Monday, May 31, 2010

Intifada on Water

Reports are still preliminary, but at 4 am local time this morning Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, part of a self-proclaimed humanitarian aid "Freedom Flotilla" headed for the blockaded Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and in the process killed at least 10 passengers on board.

This bizarre and poorly executed high seas seizure, which was predictable in its unpredictability, is another in a string of serial outrages perpetrated by the right-wing government of Israel.

International condemnation of the Israeli military intervention against the aid flotilla has been swift and comprehensive. Protesters have appeared in Istanbul, Beirut, and London to denounce the Israeli operation. Inside Israel, Israeli Arab towns such as Umm al-Fahm have spontaneously exploded with street protests, tire burnings, and blockages of roads.

Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cancelled his planned visit to the Obama White House scheduled for later this week, and is returning from Canada to direct the cleanup that will inevitably result from this public relations disaster.

The flotilla had multiple messages and objectives. Calling it an "aid flotilla" is to only capture part of its agenda. Certainly, there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the result of an international embargo on allowing the free movement of materiel into Hamas-controlled Gaza. But part of this "aid flotilla"'s agenda was to legitimize the vicious and inhumane rule of Hamas over Gaza.

Some earlier media reports showed that some of the Arabic-speaking passengers of the Mavi Marmara were preparing for a mini-intifada on the ship. The Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, is pretending that it was a purely peaceful protest, not so much to provide aid as to try and break what it considers to be an illegal blockade. With some passengers on board chanting "Khaybar, Khaybar, Oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return" (referring to one of the bloody confrontations between Muslims and the Jewish tribes of Medina in the 7th century), there was clearly a mix of naive Western activists and hardened veterans of the intifada sailing off to challenge the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Hamastan.

If the government of Israel has not abandoned completely the principles of democratic and orderly rule, a full-scale governmental commission of inquiry must be convened. The Netanyahu government has been careening towards a point of no return, setting a tone of international defiance that is crippling the country at home and abroad. Unlike the Olmert-designed fiasco of the 2007 war with Hizbollah and the equally idiotic Cast Lead campaign of December 2008-January 2009, this military operation which has turned into a national disgrace was devised by two of Israel's top military strategists, both former experienced Chiefs of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces: Defense Minister Ehud Barak and stand-in vice PM Moshe Yaalon. At the very least, the two of them must be held accountable in the court of public opinion.

It seems as if every action of this Israeli government is willfully designed to make those of us who dream of a just and peaceful Israel give up all hope. Yesterday one of the most remarkable Israeli leaders, an inspiration in a time of hopelessness, passed away at the age of 88. It was my distinct privilege to know Aryeh (Lova) Eliav for the past 15 years. He was a Zionist pioneer, a visionary who understood almost from the first moment that setting Zionism against Palestinian nationalism would lead to a disaster, a humane man of principles with a tremendous sense of humor. Lova ran a very different blockade back in the 1940s, the naval blockade set by the British to prevent the remnants of European Jewry from setting foot in Palestine. It was a humiliation for Britain, just as today's events will be a humiliation for Israel. Lova built Israeli cities, served in the Israeli parliament, rose to the highest ranks of power in the then-dominant Labor Party of Israel. After the victory of 1967, Lova put his entire career on the line to oppose the nascent settlement project in the newly occupied territories just beginning under Labor rule. He resigned from the Labor party, followed his own voice, became a writer and an educator, a builder of youth communties and peace monuments, and continued to serve his fellow man until the day he died.

Because I know that Israel is populated by hundreds of thousands of citizens committed to Lova's way, I will not give up hope on a country currently led by a "ship of fools." These last 48 hours the Arab-Israeli conflict has gotten a bit darker, a bit more vile, a bit more intractable. But because there were men like Lova, and because his spirit still persists amongst Jews and Arabs, I will not give up hope.