Saturday, June 05, 2010
10:53 Mecca time, 07:53 GMT
By Lamis Andoni
The Israeli attack on the international aid flotilla – killing nine and injuring dozens more – is not the first example of non-violent resistance by Palestinians and their supporters being met by force.
Israel has, in fact, at different times reacted with repression or even extreme violence to cultural and political manifestations of Palestinian identity.
But the flotilla carnage is the first direct and officially declared attack by the Israeli army on foreign activists – taking Israel’s reaction to solidarity activities to a new and unprecedented level.
Israeli claims that Turkish activists “resisted” its takeover of the ships do not change the reality that the Israeli army performed an illegal armed operation against activists who challenged the siege of Gaza – not with weapons, but by trying to deliver food and medical supplies to the besieged Palestinian population.
Israeli impunity has already been shown in the cases of Western peace activists Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndell who were killed while peacefully protesting against Israeli army actions against Palestinian citizens.
An act of fear
But Israel’s reaction was not merely an act of arrogance. It was also an act of fear and weakness in the face of a rising tide of Palestinian and international civic campaigns.
Israeli concerns run so deep that it has been pouring money and energy into a worldwide campaign to counter what it considers to be a drive “aimed at delegitimising” Israel.
But Israel’s own actions, such as the raid on the aid ship, only serve to reinforce the image of a state fully engaged in illegal actions in the occupied territories and beyond.
Israel’s reaction to non-violent protests inside and outside the occupied territories is part of its fear of the assertion of Palestinian identity in the historic land of Palestine.
After its establishment in 1948, Israel placed the Palestinian Arab population that remained under harsh military rule, banning the teaching of Palestinian and Arab history, poetry and songs.
Those who defied the ban were imprisoned, or in the case of the late poet Mahmoud Darwish, forced into exile where they sought to freely express the yearnings of a dispossessed nation.
Following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel cracked down on Palestinian political leaders who were rounded up and many simply deported to Jordan.
In 1974 Israel “authorised” municipal elections only to deport the winners when Palestinians elected supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Israeli extremists attacked two of the elected mayors, of Ramallah and Nablus, maiming both men.
None of those elected were known to have any association with armed struggle but belonged to the Palestinian intelligentsia, including Hanna Nasser, the then president of the University of Beir Zeit.
Deportation, imprisonment, assassination
Deportations and imprisonment were part of a systemic policy to pre-empt the emergence of an independent political leadership in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, while for those outside the occupied territories – intellectuals in Beirut and PLO ambassadors in Europe – assassination was the order of the day throughout the 1970s.
In 1972, one of Palestine’s finest novelists, Ghassan Kanafani, was killed in a car bomb and, in 1973, poet Kamal Nasser was assassinated by a Mossad hit team led by Ehud Barak, the current Israeli defence minister.
Both operations were carried out in the heart of Beirut.
Until the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993 the raising of the Palestinian flag – and at times the public display in any form of the banner’s colours – was an act that triggered punishment.
Young Palestinians, including children, were shot at and sometimes wounded or even killed for daring to display the flag in public.
Even symbolic acts suggesting recognition of Palestinian rights are not tolerated by Israel.
In 1988 the PLO invited international writers, artists and activists to travel by ship along with scores of Palestinians who had been deported by Israel and representatives of refugees to make a symbolic journey “of return”.
After successfully intimidating Greek vessel owners from renting a ship to the PLO, Israel then bombed a Cypriot boat a few hours before the solidarity activists, including Westerners – Christians and Jews – were to board it.
But while the 1988 bombing – at the peak of the first Palestinian intifada – aimed at blocking the journey itself, the ferocity of the armed campaign against the Gaza flotilla suggests that Israel, more than ever before, is deeply concerned about the success of peaceful means of resistance.
Israel correctly viewed the Free Gaza Convoy as part of a Palestinian and international campaign not only to break the siege of the tiny Strip, but to end its occupation and to recognise legitimate Palestinian national rights.
But the idea that the use of military force can stop the campaign from spreading is ludicrous – unless Israel plans to blow up protests everywhere from the village of Bi’lin in the West Bank to London, Berlin and San Francisco.
Israel has already employed a public relations campaign to demonise and discredit the growing boycott campaign – modelled after a similar campaign against the former Apartheid regime in South Africa.
It has also been engaged in a weekly campaign of arrests and increasingly the shooting and wounding of Palestinian, Western and even Israeli activists protesting against the illegal segregation wall that has been eating up West Bank land in the villages of Bilin and Nilin.
The Israeli government has been intolerant of diplomatic attempts by the Palestinian Authority to curtail the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the lifting of the siege of Gaza Strip.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, complained to George Mitchell, the American special envoy to the Middle East, that the PA had lobbied internationally to block the admission of Israel to the prestigious Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and accused the Palestinian government of incitement for endorsing a boycott of the produce of illegal settlements.
Sending a message
Thus while Israel feels entitled to practice what are essentially violent acts – enforced as they are by military strength – of settlement building on confiscated Palestinian land, it wants to strip Palestinians, including the PA, of the means by which to voice their demands peacefully.
Ironically, it was Turkey who facilitated Israel’s admission into the influential OECD, only to be paid back soon after with the killing of its nationals on board the Gaza-bound flotilla.
Israel, it seems, wanted to send a message to allies and opponents alike that it does not tolerate dissent or defiance – even in a peaceful form.
When its enemies use force, Israel feels it can rely on its arsenal of tanks and bombs. But what the raid on the flotilla shows is that, when possible, it also responds with military action to non-violent resistance.
The flotilla sailing unprotected in international waters, appeared a good target against which Israel could exercise the plan of action it knows best – the lethal use of force.
The 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2009 war on Gaza revealed the limits of Israeli military supremacy in achieving its political goals and the attack on the flotilla has backfired disastrously.
The bullets that pierced the bodies of the activists have boomeranged, shattering the myth of Israeli morality.
In fact, the increasing calls in its wake for an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza now show that Israel has failed and the Free Gaza Movement prevailed.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs. She has been writing about the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for the past 20 years and has interviewed all of the key leaders of the movement.