flotilla

The first reports of Israel’s May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla surfaced among the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens alongside rumors that Sheikh Ra’id Salah, head of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement of Israel, had been shot dead on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. Salah is alive, but at the time his demise seemed confirmed when it emerged that large numbers of police had been drafted into northern Israel, where most of the Palestinian minority lives, in expectation of widespread violence.

Why are Israelis so indignant at the international outrage that has greeted their country’s lethal attack last week on a flotilla of civilian ships taking aid to Gaza? Israelis have not responded in any of the ways we might have expected. Instead, they are engaged in a Kafkaesque conversation in which the military attack on the civilian ships is characterised as a legitimate “act of self-defence”, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, and the killing of nine aid activists is transformed into an attempted “lynching of our soldiers” by terrorists.

An Israeli parliamentary committee recommended stripping an Arab MP of her privileges yesterday in a move to prepare the ground for putting her on trial for participating last week in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla attacked by Israeli commandos. Haneen Zoubi, who has become a national hate figure since challenging Israel’s account of the confrontation, said yesterday she was facing “a witch-hunt”.

Israel yesterday worked to fast-track the release of hundreds of foreign peace activists arrested in its raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla earlier this week. A steady flow of buses ferried detainees to land borders and the main airport. Israel said all 680 detainees would be released yesterday after a heated debate among government ministers on Tuesday night at which most agreed it was important to minimise the damage to Israel’s severely battered image.

Moshe Dayan, Israel’s most celebrated general, famously outlined the strategy that he believed would keep Israel’s enemies at bay: “Israel must be a like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” Until now, most observers had assumed Dayan was referring to Israel’s military and possibly its nuclear strategy. But the Israeli commando attack on Monday on the Gaza-bound flotilla, in which several crew members and international solidarity activists were killed and dozens wounded as they tried to break Israel’s blockade of the enclave, proves that this is now a diplomatic strategy too.

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament who was on board the international flotilla that was attacked on Monday as it tried to take humanitarian aid to Gaza accused Israel yesterday of intending to kill peace activists as a way to deter future convoys. Haneen Zoubi said Israeli naval vessels had surrounded the flotilla’s flagship, the Mavi Marmara, and fired on it a few minutes before commandos abseiled from a helicopter directly above them. Terrified passengers had been forced off the deck when water was sprayed at them.

It is quite astounding that Israel has been able to create over the past 12 hours a news blackout, just as it did with its attack on Gaza 18 months ago, into which our main media organisations have willingly allowed Israeli spokespeople to step in unchallenged. If we needed any evidence of the degree to which Western TV journalists are simply stenographers to power, the BBC, CNN and others are amply proving it. Mark Regev, Israel’s propagandist-in-chief, has the airwaves largely to himself.