Is it possible to break the siege of Gaza if no one notices?
As an exercise in directing global attention to the plight of a population subject to collective punishment, the first flotilla in August 2008 was a bit of a flop -- even though it reached Gaza.
In the Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon cynically wrote at the time:
Ever since the Free Gaza Movement made known its intent a few weeks ago to set sail for the Gaza Strip to "break" the Israeli blockade, it was clear that the two boatfuls of professional left-wing demonstrators and tag-along journalists were after one thing: a huge media event.
Nothing, therefore, would have given them a greater media buzz than if a couple of Israel Navy boats stopped them on the high seas, arrested the protesters (hopefully, from the point of view of the organizers of the protest, with some gratuitous brutality), and dragged the Greek-registered vessels into the Ashdod port.
Imagine the footage, imagine the images, and imagine the public relations bonanza for those few "brave souls" on the sea-weary vessels. Israel would, undoubtedly, have faced a public relations drubbing. So by deciding to let the boats through, the government deprived the protesters of the huge media event they so obviously wanted.
Indeed, instead of footage of heavyhanded Israelis stopping boats carrying an 81-year-old American nun and the sister-in-law of former British prime minister Tony Blair leading the nightly news broadcasts in the West on Saturday night, the story of the boats' arrival in Gaza barely made a blip on the CNN, Fox, or Sky news broadcasts. With the world's eyes still glued to the Olympics in Beijing, and the media focusing on US presidential candidate Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee, the Gaza blockade-running story didn't register in the electronic media.
And in the written press, the protesters didn't fare that much better. The New York Times ran a small piece on page 16 on Sunday; The Washington Post on page 12; and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch relegated it to a three-paragraph brief. As media events go, this one was not particularly successful.
But -- as Keinon also noted -- the story was not over. Indeed.
What the flotilla organizers understood was that whatever the outcome, each challenge to the siege could in fact never fail. Ships could succeed by reaching Gaza, or succeed without reaching Gaza by exposing Israel to the eyes of the world as a bone-headed bully.
The only solution to Israel's problem was and remains the one that it refuses to entertain: backing itself out of a dead-end policy that by any metric one wants to use, has been a demonstrable failure -- a policy which hasn't weakened Hamas; hasn't turned Gaza's population against its rulers; hasn't made Israel safer; and above all has brought Israel's global image to an all-time low while callously inflicting yet more suffering on the Palestinian people.
The Israeli columnist, Asaf Gefen, suggested this week:
If the Marmara that took part in the previous sail sought to present Israel's brutality to the world (and managed to do so, thanks to our kind assistance,) it appears that the current flotilla was meant to present Israel's stupidity.
At this time already, when it's still unclear whether and when the ships shall arrive, it appears that this objective had also been fully achieved.
But now that the flotilla appears stuck in Greece, can't Netanyahu claim victory? Some Israeli reporters seem to think so:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sometimes seems almost too arrogant and self assured for his own good. However, unlike in most instances, this weekend he actually has justification for his haughtiness.
Really? Watch the video of The Audacity of Hope as it chugged out of a Greek harbor yesterday and ask yourself: what kind of prime minister and what kind of nation could feel threatened by this kind of challenge?
The need to subjugate others; the obsession with existential threats; the insatiable hunger for loving affirmations; and the fear of equality between Jews and non-Jews -- all of this exposes Israel's intrinsic weakness, a weakness that cannot be overcome by belligerence, isolation or warfare.
In truth, nothing threatens Israel more than its own fear of the world.
It's time not just for Israel to end the siege of Gaza but for Zionists to break out of their own self-made prison.
This post also appears at Woodward's site, War in Context.