Humanitarian aid workers, a firefighter, a politician, a taekwondo champion, a photojournalist, a student who hoped to become a doctor — nine Turkish men, mostly fathers who leave behind children and wives.
Even while their deaths are at the center of an international crisis that is rocking the state of Israel, these individual lives lost have scarcely gained attention — firstly because the Israeli government resisted revealing any information about who died and in what circumstances, and then, while maintaining a stranglehold on the facts, Israel’s propaganda machine has worked furiously to portray the victims as villains.
The world has largely viewed Israel’s efforts to conceal its brutality with a mixture of skepticism, contempt and outrage. Yet in one regard the hasbara has worked: it has effectively sold the idea that the organizers and participants in the Freedom Flotilla were intent on picking a fight. This was an act of provocation and where opinions differ is on whether the provocation was justified or not.
The first thing you need to know about the Gaza flotilla disaster is that the intention of the activists on board the ships was to break the Israeli blockade. Delivering the embargoed goods was incidental.
In other words, the activists were like the civil rights demonstrators who sat down at segregated lunch counters throughout the South and refused to leave until they were served. Their goal was not really to get breakfast. It was to end segregation.
Yes and no.
The Freedom Flotilla is part of a movement that aims to end the siege of Gaza, but delivering humanitarian aid is not incidental.
Israeli officials and the Israeli public who see themselves as victims of a campaign designed to make Israel look bad, fail to recognize that what cements Muslim solidarity and what has turned Gaza into a global issue, is not a global conspiracy against Israel or against Jews; it is a heartfelt response to human suffering.
The Freedom Flotilla carried thousands of tons of aid, not to poke Israel in the eye, but to help those in need. The many thousands of people who engaged in fundraising, made donations, gathered together supplies and readied the ships — a grass roots effort spread mostly across Europe and the Middle East — believed, naively or not, that the fruits of their efforts would be of real and practical assistance to the population in Gaza.
But, the cynics will ask, how could a few hundred people in a small flotilla of boats hope to successfully defy Israel’s military might? Firstly, simply on the basis that other vessels had completed the same mission. But more importantly, because courageous acts are invariably undertaken in defiance of the odds. The heroic imagination is enticed by what seems impossible.
The Freedom Flotilla as David, is not challenging the Goliath of Israel in order to give the mighty Jewish state some bad headlines. This is about defeating an agent of oppression. It is not about destroying Israel, but about challenging and overcoming the injustices which Israel sustains.
As the MV Rachel Corrie now approaches Gaza, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal says: “We have no desire for a confrontation. We have no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it.”
A conciliatory gesture should receive a similar response, should it not?
Don’t be fooled. Israel and the United States are now working hand in glove to try and “moderate” the oppression of the population in Gaza. While the world calls for the siege to be ended, the Obama administration is calling for it to be “new approach.” Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to be “softening” his position.
This is about moving pressure from the heel to the toe, but it still means the Palestinians remain under an Israeli foot. It’s about taking Gaza out of the spotlight in the hope that global outrage can be replaced by global indifference.
For the Rachel Corrie to sail into the Israeli port of Ashdod under its own steam would be to capitulate to the power that claims it withdrew from Gaza even while it persists in maintaining absolute control over its population, its borders, its airspace and its economy.
The Rachel Corrie must reach Gaza, but if it is thwarted, more ships will come. Israel cannot win.
(Note of thanks to Lawrence of Cyberia for compiling information on those who died in the Flotilla Massacre and creating a page where new information is being added.)