On 31 May 2010 Israel attempted to protect itself by ensuring that the blockade of Gaza was maintained in order to prevent possible further terrorist attacks being carried out from the Gaza Strip. Once again, those who resorted to provocation under the guise of bringing humanitarian aid have achieved their aim of depicting Israel as the aggressor.
No doubt mistakes were committed in the preparation and handling of the storming of one of the boats of the flotilla, the MV Mavi Marmara, travelling from Turkey to Gaza. The investigation that has since been carried out by the military has acknowledged that errors were made at senior level and that the Israeli commandos were not prepared to meet such opposition when boarding the boat. The determination of the activists on board who violently attacked the soldiers and the difficulty of using appropriate force to control them had been underestimated.
The commandos were surprised to be confronted with such violence and only resorted to using live ammunition when they found their lives in danger, as a result killing nine Turkish activists. To state that the soldiers were shooting at people while abseiling from the helicopters or as soon as they dropped onto the boat is dishonest. There is no evidence to support these allegations, on the contrary.
The Palestinian Authority President, Mr Mahmoud Abbas, is adamant. “Israel must lift the blockade … that is our principal and permanent demand”. But he knows very well that what he is asking for is unrealistic as long as Hamas, a terrorist organisation recognised as such by the European Union and the United States of America, rules the Gaza Strip. If Hamas was not bent on turning the Gaza Strip into a launching pad for firing rockets into Israel, the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt would stop immediately. Rather than dealing with Hamas, which is the source of the problem that is causing so much suffering for the Palestinian people, numerous states have chosen to criticize Israel.
The flotilla was organised by the Free Gaza Movement and the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH). However, the real activities exercised by IHH are not clear. Although it strongly denies it, IHH has been accused of having links with terrorists. The veracity of such allegations was reinforced by the public declaration of Mr Bulent Yildirim, the Head of the IHH, who defended the use of knives, metal bars and chains by its members against the commandos. It is difficult to see how the violent behaviour displayed by the activists (which required some degree of preparation) can be reconciled with the promotion of human rights and freedoms and humanitarian support.
Unfortunately, the five-fold propaganda strategy usually put into practice by terrorist organisations or by their supporters can be discerned in this instance. It consisted of (1) provoking Israel, thereby (2) forcing Israel to react, before (3) posturing as the victims of a ruthless aggressor, (4) claiming alleged breaches of human rights to tarnish and undermine the respectability of Israel internationally and finally (5) justifying a new wave of attacks against Israel and its people. It is said that a new flotilla is being prepared for the autumn.
Who was responsible then for the nine Turkish activists shot dead by the Israelis? Turkey was quick to deny any responsibility and to blame Israel. Other European countries, such as the Republic of Ireland, also raised their voices in condemnation of Israel. Objective and unbiased fairness is of the essence in this case. The flotilla was assemble in Turkey and sailed from its shores with a number of Turkish citizens on board. Turkey must share some measure of responsibility for the tragic outcome, especially since it could have taken measures and made representations with IHH to prevent the flotilla provoking Israel.
The defence of human rights and humanitarian aid should never be allowed to be used as a pretext and a cover-up for activities that ultimately favour terrorist organisations. States and non-governmental organisations that are dedicated to the fight against terrorism should be prepared to denounce the dubious activities of some organisations such as the IHH. Israel is the only open democracy in the Middle East and is not opposed to helping Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip by ensuring that they get appropriate humanitarian aid. What is essential in order for the blockade to be lifted is for Hamas to abandon its terrorist activities first.