No sense of decency: There can be no justification for Israel’s latest terrible crime

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph Welch responds to Joseph McCarthy, 1954

Some people are paid to defend the Israeli government, no matter what it does. Some people do it for free, even when it commits the most outrageous acts imaginable.

Whatever depths of depravity to which the Israeli government sinks, its propagandists are willing to sink lower. Take the case of the Gaza massacre, from December 2008 to January 2009. Israel systematically destroyed Palestinian infrastructure, in addition to killing around 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. This onslaught had no justification whatsoever, as Israel rejected a ceasefire by Hamas that they knew was credible, and which they had good reason to believe Hamas would uphold.

How did Israel’s propagandists respond? By celebrating the slaughter and destruction. In the Herald Sun, for example, Alan Howe wrote that “THE people of Gaza are set to be the first to bomb themselves back to the Stone Age. Serves them right.” The Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council – AIJAC – widely recognised as the leading Israeli government lobby group, responded to this article a few weeks later in the Australian Jewish News (July 31 2009). Jamie Hyams praised Howe for this article, as he had “showed sympathy and understanding for the dilemmas facing Israel in Gaza”. Hyams proceeded to quote approvingly Howe’s reference to “the festering malevolence that is Gaza.” Obviously, bombing people this evil “back to the Stone Age” should be celebrated.

The Herald Sun, incidentally, reportedly has a readership of some 1.5 million. Yet a Crikey blog was virtually the only place one could find any disapproval – let alone shock – registered at such views.

If such hateful views were expressed about Jews, it is not hard to imagine what would happen next. Yet for decades, Israel has committed the most appalling crimes against the Palestinians, whilst the Australian media and intellectuals have looked on in silence, aside from a handful of extremists who actively support everything the Israeli government does.

It is in this context that we can begin to approach Israel’s latest shocking crime. Just a few days ago, Israeli soldiers boarded a ship of international activists, who were seeking to bring basic living supplies to Gaza. Israeli soldiers killed at least 10 of the activists, and wounded dozens.

Israeli government propagandists will soon race forward to celebrate Israel’s courageous act of self-defence, however depraved it appears to any functioning human being. So let us pre-emptively address some of the lies we’ve already started to hear.

The first contender is Mark Regev, who appeared on the ABC show Lateline, without any of his lies being challenged, let alone refuted. The ABC did not bother putting forward any representatives of the flotilla, any spokespersons for human rights organisations, nor interview any Palestinians.

The most obvious lie was Regev’s explanation for the reason for the blockade. Regev informed Leigh Sales that “Just last year some 1,000 rockets were fired on Israeli civilians, and so that’s the reason that a naval blockade is there and in place, and we have to have that blockade to protect our people.” Is this true in any sense?

Turning to the official Israeli website, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Israeli government alleges that since January 2009, “164 rockets and 74 mortars have been fired into Israel.” This is not to support or justify the firing of the rockets, which are indiscriminate and terrorise civilians in Sderot. It is to point out that Mark Regev is lying for Israel, and the Australian media doesn’t hold Israeli propagandists accountable for their lies. Whilst the Israeli press reports things like Hamas’s efforts to prevent rocket fire from Gaza, we do not read such things in Australia. If you compare the figures, you can see this is a massive reduction in the amount of rockets fired at Israel. There used to be about 100-150 rockets fired at Israel each month. Now that many were fired in a year and a half.

Why is this happening? Half a year before the Gaza massacre, Israel agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas. In addition to an end to attacks by both parties, Israel was to ease the ceasefire. According to the Israeli government, Hamas largely upheld its end of the bargain for almost four months: there were a few rockets fired by anti-Hamas factions out of its control. Overall, Ehud Barak was correct in August 2008 hailing the ceasefire for halting the barrage of rockets. Yet a few weeks later, Amnesty International commented that the blockade remained as severe as ever. As Amnesty wrote then, almost two years ago (and remember that the blockade’s effects have become worse since then):

Israel has banned exports from Gaza altogether and has reduced entry of fuel and goods to a trickle – mostly humanitarian aid, foodstuff and medical supplies. Basic necessities are in short supply or not available at all in Gaza. The shortages have pushed up food prices at a time when people can least afford to pay more. A growing number of Gazans have been pushed into extreme poverty and suffer from malnutrition.

Some 80 per cent of the population now depends on international aid, compared to 10 per cent a decade ago.

Gaza’s fragile economy, already battered by years of restrictions and destruction, has collapsed. Unable to import raw materials and to export produce and without fuel to operate machinery and electricity generators, some 90 per cent of industry has shut down.

The fuel shortage has affected every aspect of life in Gaza. Patients’ hospital attendance has dropped because of lack of transport and universities were forced to shut down before the end of the school year as students and teachers could not continue to travel to them.  Fuel-powered pumps for wells and water distribution networks are often not working.

According to a study available from the Israeli government website, after Israel violated the ceasefire in November 2008, Hamas, “In retaliation”, unleashed a “barrage of rockets” at Israel. Even this study admits the blockade then became so severe that Gaza suffered from a “shortage of basic goods”. This euphemism cannot begin to capture the horror of the blockade’s effects on ordinary people: men, women and children in Gaza.

Then came the Gaza massacre. There is no need to re-describe all the massive destruction. Yet as noted above, Hamas and competing Palestinian factions in Gaza largely reduced their attacks on Israel. What did they get in return? A blockade that remains as brutal as ever, and an Israeli government that still reserves the right to kill Palestinians in Gaza whenever it feels like it – as it does all too often. Yet Hamas has responded with comparative restraint. In July last year, the New York Times reported that “Hamas has suspended its use of rockets and shifted focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and public relations.” Obviously, this has been considered the bigger threat by Israel, which has not welcomed such developments, such as by easing the blockade, or the speed at which it colonises East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israeli propagandists tell you the blockade isn’t such a big deal, and that Israel is simply defending itself. This is brazen hypocrisy. Israel used a partial blockade against it in 1967 as a casus belli against Egypt. Less than a year ago, the same AIJAC’s writer explained that Egypt “closed the Red Sea to Israeli shipping (an act of war).” What was an “act of war” a year ago has become an act of self defence today. It’s an act of war when Arabs enforce a partial blockade on Israel. When Israel enforces a complete blockade on Arabs, it’s bewildering why anyone would react with anger, and we’re supposed to believe that the world is picking on poor, little, defenceless Israel once again (probably because of anti-Semitism).

Let us return to the flotilla. As Larry Derfner wrote, “Who are these goddamn Jew-haters and their boats”?  Paul McGeough was on the flotilla, and wrote a profile of it. He wrote that one of the “lead organisers” was a “a 34-year-old schoolteacher, formerly from Newcastle, NSW”. They were bringing for the Gazans “500 tonnes of cement, prefabricated homes, water filtration equipment and generators”. The flotilla also included a member of the Swedish parliament, the deputy director of Reagan’s Task Force on Terrorism, a Kuwaiti parliamentarian, and two current members of the German Bundestag.

It also included Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. This time the international media has noticed the Israeli army has attacked and detained a Nobel Peace Laureate. When the Israeli army shot her, and it was captured on film, it still went unnoticed.

When she got on a boat seeking to deliver basic supplies to Gaza, her boat was forcibly occupied by the Israeli military, which proceeded to commandeer the ship and detain the people on board at Ashdod detention centre.

She was comparatively lucky on that occasion. Those who protest Israel’s crimes in the occupied territories, however non-violently, are often subject to much, much worse treatment. Indeed, even those who have sought to end the siege on Gaza have been subject to worse treatment. For example, there is the case of the boat carrying “medical volunteers and supplies” to Gaza. It also had former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney on board. This did not prevent the Israeli military from repeatedly ramming the boat, which suffered severe damage. They were radioed by the Israeli military, complaining that they were engaged in terrorist activities.

As reported on CNN. Considered too trivial for Australian media to report. McKinney survived, though she was criticised by the Israeli government for her “irresponsible behaviour”. By being on the boat that was attacked by the Israeli military. Seeking to bring medical supplies to Gaza. Because Israel wouldn’t let military supplies freely into Gaza.

This is similar in some ways to the latest military attack on international activists seeking to bring basic supplies to the people of Gaza. Israel again responded by blaming the victims.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said earlier Monday that the organizers of the Gaza aid flotilla have connections to international terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Al-Qaida, and called the aid convoy a violent and provocative attempt to break the blockade on Gaza.

“We couldn’t allow the opening of a corridor of smuggling arms and terrorists,” said Ayalon.

So why were these “terrorists” smuggling “arms” into Gaza? After all, the Israeli media bragged about the lessening of the blockade recently. Consider this magnanimity: in late April, Israel said it would “allow a shipment of clothes and shoes to be delivered to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for the first time in its almost three-year-old tight blockade of the enclave”. It let Palestinians have clothes and shoes. And they only had to wait three years.

The flotilla apparently did not bother bringing such luxury items as food, or clothes. Instead, as noted, they brought water filtration equipment. Why bother? The director Amnesty International UK wrote in October last year that of Gaza’s water, some

90-95% of it is now unfit for drinking. Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza is preventing the importation of urgently-needed materials to repair water and sewage treatments works. On top of this, the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza saw nearly £4 million worth of damage done to Gaza’s water and wastewater infrastructure, with reservoirs, wells, pumping stations and 12.5 miles of water mains damaged or destroyed.

Ha’aretz casually reported that Israeli destruction of civilian infrastructure during the Gaza massacre was partially responsible for the collapse of the Gazan water supply. As a result, Palestinian babies in Gaza suffered from “blue baby syndrome”. As Victoria Brittain wrote in the Guardian, “just one corner of the blockade could be lifted for” the required “building materials and equipment to enter Gaza, to let water works begin and to give infant lives a chance. Just one telephone call from the Israeli defence ministry could do it”, yet that phone call has never come.

Or, as John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said, “We have run out of words to describe how bad it is here”.

That is why the flotilla sought to bring water filtering equipment to Gaza. Because people on board thought that the Palestinians in Gaza should have clean drinking water. Perhaps Palestinian babies would not suffer from respiratory and intestinal problems.

Mark Regev, of course, explained that the blockade was to prevent rockets from entering Gaza. He knows this is a lie. The rationales for the blockade have changed over the years. It can be casually reported in the Israeli press, for example, that an Israeli official said “The Karni crossing won’t resume operating… At least not as long as Hamas controls the Strip.”

Or as the adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, Dov Weisglass, explained in February 2006, “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die”. Gideon Levy reported that this joke left the top levels of the Israeli government rolling with laughter. In June last year, the Red Cross – a generally non-political organisation – commented on the results of the “diet”.

This increase in poverty has taken a heavy toll on the population’s diet. Many families have been forced to cut household expenses to survival levels. Generally, people are getting the calories they need, but only a few can afford a healthy and balanced diet. Poor families often substitute cheaper alternatives such as cereals, sugar and oil for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. For tens of thousands of children, this has resulted in deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and vitamin D. The likely consequences include stunted growth of bones and teeth, difficulty in fighting off infections, fatigue and a reduced capacity to learn.

Trying to live under such conditions is terrible.

Yet let us return again to the flotilla. It also wanted to bring cement to Gaza. Why bother?

As you can tell from the flotilla’s efforts, Israel refuses to let in concrete for rebuilding since the Gaza massacre. This is especially heinous, because Israel destroyed in whole or in part perhaps as many as 14 400 homes in Gaza (Goldstone Report, citing UNDP survey, paragraph 1242). Gaza might have undertaken repairing the damage itself, yet Israel destroyed in its attacks 19 of 27 concrete factories in Gaza, representing 85% of its production capacity (paragraph 1015). Palestinians were forced to build homes out of mud, because they could not use concrete.

It is in this context that we can begin to understand the attack on the flotilla. Israel is enforcing the starvation of Palestinian civilians, and preventing Palestinian men women and children from getting clean drinking water. A handful of activists sought to break the siege, and provide these basic necessities for living. At 4am, Israeli soldiers boarded one of the ships of the flotilla. At four in the morning. By the end of the attack, at least 9 activists had been killed.

Perhaps the best editorial comment was provided by liberal British paper, the Guardian.

If an armed group of Somali pirates had yesterday boarded six vessels on the high seas, killing at least 10 passengers and injuring many more, a Nato taskforce would today be heading for the Somali coast. What happened yesterday in international waters off the coast of Gaza was the work of Israeli commandos, not pirates, and no Nato warships will in fact be heading for Israel.

It went on that whatever Israel’s intentions,

the responsibility for the bloodshed was entirely theirs. Having placed themselves in a situation where they lost control and provoked a riot, the Israeli navy said they were forced to open fire to avoid being lynched. What did the commandos expect pro-Palestinian activists to do once they boarded the ships – invite them aboard for a cup of tea with the captain on the bridge? One of those shot and severely wounded was a Greek captain, who refused medical aid in Israel and demanded to be flown back to Greece. Presumably he, too, was threatening the lives of Israeli naval commandos.

The Financial Times was just as strong. Condemning this “brazen act of piracy”, it held nothing could “justify the illegal capture of civilian ships carrying humanitarian aid in international waters, let alone the use of deadly force.” Furthermore, “Outrageous as this behaviour was, the true outrage is the illegal blockade of Gaza that it enforced.” Yet this is not enough to note: the “brazen act of piracy” with an outrageous use of deadly force was used to protect Israel’s siege on Gaza. That is what made this latest offence the terrible outrage that it is.

Yet soon we will hear from Israeli government propagandists, pleading Israeli innocence and righteousness. Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner explained

This is the Israeli notion of a fair deal: We’re entitled to do whatever the hell we want to the Palestinians because, by definition, whatever we do to them is self-defense. They, however, are not entitled to lift a finger against us because, by definition, whatever they do to us is terrorism.

That’s the way it’s always been, that’s the way it was in Operation Cast Lead.

There are no limits on our right to self-defense. There is no such thing as “disproportionate.” We can blockade Gaza, we can answer Kassams with F-16s and Apaches, we can take 100 eyes for an eye.

We can deliberately destroy thousands of Gazan homes, the Gazan parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, courthouses, the only Gazan flour plant, the main poultry farm, a sewage treatment plant, water wells and God knows what else.

Deliberately.

After all, we’re acting in self-defense. By definition.

Perhaps finally, Israel won’t be able to plead self-defence every time it murders in defence of the occupation. The most promising sign was the unusually forthright condemnation of the attack on the flotilla by Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou. She rejected Israel’s “unjustifiable attack”, and went on strongly:

I am personally appalled by Israel’s attempt to justify and defend what is an indefensible attack on the humanitarian aid convoy, which included parliamentarians from across the world. Israel’s narrative can only be described as being bereft of a sense of reality towards its own obligations and responsibilities in upholding international law and the principles of democracy.

Our thoughts go out to those on board the Freedom Flotilla humanitarian aid convoy, who were subjected to this aggression. They were there to provide solidarity and support to a besieged population of 1.5 million, eighty per cent of which is dependent on international humanitarian aid – a population that remains unable to rebuild their shattered lives following the December 08/January 09 attack on Gaza…

The international community must now hold Israel to account, not only on this latest incident, but on its continued siege of war-ravaged Gaza – and stranglehold of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and recognise that its ongoing actions are an inherent obstacle to the peace process. [emphasis added]

That is, she seems to strongly oppose the blockade and the occupation, and condemns Israel not just for the way it used force, but to its resort to it in the first instance.

In the meanwhile, Israel continues to detain the hundreds of activists on the flotilla, denying them access to the outside world. This way they can attempt to ensure that reporters and activists on board the flotilla cannot tell their version of what happened. That is why we still haven’t heard from Paul McGeough. Israeli videos appear to show that once Israeli soldiers boarded the Turkish ship, they were attacked. We have not yet been able to hear first hand reports from those on board the ships. However, Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and husband of Huwaida Arraf, who was on board the flotilla,  said that as the flotilla approached Gaza,

Israeli warships surrounded the flotilla, all the ships, and the first ship to come under attack by helicopter, with commandos coming down from helicopter, as we’ve seen on the media, on the footage, was this big Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. And soldiers, as they came down, started opening fire immediately, as was reported by the Al Jazeera correspondence on live stream that we have. And the soldiers injured and eventually killed at least one person, before other passengers decided at that point to try to act in self-defense and to try to stop soldiers, more soldiers, from coming onto the ship.

Remarkably, even though the Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth, boarded a ship bearing humanitarian aid without permission, the Israeli government still claims that they were the victims. The Israeli military even claims that the activists had planned to “lynch” the soldiers. That is to say: the Israeli soldiers who attacked a civilian ship were the real victims defending themselves. The Israeli army has even released a video to show the kinds of arms these terrorists were smuggling. You can see what appears to be a slingshot, marbles, and a metal pole (which could be used for a flag, for example). Mark Steel wrote that these are weapons that “the naive might think you’d expect to find on any ship, but the more astute will recognise as exactly what you’d carry if you were planning to defeat the Israeli army.”

I could go on. I hardly have the energy. The lies spun by the Israeli government are sickening. Take Yuval Rotem. He says “Despite deadly attacks, Israel has facilitated the flow of aid into Gaza.” That is to say, despite Hamas killing Israelis a year and a half ago, during the Gaza massacre, and on previous occasions, Israel allows food into Gaza. Israel doesn’t provide food to Gaza – it simply allows some food to be provided by others to the population of Gaza. How magnanimous. This should also be put into context. Besides the dire effects of the blockade on Gaza’s food industries, during the Gaza massacre, as noted in the Goldstone report, Israel deliberately destroyed a Gaza flour mill, “the sole remaining flour producing capacity in the Gaza Strip.” As a result, “the capacity of Gaza to produce milled flour, the most basic staple ingredient of the local diet, has been greatly diminished. As a result, the population of Gaza is now more dependent on the Israeli authorities’ granting permission for flour and bread to enter the Gaza Strip.” (933, 924) During the attack, Israel also killed close to 100 000 chickens, destroying 35 per cent of the egg market in Gaza. (954) What were the results of the blockade? As I noted in a write-up of the Goldstone Report last year,

the World Health Organisation has found “indications of chronic micronutrient deficiencies among the population, in particular among children.” One indicator the Mission found particularly “worrying” is “the high prevalence of stunting among 6- to 16-year-old children (7.2 per cent)”.  The Mission also found levels of anaemia “alarming: 66 per cent on average among 9- to 12-month-old babies (the rate being higher for girls (69 per cent)). On average, 35 per cent of pregnant women suffer from anaemia.”(1237)

Nevertheless, Yuval Rotem has the gall to brag that Israel allows food into Gaza. Because if it didn’t, they would all die. Who can fail to be impressed by such humanitarianism. He brags that “Since January last year it has exceeded 1 million tonnes – including food, clothing, building and medical supplies.” He does not mention that this amount of food is far less than that needed by the population of Gaza. He brags that Israel allows clothes into Gaza (spoiling them rotten). He does not mention that Israel only started letting clothes into Gaza in March 2010. If we were to take his lies seriously, as the blockade is to prevent rockets getting into Gaza, we should believe that rockets were weapons until March 2010, when they started being safe. It wasn’t until April 2010 that kitchenware was allowed into Gaza: obviously, until then, kitchenware was terrorism. Similarly, soap was allowed into Gaza from the first half of 2009: previously, it was terrorist. Flour was also allowed in at the same time: presumably, it was terrorist before, which is why Israel was right to bomb Gaza’s flour mill. The BBC had to work to find out what Israel allowed in to Gaza. Before then, it was hard to know, and any list of all that was banned was anecdotally based. So Amira Hass reported in May last year that fruit, chocolate, nuts, tea, baking products, sausages and conditioner were banned from Gaza. So were light bulbs, fabrics, needles, shoes and clothing (recently permitted), books, cups, musical instruments and candles.

For those with a strong stomach, you can see more of the terrorist weapons the depraved flotilla was trying to bring to Gaza. Medicine, wheelchairs, notebooks and textbooks. These are undoubtedly reserved for use by Hamas for terrorism. Oddly enough, the Israeli military has transferred all of the goods on one of the ships to Gaza. He said “The shipment was largely composed of medical material, wheelchairs and foodstuffs”. It’s just a good thing the Israeli soldiers got to the flotilla in time to protect Israel from the existential threat posed by such materials.

Whilst Ha’aretz – Israel’s leading paper – has come out with sharp criticisms of the attack on the flotilla, Ynet, Israel’s best selling daily, has been full of op eds justifying the attack. There’s footage of Israelis celebrating it.

There is more to be said. There is always more to be said: the people of Gaza are suffering under the most appalling oppression imaginable. They deserve the right to food and clean drinking water, they deserve the right to rebuild the homes Israeli cruelly, deliberately, and needlessly destroyed. The activists who fought and died to protect these rights are brave, and deserve the global outcry that has taken far too long to come. And in the meanwhile, we must act those who defend this terrible crime by Israel: have you no shame? At long last, have you no sense of decency?

UPDATE

We’ve  heard from a few more survivors on board the flotilla. Obviously, we shouldn’t expect much in the way of video footage, because Israel probably confiscated and destroyed all competing footage.

The testimony by the victims of Israel’s attack tends to condemn it pretty harshly. We’ll have to wait a day or even a few more days before we have long, careful testimonies of what people experienced and then we can start to try to form a picture of what actually happened. Yet nothing can detract from the important facts: Israel’s blockade on Gaza is barbaric. Virtually any attack on the blockade should be commended: this was simply boats trying to reach Gaza to deliver goods. Israel had no right to attack any of the ships, and its actions in doing so were shameful.

Testimonies here, here (Huwaida Arraf on CNN), here and here.

Or a few videos. Huwaida Arraf describes what she saw.

Or remember Bren Carlill? “one of the organisers, Huwaida Arraf, has said she supports Palestinian violence against Israel – hardly a true peace activist.”

Judge for yourself:

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  1. […] the case of the flotilla (documented at my website). Remember when we were told that the organisers of the flotilla had connections to al Qaeda by […]



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