Immoral and blow to peace: Israel’s attacks on the Free Gaza Flotilla

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Immoral and blow to peace: Israel’s attacks on the Free Gaza Flotilla

Dr. Aref Assaf
Special Guest Editorial to The Record

ISRAEL’S deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom flotilla may be recalled as one of its most devastating blunders. The carnage has refocused the world’s attention to the plight of the Palestinian people, who since 1967 have suffered under Israel’s military occupation.

The recent Israeli attempt to validate its control by seizing ships in international waters is immoral, illegal and a devastating blow to American hopes for a resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli pundits and the American “Israel-can-do-no-wrong” crowd have tried to justify the attacks as legitimate actions of self-defense. Others, however, demur.

Although worried about their political careers, more than 50 members of Congress recently sent a letter urging President Obama to press the government of Israel to lift its siege of Gaza. More politicians who are beneficiaries of donations of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are now recognizing that even Israel’s most ardent supporters in the United States cannot continue to rubber stamp its reckless policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

It is now an accepted argument that Israel’s occupation of Palestinians poses a direct and serious threat to America’s vital national interest.

Former U.S. diplomat Edward Peck, who was aboard the Sfendoni, one of the ships, perhaps illustrated most painfully the moral and political contradictions of Israeli actions: After being forcefully brought into Israel, Peck asked the Israeli official processing his deportation, ” ‘What law have I violated?’ He said, ‘You have illegally entered Israel.’ I said, ‘Well, now, wait. Our ship was taken over by armed commandos. I was brought here at gunpoint against my will, and you call that illegally entering Israel?’ ”

I hold no love for Hamas’ immoral actions. But we must move beyond the blame game.

However, it remains a fact that Gaza is completely under Israel’s control. The Israeli government has subjected Gaza’s Palestinians to a three-year blockade, denying them sufficient food, shelter, education, and proper medical care. This is collective punishment, and it is illegal as well as immoral.

This effort to restrict the flow of goods to Gaza is at the root of the latest disaster. It was initiated by Israel and supported by the Bush administration after Hamas came. Israel claims it is not occupying Gaza, but its willingness to use deadly force to prevent much-needed humanitarian supplies from reaching Gaza’s population is tantamount to occupation.

More than 75 percent of Gaza’s 1.3 million Palestinians rely on international aid just to feed their families, leading the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to describe the situation as the worst humanitarian crisis in 30 years. The collective punishment of Gaza residents is a war crime, a violation of international law and a massive impediment to any peace process.

Our blind support for Israel’s policies — good, bad and ugly — is becoming a growing obstacle in our relations with the international community. The European Union, more than a dozen nations, plus a host of Nobel Peace Prize winners, have condemned Israel’s actions and called for an end to the blockade. President Obama must speak up before the deadly violence used against non-violent activists is repeated with the Rachel Corrie and other peaceful humanitarian convoys en route to Gaza.

The attack on the flotilla is another example of a misconceived and counterproductive policy doomed to failure: It has failed to improve Israeli security and failed to weaken Hamas.

It is time for Israel to change its course. It is also time for Obama to hold Israel accountable for our monetary and political aid. He should work with the international community to create a new security regime for Gaza. Mechanisms must be found that guarantee Israel’s security needs while preserving a normal life for the people of Gaza. What is lacking is the political courage to admit failure and to try a new path.

The world has changed, yet it seems that Israel’s leaders do not have the mettle to meet it. From roughly 1967 to 1987, the Palestinians were largely subdued in their occupied territories. But generations turned over among Israelis and Palestinians. The Islamists rose up among the Palestinians, and the right-wing extremists have taken hold of Israeli polity. Notwithstanding, Israeli leadership remained trapped in its logic of the hammer that sees Palestinians as nails.

Alas, the hammers of history can no longer isolate Israel from the Palestinian people. Theirs is a shared destiny.

 

Aref Assaf, President of the American Arab Forum, based in Paterson.