies not with the commando unit, but with the Israeli Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government, which screwed up.

Haaretz is reporting that over 10 people were killed on one of the Free Gaza boats. Initial reports are contradictory, and until there is an independent investigation (not by the IDF, of course), we won't know exactly what happened. I assume that both sides will spin the story, and, judging from past performance, the IDF spin will be the least convincing. But from the story so far, it appears that IDF forces tried to board one of the ships from a helicopter, perhaps thinking that they would be meeted by bearded hippies singing, "Give Peace a Chance." Instead, they were met with resistance. The soldiers opened fire, and the rest so far is a blur.

I have been listening to the Israeli reaction on the radio here in Israel. I feel like I have been transferred to the mythical Chelm:

Oy, what will the world say…This is really awful…We had every right to do it…The whole thing is political…those guys are anti-Semites…we did what we had do…oy, what will the world say…boy, did we screw up…but we had to do this…they made us shoot on them….we lost the PR battle, we lost, again, we lost…oy...what could we do?

What could we do? What did Ehud Olmert do? He let the first boat in. He gave the Gazans some nahas/joy for a day. End of story. No diplomatic crisis. Exceptions can be made.

If weapons are not found on the ship (and if they are, how will we know that the IDF did not put them there) then Israel's overreaction (if the news reports stand) will be the latests in a series of overreactions that have characterized its dealings with Palestinians and Gazans, in particular. You elect a government that doesn't recognize us? We put you in siege. You kidnap our soldier? We tighten the siege. You send kassam rockets against us? We bomb you to hell. Hey, "Never Again"!

In order to have a humanitarian crisis, you have to consider people human. Israel for a long time has treated Gazans as animals that ought to be kept alive because Israelis are not cruel to animals. The Israelis will recite the daily totals of humanitarian aid that they let in (which, of course, they don't pay a penny for.) The jailer considers himself a "humanitarian" if he lets the inmates eat. So, as animals, the Gazans are allowed to eat. But humans need more than food in order to be human. As Amira Hass pointed out recently,

But what about a person's need for freedom of movement, a person's right to create, to produce, to earn a living and study, to leave for timely medical treatment and to travel? The spokespeople and PR professionals who try to prove things are fine reduce human needs to a graph containing only water, food and shelter. These graphs tell more about their presenters than they do about human beings.

Humans have the right to know what products will be available. But the Gazans are like caged animals who are entirely at the whim of their keepers. They are not told why chocolate is let in one month but not the next month; why some vegetables can come in one month, and not the next. And yes, the Egyptians are also to blame, and I, for one, blame them. But they clearly have much less responsibility than Israel.

We are still at the beginning of the story. Stay tuned.


dickerson3870 said...

FROM AL JAZEERA*: ...Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the ships. They also said the ships were now being towed to the Israeli town of Haifa, instead of Ashdod, to avoid waiting journalists...
* UPDATED ON: MONDAY, MAY 31, 2010 - 07:35 GMT

Anonymous said...

guess you werent watching the live feed...i was

the commandos landed and were immediatly attacked by the "peaceful protestors"

so lets go to the unscrubbed video tape...oh, and please make sure to watch till the end

Jerry Haber said...


you have a reading comprehension problem:

"But from the story so far, it appears that IDF forces tried to board one of the ships from a helicopter, perhaps thinking that they would be meeted by bearded hippies singing, "Give Peace a Chance." Instead, they were met with resistance."

Needless to say, any active resistance would be justified by international maritime law, which Israel broke by attacking a vessel against its will in international waters.

That much is clear and uncontroversial.

By the way, my favorite line was in a Jerusalem Post article, I think: that the soldiers were attacked by axes and rocks. As if anybody would take rocks on a boat in case he was attacked by the IDF.

Anonymous said...


I think you have to separate two different arguments:

1. If it was right to not let the boat approach to gaza in the first place.

2. If the commandos were indeed attacked with guns and fire how were they to react - were they to sing: "all we are saying is give peace a chance" and be linched??

1 and 2 dont necassarily go together,,,

Jerry Haber said...

Actually, there are several things to consider.

1) Was the siege justified? Answer: no.

2) Does it hurt Israel's image?
Answer: yes.

3) Should other ways to deal with the ships have been tried besides Naval commandos boarding there.
Yes, and they were in the past. But Ehud Barak is a gung ho for glory.

4) Did the commandos in the situation in which they found themselves act properly.

So far nobody is suggesting that they take personal responsibility for the operation. On the contrary, the IDF and the Israeli government is backing them up. The police do the same thing whenever they are accused of disproportionate or unnecessary violence. That is why an independent investigation is necessary.

But it has to be said that if the protesters indeed defended themselves against the commandos, that was perfectly legitimate, insofar as the commandos had no legal standing in international waters.

I have heard nothing since my posting early this morning that would change my view as to what happened. I think nobody will have an authoritative view of what happened until there is an investigation.

Oh, if the commnados were indeed attacked by guns or rocks, or whatever, then they must use the minimum amount of force to save themselves, taking care not to endanger anybody unnecessary. That would be true no matter what army they were part of. The right to self-defense is a basic one. The question lies more with the people who planned the rather dumb operation.

Anonymous said...

not justified?

weapons found among the aid from the ships


that is what your donations went to.

to kill your fellow citizens.

Jerry Haber said...

ah, bacci40, you must have studied hard at the Caroline Glick school of "journalism." You remember Glick's scoop of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? She got unembedded quickly after that.

As for that shocking piece of footage that you showed me...well, bacci, do me a favor don't waste my time with footage that is over a year old.

Get a life

Anonymous said...

hey bacci40, the army is saying now that those are army pistols that were stolen by the protesters(ron ben yishai on ynet). wait a couple of hours before you attack on this one

Y. Ben-David said...

It is not obvious to me that the IDF had no right to intercept the flotilla on the high seas (I am no expert in international law). They quite openly stated that they intended to defy the blockade. The blockade is recognized as legal by most of the international community. I never hear of other "mainline" countries demanding that Israel AND EGYPT lift it. The Gaza coast is defined as something like a war zone. Israel had no obligation to let the flotilla enter Gaza port.
Israel offered to let them land at Ashdod and transfer the goods they were carrying to Gaza, giving Israel the ability to check for contraband. They openly refused, using foul language in their reply.
This was a deliberate provocation. The people who organized this weren't interested in "humanitarian" concers, they were interested in helping HAMAS make political points. Any "innocent" do-gooders who joined the flotilla were being manipulated for political purposes. I don't understand why you are helping raise funds for this group.

Also, as I recall, you have sons who were IDF officers (is that correct?). Do you really believe the soldiers who went on board would really immediately open fire indiscriminately if they were not in danger?

Anonymous said...

The world must act against Israel now. There must be no more appeasement. We must break the Gaza blockade. If Netanyahu is still in Canada he should be arrested as a war criminal.

We must act now!

Michael said...

if the commnados were indeed attacked by guns or rocks, or whatever, then they must use the minimum amount of force to save themselves, taking care not to endanger anybody unnecessary. That would be true no matter what army they were part of. The right to self-defense is a basic one.

Without wishing to distract from the main issue (which is independent of this point), Jeff McMahan's views on killing in war might be worth mentioning.

Michael W. said...

"If weapons are not found on the ship (and if they are, how will we know that the IDF did not put them there)"

I don't think you looking at this clearly. You assume the worst from the IDF for any possible situation.

Elliot said...

"By the way, my favorite line was in a Jerusalem Post article, I think: that the soldiers were attacked by axes and rocks. As if anybody would take rocks on a boat in case he was attacked by the IDF."
Jerry, they were in such a hurry to spin this one that they cut-and-pasted from the standard IDF Spokesman line for the West Bank.
Give them a break, they're doing their best.

Gibson Block said...

Hamas is by definition a government not only at war with Israel but one having the primary aim of destroying the country.

The flotilla was in international waters - on its way to Gaza.

Does that mean the interception would have been okay once the boats left international waters? I know you don't think so.

Any attempt by Israel to stop the boats - no matter how peaceful - would not be approved by you.

As for the activists on board the ship. They obviously decided to fight in advance and they had to know things were going to get rough if they did.

Jerry Haber said...

Quick comment to Y. Ben David. Israel will have to make the case that the Flotilla endangered its security in order to have the right to board and commandeer the ship outside its territorial waters. We are too early to see whether anybody will buy that, but I don't think it will be easy.

And to all of you...I am not a prophet or the son a prophet, but I was one of the first to respond to the story this morning, when a few details were emerging, and nothing that has emerged during the day has altered my drift. This was a huge operational failure for the IDF, especially for the naval commandoes, because they apparently did not have any clue that they would encounter active resistance. (The IDF spokesperson just said that on the television.) Had a soldier been killed, all hell would have broken loose. As it is, a bunch of guys with steel rods beat up, unnecessarily, some soldiers of Israel's most elite unit, which could only extricate itself from the situation by firing live ammunition at people without guns (according to the IDF spokesman.)

Israeli media is saying that fortunately there was not a lynch. Now, a lynch is an extrajudicial killing of innocents. Here you have an elite navy unit, heavily armed, boarding a ship in international waters, and the crew and passagenger defend themselves. That's a lynch?

And, yes, had it been in Israeli territorial waters, Israel would still have been responsible to respond proportionately. But it would have more international law on its side.

Look, you can spin it whatever way you like, but we will see in the coming weeks what will come of it. Get prepared for several external investigations.

Anonymous said...

Obvious: blue-water navies capture Somali pirates by dropping SEAL-equivalent troops from helicopters onto the pirate ships.

That is how the Israeli Navy approached the flotilla.

Could the Iraeli Navy, or the political establishment that gives the orders, have waited until day-light, brought BBC and CNN TV cameras, stopped the ships, searched for terrorist material in public, and then let the ships proceed to Gaza?

Well, yes.

Would that have been safer, less likely to start a brawl?

Well, yes.

Have I seen the IDF public affairs office video of the weapons captured aboard the Turish cruise-liner? Yes.

It shows one sling-shot (maybe two...the video is ambiguous), a wicked looking steel bar that could be used in a mugging but would not cause much concern to Soldiers (hooah?), and a bag of marbles.

The Israeli government must have lost the contents of the bag if they considered this a proper use of force...or a threat.

From the evidence presented, the New York Police -- ordinary police officers and not the SWAT guys -- could have handled the flotilla with minimal fuss and no killing.

This has been a bad, sad day.


Anonymous said...

i apologize for linking to a year old was late and i didnt pay attention to the date...just saw the 5...not the 09

however, have you had time to see all the other vids that have come out since the incident? the people on board were armed

israel is in a lose/lose situation...but still, the ships were warned, and according to international law, israel had every right to board and search the cargo, and/or, lead them to a port other than gaza.

fiddler said...

YBD, it's true that most of the international community stayed mum on the blockade, but that doesn't mean it's "recognized as legal", apart from Israel's right to control *it's own* borders.

Now even German chancellor Angela Merkel, not known to be a Hamas sympathiser, has called for the siege to be lifted (and for international observers to be present at an investigation).

Unknown said...

Bibi proves that, contrary to Zeno, you can step in the same shit twice. And the second time it is determined policy, not a lapse of judgment.
It leads one to surmise that he is a secret agent of נטורי קרתא.

dutchmarbel said...

New York Times about the UN statement:

But the Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and it proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault by passengers of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship.

Ed M. said...

Wow, the Rafah crossing is opening, more boats are going to come accompanied by the Turkish Navy.

The comments here are just hilarious,I don't know if I'm supposed to be laugh or be insulted when I saw the video the IDF put out about the "weapons" on the boat. They had hammers and wrenchs! On a boat!

Anonymous said...


You aren't really quoting Al Jazeera like it's a legitimate news source are you?

From where I come from the moment the word Al Jazeera is mentioned people know that what's to come isn't credible. We laugh at al Jazeera for their terrorist based reporting.

We even do skits about al Jazeera on our television. Like how they always say "Death to America" after everything.

This is "al Jazeera" reporting "Death to America".

Tonight on the Omar Factor...

Scientists have determined that Jewish DNA is 99 percent like that of the Pigs...

Death to America.

In our Followup section: How the infidal created AIDS

Death to America.

Caution you have entered the Omar Zone...

So, no the moment you said "FROM AL JAZEERA" you turned this whole thing into a comedy skit because of course you know what the mouth piece of terrorism is going to say.

Anonymous said...

The Jewish organizations in the U.S. have started their spin and obfuscation. (

I am sick at heart with trying to defend the indefensible. Israel has no business coming on board a ship in international waters. Period.

Anonymous said...

while jerry is worried about the racism and hate from the modern orthodox community, let me show what he is missing here in the united states

a solitary modern orthodox jewish israeli teen sends a mob of angry arabs into a lather in los angeles

i see no hate in the boy...but i see much in that mob.

so jerry, when will you write a post on how the arabs should be dealing with their issues of hate and racism.

and i suggest you watch to the very end...for it might interest you in hearing the blatant ignorance of two of the rabble.

but ya...lets sit around a big campfire with these folks and sing kumbaya.

Jerry Haber said...


It is extraordinary what people see. You see an innocent boy faced by a hating mob. And you ask why I don't talk about Arab racism.

So how can I explain racism to a tribalist like you?

And more important, how can I explain to you the difference between American Jews taunting a woman who has been thrown out of the house she has lived in for over forty years, and a crowd of demonstrators reacting to the symbol of the destruction of their homeland and people, the Israeli flag.

Maybe the best thing would be to focus on the Palestinian organizers of the protest who instructed the crowd to get back to where they were supposed to be. Were there Jewish organizers that pushed the yeshiva boys back?

Oh, you forgot about that part, didn't you.

And why shouldn't those people want the destruction of Israel, the state that wiped their country, Palestine, off the map and has created a 63 year Nakbah?

All that having said -- they should have not been taken in by the provocation of the Israeli supporter, who presumably had the right to protest there. They could have yelled at him, but they should not have followed him across the street past where there protest was. That is the problem of crowds.

But Bacci40, I have an idea -- why don't you and I go the Salute to Israel parade next year with a Hamas flag and wave it up and down and see what the response will be.

All this has nothing to do with racism and bigotry that one could read in the taunting eyes of the Jewish hooligans. I saw anger in the Arab protestor eyes; I saw contempt in the Jewish protestor's eyes.

Gibson Block said...

"I saw contempt in the Jewish protestor's eyes."

I didn't. They seemed surprisingly level-headed to me.

80 people get suicide bombed in a mosque in Pakistan on the weekend and no one gives a hoot.

The Flotilla comes looking for trouble and unfortunately gets it and the world is up in arms.

Even if you support the Palestinians this isn't the biggest deal in the world. It's a PR bonanza.