In which I try to figure out my position on the Flotilla mess

I’ve got to say, whoever it was that came up with the idea of the “freedom flotilla” is something of a genius. The idea of running the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is brilliant, because it put Israel into essentially a no-win situation. Israel was forced to react somehow, and it was pretty clear from the outset that there was essentially no reaction possible that would not result in bad press for them.

In the case of one of the ships – Mavi Marmara I believe it was called, the IDF walked right into the trap. The Manchester Guardian, one of my favourite newspapers, called the reaction what I think it most clearly was – something of an “own goal” for Israel. Likely none of us will ever know what happened on that ship, but we know that when it was over, nine people were dead.

I do think Israel went about the boardings in a reasonable way. The video I’ve seen does very clearly show that the main weapon carried by the boarding parties was an old fashioned Tippman 98 paintball gun, an excellent non-lethal weapon, whether they were shooting rubber balls, pepperballs, whatever. It also shows clearly that the men aboard the ships met them with violence despite several warnings that the IDF intended to enforce the blockade and would not allow them to land in Gaza.

The claims that the IDF committed what amounts to piracy doesn’t seem to hold up.  A military colleague sought the relevant information from the various applicable “laws of the sea”, and it seems that when a blockade is publicly announced, a state has the right to intercept any ships that intend to breach it, even in international waters.  It seems the Israelis knew the rules and followed them.  They have the blockade in place for a reason and it’s no secret.  They couldn’t allow it to be run.  That, of course, is what the organizers counted on I think.

It’s significant to note that only on the Mavi Marmara was their any real violence.  The other ships were boarded peacefully and without significant incident, all were then taken to Ashdod where the Israelis unloaded the cargo and offered to transport it onward to Gaza.  Well, some of it – the banned materials, like concrete, were not going to be forwarded.

The video released from the boarding suggests to me that the Israeli use of force wasn’t unjustified – they went in with non-lethal weapons and were attacked with metal bars, clubs, chairs, and apparently knives.  This isn’t “passive resistance” they encounter on the ship – it was active hostility, and the ship had been duly warned of the impending boarding.  I think the loss of life is regrettable but I don’t see that Israel did anything wrong in that sense.

The broader issue is the long term future for the region.  The Israelis of late – or rather, their current government, as I don’t believe the Israelis have a universal opinion, seem to be bent on prolonging the misery of the occupation.  The fact that Netanyahu allowed new settlements to be constructed while being visited by US VP Biden shows a ridiculous disregard for any effort at a peace process, I would think. 

I take a pretty sharp view of things.  Israel is a dependency of the United States of America when you really consider it.  It has something of a strong economy, but it is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, primarily in the form of military aid.  The second largest recipient is Egypt, which the USA seems to provide support to in order to use their leverage with other Arab states to keep the peace.  Were it not for the support of the USA, I don’t think Israel would last too long at all, it would be driven out of existence if only to restore a state for the Palestinians.

The roots of the conflict are deep and difficult to understand.  I, some time ago, did a lot of reading on the subject trying to understand the different dynamics of the region – not just Israel, but also Lebanon, another hotspot with a complex past and a number of dynamics that make it difficult to understand its interests, its key people, etc.  Lebanon itself is a really strange mess that also needs a long term solution, but that’s fodder for another blog maybe.

The Israel mess, like so many global conflicts, dates to the remnants of colonialism.  To this day in many parts of the world we endure the fruits of various great games, in Africa, in Asia…  The British Mandate for Palestine and the Balfour Declaration which set in motion the Zionist movement to settle Israel created this mess.  I don’t think it was something that was done with any sort of idea that we’d wind up in this situation, but one has to wonder what was expected when an influx of Jewish immigrants showed up in the region and immediately found themselves in conflict with the Palestinians who lived there already.

And so the stage was set for conflict.  I don’t plan to use this blog to rehash the history of the modern State of Israel – I’m neither an expert on it nor is it necessary – the interested reader can simply research it themselves, there are ample sources available.  I’m more interested in the current situation and the prospects for the future.

It, to me, is simple.  There is no viable long term solution but some manner of a two-state solution – a situation where the Palestinians receive statehood, and the ability to build their economy and create prosperity.  Look at recent statistics about the economic disparity between the occupied territories and Israel, and you’ll see what drives the conflict.  It’s not nationalism, it’s not religion, it’s none of these things, though they are tools of those in power – it’s economics – it’s the fact that people who have nothing will fight to get anything.

That’s why this was such a trap for Israel and played right in to Hamas’ hands in Gaza.  It’s something that people just don’t seem to get, and it’s a key part of the tyrants’ playbook.  In order to retain legitimacy in power, tyrants need to be able to control their subjects.  The most effective means to do so is to keep them poor and ignorant.  This is something religions have understood for a long time, and they’re extremely good at it.  To go the next step, tyrants need a great national enemy against which they can cast themselves as the people’s salvation.  Israel has served remarkably well in this role for Hamas, for Hezbollah, for other factions in the area.

To flesh this idea out, I like to point to Cuba.  The United States has had a very robust economic embargo against Cuba since 1962 – though the actual embargo started in 1960.  This tremendous campaign has done absolutely nothing to liberalize Cuba at all, but in fact, one can argue, it actually made Fidel Castro, and now his unofficial successor Raul Castro stronger.  As Cubans experienced continued poverty as a result of the embargo, Castro could point to the USA as an enemy of the people, the source of their misery, and could show himself as leading the revolution necessary to overcome them.

Look then at North Korea, again, poverty and ignorance keep the masses under the control of the Kim Family Regime, more properly described as a cult, I’d say.  The reason that they can maintain their grip on power is an ability again to point to America.  So long as their propaganda machine can keep people convinced that the US is the architect of their misery, the system works.

The Israelis are being trapped by the same mess.  By starving the people of the occupied territories, by choking off their economy, it’s easy for Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah to characterize them as manifestly evil, and to garner support for the continued struggle against the occupation.  It was this that allowed them to rally people to the intifadah in the first place, after all, and it builds tacit support for an undercurrent of religious extremism too.

So what’s to be done?  Well, let’s go back to a parallel – Cuba.  If the Americans really wanted to see Cuba liberalize and the Castro regime fall, then they’d lift the embargo, call by-gones by-gones, and realize what Cuba is to the rest of the world – a Caribbean island with beautiful beaches, lots of resorts, and really friendly people.  Americans would flood into the country to take advantage of it, to see its wonders, and to interact with the people.  The economic growth and actual interaction would disarm most of the claims about the revolution, and I think you’d see Cuba liberalizing very, very quickly, much as we saw happen in Europe.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, it is a little more complicated – but the principle is the same.  Open up – let the economy of Gaza and the West Bank begin to grow – let more cultural exchanges happen, let Gazans interact with Israelis more, and eventually you’ll see that relationships and trust forms.  This happens already all over the place on the small scale, but it needs to be broadened.  If that was the case, eventually Hamas would lose its influence, the ignorance and poverty on which they rely to stay in power would fade, and two states could probably live as decent neighbours.

What’s killing me with the whole thing is deeper than this rather simple premise.  It’s these people who are “supports of Israel” in the USA who tend to be fundamentalist nutcase Christians.  They “support” Israel because in order to fulfill their absolutely insane eschatological views (that’s fancy talk for the end of the world), they need Jews to be in Israel to trigger the great battle, Armageddon.  These sick people actually, really, truly believe this bullshit.  I think that’s why so many of them want to see the USA take on Iran, another country run by a religious nutcase who can point to America as the Great Satan from which he defends Iran. 

These folks, it seems, actually think that war in the Middle East is a “good” thing, because it fulfills the insane “prophesy” of the Bible.  This too is nothing new in the region.  In Thomas L. Friedman’s very insightful book on the region, From Beirut to Jerusalem, he describes the efforts of some of the more crazy Messianic Jews to bring about the coming of their Messiah.  I’m no expert on the story, but the way Friedman tells it is rather simple.  It seems that for the Messiah to come, the Temple of Solomon needs to be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  The trick is, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Dome of the Rock) sits on top of the site, rather inconveniently.  Jewish extremists figured that the easiest way to bring about this great event was to, as he put it, “dust off the throne” by blowing up the Dome of the Rock.  Fortunately, Israeli intelligence was wise to them and prevented what would have been a cataclysmic event.

Ultimately, I hate that those folks cannot seem to give any critical thought to the situation.  I think they’re fucking dangerous, frankly, and that’s why being an atheist I cannot see any good reason to be silent and rather have to call them out for their stupidity.  They seem to have bet big on a Bronze Age bullshit story and I think they’re totally, dangerously wrong.

In the end it seems that religion is what fuels this mess – without it there’d be no intifadah – no need for the conflict, because Zionism wouldn’t exist at all.  This is a sad, shining example of how poisonous to civilization religion really is – that one group of people would do violence to another over their idea of of god – the same god, for fuck’s sake!

I’m sure that some might read this and think I’m pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel – or worse “anti-semetic”.  Bullshit.  I’m none of the above.  While I think Zionism meant well it’s been a destructive nightmare in the end, but I don’t begrudge the nationalist aspirations of a group like the Jews, particularly in light of the persecution they’ve endured over the years.  I don’t see how there’s any good end to the situation, simply, without a recognition of the right of the Palestinians to be there too, and some effort to share the land and build a future.  This is something that has to start happening, and it has to start with the youth there.  The government of Israel has to take the lead – and its patron – the piper that calls its tune – the US – needs to motivate them to get on with it, I think – something that Obama has sort of done but not particularly well.  It’s time to stand up to Israel and remind them who pays the rent, as it were.

In the end, 2100+ words later, I’m no closer to really having a position on the flotilla, but I hope at least there’s some clarity for anyone who bothered to read the whole thing as to why I can’t make up my mind on it.  Comments are as always welcome.

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