The rush to judgment

IDF response to violence could have been worse.

The details of precisely what happened before dawn on the deck of the Mavi Marmara streamed in throughout Monday, and some were still unclear as night fell. How many pro-Palestinian activists participated in the attacks on the naval commandos who abseiled from helicopters onto the Turkish ship – the one vessel where the soldiers, armed with paintball guns, encountered heavy violence? Which weapons were wielded by the mobs on the ship – “just” pipes, stones and knives, or guns, too? Were the gunshot wounds sustained by some of the commandos fired from their own handguns, which had been seized by the violent activists? Or were some of those on this “humanitarian” mission armed?
Although so much remained to be clarified, there could be no doubt that the injury and loss of life were a premeditated act not by Israeli armed forces, who had been repeatedly told to exercise restraint, but by those on the Mavi Marmara.
Nonetheless, unsurprisingly, much of the international community rushed to pass judgment, and found Israel guilty. It was as if a pent-up torrent of rabid anti-Israel hatred had finally found its release. And the criticism, of course, will be understood as legitimation for the most violent of the activists, emboldening further such incidents.
WITHIN HOURS of the confrontation at sea, Turkey ordered its ambassador out of Israel, endangering 61 years of diplomatic relations. The Turkish government, of course, was to some extent a sponsor of the flotilla, and its stance on Israel has become viciously hostile since Operation Cast Lead a year and a half ago. Demonic depictions of the IDF have become a feature of the country’s popular culture, in Turkish-produced TV dramas such as Valley of the Wolves, Separation: Palestine in Love and War and Ayrilik that have aired on Turkey’s state-run TV station.
Now, Jews living in Turkey are being advised to remain indoors. Israel has issued an alert, warning its citizens not to travel to Turkey out of fear they might be singled out for attack.
Closer to home, Israel’s hard-earned diplomatic relations with Jordan and Egypt might be hurt as the Arab League calls an emergency meeting slated for Tuesday. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s choice of the word “slaughter” to describe what happened sheds renewed doubt on the fragile beginnings of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
And amid rioting in Wadi Ara, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch is warning of possible conflagrations inside Israel instigated by Arab Israelis, reminiscent of the first and second intifadas.
In Europe, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague “deplored” the loss of life – a relatively mild reaction. France asserted that “nothing could justify” the military operations against a “humanitarian initiative.” Sweden, Greece, Iceland, Germany, Denmark and Italy also criticized Israel in varying degrees, while Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, foreshadowing the pressure Israel will be under in coming days as the EU prepares to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the ramifications of the Mavi Marmara incident. Spain, the current EU president, branded the storming of the flotilla “unacceptable.”
In this atmosphere, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to cut short his trip abroad, cancelling a planned meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, was unavoidable.
WHAT HAPPENED on the Mavi Marmara was tragic. But itdid not justify the international response. Israel left Gaza in 2005,removing every civilian and every military remnant. It would have noquarrel with Gaza if it had not faced relentless missile attacks fromthe Strip, and if the Hamas government there were not arming itself atevery opportunity in pursuit of its declared goal of Israel’selimination.
Israel’s restrictions on the flow of people and material into Gaza stemsolely from the need to prevent the arming of Hamas and its terroristallies. That was why the “Freedom flotilla” was intercepted, and thatwas why Israel had offered to transport the supplies aboard the sixvessels over land once they had been checked.
The premeditated refusal of those aboard one of the ships to actpeacefully when confronted by IDF troops was the trigger for theviolence at sea. Confronted with such violence when they had beenexpecting non-violent protests, or at worst, low-level clashes, it isdoubtful that the soldiers of any of the nations that rushed tocriticize Israel would have acted any differently. Indeed, it is likelythat the consequences would have been considerably worse.