Israel’s ‘self-defense’ narrative falls apart

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On May 31, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the actions of IDF soldiers who had conducted the raid on the Mavi Marmara, killing at least nine of its passengers, as “a clear case of self-defense because as our soldiers were inspecting these ships, they were attacked – they were almost lynched. They were attacked with clubs, with knives, perhaps with live gunfire, and they had to defend themselves – they were going to be killed.”

That was before video emerged appearing to show two Israeli soldiers first pummeling with their boots and then shooting one of the victims as he lay at their feet. To stand above an injured man and then finish him off with rounds from an assault rifle can by no one’s estimation be described as an act of self-defense.

[UPDATE: The video has been edited, raising questions about what was left out.]

I have asked the IDF Spokesman’s office for comment on the video and been told that they will get back to me in due course.

An explanation from the IDF is unlikely to be swift because a decision on how to handle this matter is now likely to rise above the military ranks to the highest political level.

The Netanyahu government’s political strategy for grappling with the latest international crisis it has triggered has been rooted from its inception in the outlook that molds the Israeli psyche: whatever happens, Israel is always the victim.

Out of a national unwillingness to rise above this unremitting sense of victimization, Israel’s leaders and its population have rendered themselves incapable of accepting responsibility for their own actions.

Right now, there are at least two Israeli soldiers who could step forward, break their silence and act in the greater interest of the country they have pledged to defend.

But I don’t see that happening. Firstly, this would require an unusual amount of personal courage, but anyone who shoots an injured man who is lying helplessly at his feet seems lacking in courage. And secondly, most individuals who follow military commands do so on the assumption that it’s not for them to determine the national interest. Indeed, the orders these particular soldiers have been instructed to follow almost certainly include that they now maintain their silence.

As soon as it became apparent that some kind of investigation of the massacre would be inevitable, Israel’s minister of defense, Ehud Barak, was quick to say that in any investigation of the massacre, no individual commandos would face questioning. In other words, no one who pulled a trigger would be placed in legal jeopardy by being compelled to explain their own actions. The Israeli government has in effect promised legal immunity for its defense forces, in the hope presumably that the government itself will thereby ensure its own legal and political protection.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has said: “Israel must pay the price of the blood it shed and the lives of the martyrs. It will do so. We will pursue this within the framework of law.”

So far, the United States, under President Obama’s morally drifting leadership, has maintained its traditional role in acting like Israel’s lawyer. But even the best defense lawyer realizes when the evidence against their client makes a “not guilty” plea untenable. Moreover, every lawyer knows that they can only go so far in loyally defending their client. Past a certain point, a loyal attorney becomes a criminal accomplice.

It’s time for Washington to tell Tel Aviv that it needs to get ready to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the Mavi Marmara massacre. Israel cannot escape facing legal scrutiny from an international investigation.

(This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.)

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