In the early hours of Monday morning, Israeli naval ships and helicopters descended upon an international aid flotilla headed toward the Gaza strip. The trained killers of the Israeli armed forces opened fire on the activists aboard six of the boats, mostly from Turkey and Greece. Nine people were murdered. Even more are wounded.
The Israeli government is now telling lies to justify the massacre. The claim that troops were met with “knives” and “up to two guns” is ludicrous. The peace activists were unarmed. Footage from the Mavi Marmara, the main vessel, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship from above by helicopter with guns at the ready. The Shayetet 13 force who raided the boats specialise in assassinations and were responsible for the deaths of two children in Lebanon in 2006. Activists now released have confirmed that Israeli soliders were firing from the air, before even landing on the boats. Al-Jazeera reported that Israeli forces opened fire first, and were still firing on passengers after they raised the white flag.
Stun guns and tear gas were also used in the assault. Israel arrested the activists aboard the ships—approximately 650 people—and jailed them in a specially prepared detention facility in the port of Ashdod. Most of them—who refused to be deported—were held for days before being released.
Gaza is a prison camp
The Gaza strip is effectively the world’s largest prison camp. Israel maintains a blockade of the area—depriving 1.5 million people access to the necessities of life. The aid ships were filled with cement mixer, school books, pre-fabricated houses and food and medical supplies.
Amnesty International has called the siege “a form of collective punishment over the entire population of Gaza”. Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian terrority, has called it a “crime against humanity”. It has shut down 95% of industry and left nearly all the population dependant on aid—aid that Israel is determined to stop.
Israel wants to starve the Gaza strip. The unleashing of this murderous assault shows just how far the Israeli state is willing to go.
The murder of the flotilla activists comes eighteen months after Israel’s war on Gaza. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed. Schools, hospitals and universities were the targets of air bombing raids. Since then, it has ramped up settlements in the West Bank despite international criticism.
This latest onslaught is an attempt to wipe out any resistance to Israel’s dominance over the Palestinian people. The constant war on Gaza is also about crippling Gaza’s Hamas government.
Israel has released a statement suggesting the aid ship was a Hamas strategy—and even making the ridiculous suggestion that it had the backing of “groups like Al-Quaida ”.
It is Israel’s actions that have fueled the international solidarity movement. The brutal war on Gaza hurt Israel’s legimitacy across the globe and sparked a protest movement. Already, thousands are pouring into the streets in across the world—from Turkey to New York to Greece to Sweden—in response to this latest massacre. Hundreds more protests will take place over the coming weeks. More boats are on the way to the Gaza coast, prepared to brave the Israeli military to deliver aid.
Relationship with the West
Western leaders also routinely blame Hamas for the Gaza conflict. The media mostly go along with this—or portray it as a clash between two equal sides.
The recent expulsion of an Israeli diplomat in Australia was characterised by the government’s timidity in its criticisms of Israel. Australian passports were forged by the Israeli secret police, Mossad, who carried out an assassination of a Hamas leader. The Australian government made no comment on the assassination, and restricted its criticisms to the use of the passports. Apparently it matters less that Israel gets its way with guns and murder and more the documents they do it with.
Obama has talked up the “peace process” and the idea of a two-state solution. The US joined in a vote to open the Israeli nuclear program to UN scrutiny recently, and this has been widely cited as evidence of a changing relationship. But the emphasis is overstated. The Obama administration is committed to Israel. Literally millions of dollars in aid flow from US to Israeli coffers every day, a total of $3 billion a year. The US supplies the weaponry that destroys Palestinian lives.
From Israel’s inception, imperialist forces courted the Zionist state as an ally in the oil-rich Middle East. As the US emerged as the world’s superpower after the Second World War it began to arm and fund Israel to act as its “watchdog” in the region. Israel’s attacks on its neighbours almost always take place with US consent.
As international criticism has grown, Israel has become more and more aggressive. This may create some PR problems for Western governments, but they still back Israel to the hilt. Israel knows that even when it launches such obviously vicious, unprovoked assaults that it can rely on the backing of the majority of the Western ruling class. Obama may wish that Israel pursued a change in rhetoric, but Israel knows Obama will continue to provide support regardless. The response to the flotilla murders, from both the US and Australia, is the extremely timid call for Israel to undertake an ‘independent’ investigation. Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of state, has refused to condemn Israel’s actions.
The US is concerned about keeping Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan compliant with the US’s ambitions. The US is mired in two unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the success of Israel is of heightened importance. The destruction of Hamas would prove that the US and its allies still have the power to control weaker governments and resistance movements in the region.
It is an agenda that is fully supported by the Rudd government, who is just as committed to the US-Australia alliance as was the Howard government. Australia maintains its commitment to the US war in Afghanistan, with Rudd recently announcing more Australian Federal Police to assist with the operation. The complimentary side of anti-Muslim racism continues—the most recent federal budget contains a spending spree on “stamping out Islamic radicalism” in prisons, and the government maintains the terror laws, which have primarily targeted Muslim communities. The recent whipping up of hysteria about refugees has opened the door to the bigotry of the Howard era. Some Liberal MPs have even suggested that asylum seekers may be terrorists. The visa freeze on refugees from Afghanistan is based on the fiction that the country is “safe” or on the way to being stabilised by US forces. The Rudd government has never really been prepared to acknowledge the strife caused by these wars.
Protests across the globe can help build a renewed focus for resistance inside Palestine and in the surrounding Arab states. Even here in Australia, we can help send a message that the Israeli government can, and will, be stopped. Egypt has announced that they will temporarily open their border with Gaza, effectively circumventing the siege. International pressure could make the change permanent—and expose Israel for the terrorist state that it is.