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.