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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The New Flotilla

Dispatch from Jerusalem – The New Flotilla
It appears that it is that time of year again…it is flotilla time!
A boat for the new flotilla in Greece
It is fair to say that the last flotilla that attempted to break the Gaza blockade was a bit of a PR disaster for Israel. By the time the IDF media department had got out the videos and details of what happened on those ships they had lost the news cycle. To be honest, they had probably lost three. For the rest of the coverage they were fighting against a media which started from the premise that Israeli commandos were lowered to the boat firing wildly into a peaceful welcoming committee that had come on deck to welcome them aboard with flower garlands and ‘kum by yah’ being sung. Needless to say, the reality is completely different.
Israeli forces arrived on deck with paintball guns, not one fired before reaching the deck. Once they did they were greeted by a vicious mob of mainly young men, carrying knives, metal polls and baseball bats who beat them to the floor and in one case threw them off the top deck of the ship.
Welcome for Israeli soldiers last year
Only once their lives were in danger, once they had been viciously assaulted by a mob with potentially deadly weapons did they draw their side-arms and shoot to defend themselves. The resulting nine deaths are frankly unsurprising, though still tragic. Of course a very important fact to remember is that there were six ships in the flotilla, and only on the Mavi Marmara were there difficulties. The others surrendered without resistance and no one was harmed. Whenever you hear someone screaming and shouting about the flotilla, please do not hesitate to remind them of that very important illustration of who was on the Mavi Marmara and why there was loss of life as a result.
Two challenges are also made against this raid which I will mention, though each is of little consequence. First that the raid took place in the very early morning, around 4:30am. This was seen as proof of the ‘Israeli sneak attack’ and that they must have expected resistance if they decided to move at that time. This is false. The very early morning is the perfect time for these operations because any nightwatch that is being instituted will be tiring and the adrenaline will have been lost. It is likely that most people will be asleep and the IDF clearly hoped to take the boats before there was any time to cause the sort of trouble that was seen. This worked rather well on five out of six ships. Not so much on the Marvi Marmara because they were ready to resist violently. The second challenge is that the raids took place in international waters rather than once the ships were within Israeli-controlled waters. In terms of legitimacy I cannot say I know the exact requirements of international law for this, all I can say is that the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Greece regularly have performed raids and stops of ships far outside their territorial waters without the condemnation of anybody. If this is in fact prohibited by international law then one has to wonder why it is being applied so selectively? I rather suspect this is an argument without merit, but perhaps next time the Israelis might wait a few hours…I expect if they had then the boarding would have had to take place in daylight hours and within view of Gaza herself. Something to ponder.
The new flotilla will be different in some important respects to the one last year.
The Mavi Marmara
The Mavi Marmara, the key ship in the last flotilla, and the organisation which owns it, the IHH, will not be taking part. The IHH are a charitable organisation in Turkey, who also have strong links to terror groups and are considered by many to be under the direct authority of the current Turkish government. They certainly share the same ideology and the IHH dropped out of this flotilla it seems only after the Turkish government made it clear they didn’t want them to play a part, but I do not have enough facts and details to know whether that link is real or just likely.
The key ship in this new flotilla will be flying an American flag and US registration, and will not be carrying any humanitarian aid. This decision is simply insane. Rather than claim the Israelis are stopping aid from reaching Gaza (which they know not to be true), this ship will be carrying letters of support for people in Gaza (why not use the postal service?!) and has the sole stated intention to run the blockade. It will be easier to paint this as the political stunt it is as a result, and I am pleased to say the Israelis are preparing in an intelligent and effective way for the coming difficulties. The raid on this flotilla will be filmed much more closely by the Israelis, and close-to real time commentary will be given by the IDF spokesperson. The key problem with the media last time was that Israel, as the serious and democratic state that it is, had to perform various investigations and look at the evidence they could find before going to the press. Those who had been part of the flotilla were uploading their videos and pictures as they took them. All the media had was the side of the alleged ‘victim’, and that is what they ran with. Israel must be as quick as possible in releasing information and details, while still keeping to the requirements and expectations that exist for a democratic and accountable state.
The IDF must go in hard and cleanly this time, with more troops more quickly and use riot techniques where possible to stop any resistance from becoming bloody. Restraint, as always, must govern the behaviour of the Israeli forces, and I have little doubt that they will succeed in this effort. In a media age, however, what is important is that as much as possible the Israelis manage to communicate that message to the world; a world that will simply not want to hear it.

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