Depending on ones view of Israel, the deaths that occurred on the decks of the Mavi Marmara early today are either reprehensible, tragic, regrettable, or — a cause for celebration.
Someone just wrote to me: “Too bad you weren’t on that ship with the rest of the terror supporters. Anyone touching an IDF soldier deserves what they got.”
I know people in J Street who would find such sentiments deeply offensive; who would assure me that when they say they are pro-Israel it does not in any sense mean that they condone the actions of this Israeli government or the kind of red-blooded xenophobic Zionism that believes the IDF can do no wrong.
Yet the question I would pose to anyone who says they are pro-Israel is this: is the Israel you support the one that exists in 2010, or does it have a firmer foothold somewhere inside your imagination?
Which is the real Israel? The Israel cherished and trumpeted at an AIPAC convention? The Israel struggling to be defined at a J Street gathering? Or the Israel triumphantly being celebrated from the hilltops above Ashdod today?
This is how The Guardian describes the scene there and however representative these particular flag-clad Israelis might actually be, their claim to be pro-Israel has a distinction that many of their American counterparts lack: they are Israelis, they live in Israel and they are not on the political fringe.
If one was to describe a constellation that linked the IDF soldiers to either their flag-waving brethren or their more conflicted American cousins, the closest ties would surely coincide with geographical proximity.
[Above the Israeli port of Ashdod as the ships of the Freedom Flotilla were towed in] Jonah’s Hill itself was heaving. Shirtless Israeli men draped in their national flag waved placards declaring “Well done IDF” in both Hebrew and English, chanting, singing and applauding their support for the military operation.
Thick cables snaked across the ground from thrumming generators, delivering power to dozens of international TV crews, broadcasting across the globe against the backdrop of the shimmering Mediterranean.
Amid the crowd, a sophisticated public relations operation was underway. Spinners and spokesmen from the Israeli military and government departments politely answered questions and offered their own narrative of the day’s events. A barrage of emails and text message alerts firing into inboxes provided a background of electronic muzak.
Shahar Arieli, deputy spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, wearing a smart tie despite the heat, said two of the flotilla’s boats had been brought into port.
All activists would be offered the chance of immediate deportation at Israel’s expense “with their passports”, he said. “We want them to leave as soon as possible,” he added.
Those who declined would – “as long as they weren’t involved in attacks on our troops” – be processed through Israel’s justice system.
His patient courtesy was not matched by all those gathered on the hill. Chaim Cohen, a 52-year-old economic consultant from Givatayim, was dripping with both sweat and bile. “We have come to support our soldiers. It is obvious it [the Mavi Marmara] is a terrorist ship. We saw it on TV – they took out knives and put them in the stomachs of the IDF.”
There was nothing to challenge the Israeli version of events. Repeated attempts to reach the cell and satellite phones of activists on board the flotilla were rebuffed; it was unclear whether their phones had been confiscated, jammed or if they were simply out of range.
By late afternoon on Monday, activists with lesser injuries were being brought to hospitals in coastal towns and cities from the smaller passenger ships. At the Barzilai medical centre in Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza Strip, a Greek man in a neck brace told reporters: “They hit me.” Who? “Pirates,” he answered.
A dazed man with a striking black eye was unloaded from an ambulance. There had been “some brutality” on board, he said, but the activists were non-violent. “We are all Palestinian now,” he said as the doors of the ER closed behind him.