My Word: Free thinking

It’s not Israel that is curtailing freedom in Gaza.

311_Gaza flotilla flag (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Gaza flotilla flag
(photo credit: Associated Press)
I have decided to join the Free Gaza movement. My first goal is to make sure that every last Israeli soldier leaves Gaza. Well, admittedly there is only one IDF soldier there, but it has been proving very hard to get Gilad Schalit out. If we can persuade Hamas to release Schalit four years after it abducted him, Gaza will be free of an Israeli military presence. This won’t be easy, especially because even the human rights activists willing to risk their lives to reach Gaza weren’t prepared to ask that Schalit be allowed to meet with Red Cross officials or receive a care package from his family.
Next, I want the women of Gaza to feel free. I’m not known for either my feminism or my dress sense but I can see that a state in which Hamas heavies are forcing schoolgirls to cover up cannot be healthy.
Again, I might be fighting a losing battle: Almost lost among the mediacoverage of the May 31 flotilla affair – with its nine fatalities – wasan item on the five brave women journalists who quit Al Jazeera rather than give in to the Qatar-based network’s demands that they wear head scarves and forgo makeup.
Also, it is clear to me (although not apparently to the flotilla’sparticipants) that parents should be free to choose which summer camptheir kids attend. Last month, masked gunmen torched the premises of aUN-run summer camp in Gaza and left behind three bullets and a notethreatening to kill top UN aid officials unless they cancel activitiesfor some 250,000 Gaza children. Hamas runs its own summer camps, whichseem to stress militancy for boys and modesty for girls but are alittle lacking in the arts and crafts department.
I used to have contacts in Gaza, but they were associated with Fatahrather than Hamas and they’ve disappeared: At least one escaped to theWest Bank when Hamas took over; those who remain are wary of beingopenly in touch with Israeli journalists (modestly dressed female orotherwise). That could be because Hamas has a history of executingpeople it suspects of links with the Zionists. OK, on a good day, theymight settle for “kneecapping.”
IN FACT it strikes me that while the nearly 700 participants of thenow-famous flotilla were struggling to get into Gaza – unwilling toaccept Israel’s offer to pass on their humanitarian aid instead of themdelivering it personally – thousands of Gazans would do almost anythingto get out. And it’s not because of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade: It’sbecause Hamastan does not give a damn about human rights and is not anice place to live.
Although it might be all right if you’re not a woman and belong to theright family. Ahead of the flotilla’s departure, the Israel GovernmentPress Office released details of the other side of life in the Strip.Like many journalists, I found the tone patronizing but couldn’t helpbut be intrigued by the information that Gaza recently opened anOlympic-size swimming pool.
Since I’m involved in the struggle to keep open Jerusalem’s onlyOlympic-size pool (under threat by real-estate developers), I’mwondering if I can pick up some tips on nonviolent ways to handle thecampaign. When I say “nonviolent,” that means I rule out the use ofguns, knives, baseball bats and Molotov cocktails – which I admit is alittle limiting in view of the methods used by the “peace lovers”aboard the Mavi Marmara.
I actually feel sorry for some of the flotilla’s participants. Thepure-hearted, naive pro-peace camp was taken for a ride by the Islamicanti-Israel organizers and ended up in the same boat, as it were, or atleast the same flotilla. But the growing red-green alliance (in whichthe far Left has joined with the Islamists) is a strange one, and I’mnot surprised the result is a dirty brown.
Incidentally, Hamas is now keeping the “humanitarian aid” from entering Gaza from Israel – so much for the desperate Gazans.
I DON’T BLAME the navy for what Posteditor-in-chief David Horovitz summed up as the “flotilla fiasco.”There is something extraordinarily pathetic in the way the navalcommandos – trained for war but told they’d be facing peaceniks –boarded the ships armed with paint guns. The government – led by PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – orderedan operation which Israel could not win. Undoubtedly they wereinfluenced by the famous (and successful) operations of their youngerdays: liberating the hijacked Sabena plane, for example. But not allreal war is fought on the ground, at sea or in the skies any more. It’swaged in cyberspace and the world media.
When I mentioned to friends and colleagues my “think roses not guns”idea regarding the ships, it raised a smile, but, with more vessels onthe way, I still think it’s worth considering. I suggested Israelphysically block the boats so that it would be the so-called peaceseekers who’d have to ram Israeli ships rather than the Israelis“attacking” them. And then, instead of sending soldiers rappelling downonto the decks – where it was clear that they would not be met withhugs – I proposed that Israel bombard them with pamphlets informingthem about Hamas-dominated life in Gaza, the missile attacks on Sderotand the South and the fate of Gilad Schalit. And I suggested we shoulddrop quantities of roses on the participants. Bloodshed would belimited to the occasional prick (you can interpret that any way youlike) while the cameras would have a decent image to spread around theworld – not more warlike Israeli soldiers. Roses – the sweet smell ofnon-defeat.
I doubt it would have persuaded many on the ships to change theiropinions of Israelis, but it would have prevented the sickening wavesof international condemnation screened on Israeli TV alongside thefootage of soldiers being beaten, stabbed and in at least one casethrown from the deck of the Mavi Marmara by the ostensibly nonviolent protesters.
On a visit to Dublin a few years ago, I participated in a literary pubcrawl. Irish peace supporters on the next boats might be warned thatthey can’t drink alcohol in public in Gaza.
During a visit to Istanbul in 2004, a year after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came
to power, life seemed easygoing: Turkey had just won the EurovisionSong Contest, the nightclubs were pulsating, the cultural life wasthriving.
Turks – and the rest of the world – might wonder about the implicationsof Erdogan choosing to ally himself firmly with the likes of Hamas,Syria and Iran. When the country goes to the polls again next year,voters should consider whether they want the sort of freedom they wereenjoying when Erdogan first came to power or the type of Islamistrestrictions and repression the prime minister’s allies prefer.
Meanwhile in Israel, a free people is making the most of life – albeitunder a high security alert. Tel Aviv is holding a beer festival;Jerusalem is celebrating the 49th Israel Festival; Sderot (missilesnotwithstanding) is the venue of its annual international filmfestival; and Hebrew Book Week events are taking place across thecountry. So it’s not all bad news.
And at least Israel has united the global village like nothing else,with perhaps the exception of the World Cup. Too bad we know what it’slike to be the ball.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post. liat@jpost.com