Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Violent stunts prolong Gaza's suffering

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Hamas is a critical barrier to Middle East Peace

Colin Rubenstein

New Zealand Herald, June 4, 2010


It is both tragic and regrettable that nine lives where lost aboard the ship MV Mavi Marmara during an Israeli police action as that ship tried to violate Israel's legally-declared maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.

However, before anybody rushes to judgement about what happened and why, I would urge them to look at the footage released by the Israeli Defence Forces of the attempt by Israel soldiers from helicopters to board the ship in question, at http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk. In it, you will see soldiers descending from helicopters to be set upon by a large mob armed with metal bars, knives, and chairs. You can see at least one soldier knocked down and continue to be beaten ferociously. You can see one injured soldier being tossed over the side of the deck. You can see at least one firebomb tossed at the soldiers.

Israeli soldiers were also fired upon with live ammunition by some of the demonstrators, as evidenced by two Israeli soldiers in hospital with gunshot wounds.

Reportedly, the Israeli soldiers had only paintballs in the rifles they were carrying in order to minimize the possibility of deadly violence. They did have sidearms with live ammunition, but were under orders not to deploy them unless their lives were under "imminent threat." Unfortunately, the protestors on the Mavi Marmara - unlike those on the other five ships in the same flotilla, where no violence occurred - seemed determined to see deadly violence eventuate.

The Mavi Marama was organized by a Turkish extremist group generally known as the IHH. This organization works closely with Hamas, and also has wider close relationships with terrorist groups, including alleged links to al-Qaeda.

French counterterrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere has accused the group of sending fighters and caches of weapons and explosive to Muslims engaged in Jihad in various countries, and also of playing a "central role" in the failed 2000 "millennium bomb" plot to attack Los Angeles airport.

Some passengers on the IHH's boat seemed resolved on violence. Some were quoted in the media yelling "Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!" referring to a battle in which the prophet Muhammed defeated a Jewish tribe, with much slaughter. Another participant reportedly said the end of the voyage would be "either Martyrdom or reaching Gaza". It appears that it was this determination to meet Israeli soldiers with potentially deadly violence that led to the tragic result.

Many will ask, why did Israel need to block these boats carrying humanitarian aid at all? Why is Israel blockading Gaza?

Israel is blockading Gaza because it is in a state of armed conflict with Hamas, which rules Gaza and not only declares itself to be at war with Israel, but acts on this declaration, firing over 8,000 rockets into Israel over recent years. A blockade, to prevent the re-arming of an enemy, is an absolutely legitimate and recognized method of armed conflict - and Israel has provided all the required notifications to comply with international law. Further, under the relevant maritime conventions, it is perfectly legal to enforce a blockade in international waters provided adequate warning is provided and a vessel makes clear its intention is to violate the blockade - as occurred in this case.

Israel's blockade stops only military and dual-use items - Israel supports and facilitates the transfer of humanitarian aid and other basic supplies to Gaza. Israel has promised that it will ensure that there will be no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and has kept that promise.

Food, fuel, medicine, basic needs and other humanitarian aid reach Gaza in adequate quantities constantly. In the week ending May 16, over 14,000 tons of such aid entered Gaza. Last year, over 738,000 tons of aid entered Gaza from Israel.

The flotilla was given every opportunity to contribute aid to Gaza's people - both Israel and Egypt asked them to bring their aid to either Israel's Ashdod or Egypt's al-Arish, have their cargo inspected in the presence of the organizers, and then sent overland into Gaza. But  as one organizer, Greta Berlin, told the media last week "this mission is not about delivering humanitarian supply, but rather about breaking the Israeli siege."

In other words, they want to open a sea conduit which will facilitate the re-armament of Hamas to further target Israel's civilian population. It is not surprising that, as a nation-state whose primary responsibility is to protect the lives of its citizens, this is not something Israel's government can concede as long as Hamas rules Gaza and openly declares that it will continue to violently pursue Israel's destruction.

Israel should, and hopefully will thoroughly investigate the loss of life on Monday. However, what is primarily required is an end to the current difficult situation in Gaza which makes the blockade necessary. Everyone of good will know what is needed for peace in the Middle East - a negotiated resolution that will see two states, Israeli and Palestinian, existing side by side in mutual security and prosperity. Israel's government favours this, so does Israeli public opinion. The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, is negotiating toward this outcome, but are under perpetual threat from the Iranian-backed Hamas.

Unfortunately, Hamas' violent rejectionism and continued oppressive control over the large minority of the Palestinian population who live in Gaza is a critical barrier to such a resolution.

Violent stunts in the service of Hamas' agenda only make a lasting two-state resolution more difficult to achieve, and prolong the suffering of both Gazans and all other Israelis and Palestinians caught up in this grievous conflict.

Dr. Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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