Israel Works Against Itself
Israel’s desire to stop the flotilla reaching Gaza was understandable, given its determination to maintain the blockade. Yet the Israelis also had a responsibility to conduct the operation safely. The campaigners knew that either way they would win. If they had got through, it would have been a triumphant breaching of the blockade. If forcibly stopped, with their cargo of medical equipment and humanitarian aid, they would be portrayed as victims—even if some, as the Israelis contend, brought clubs, knives and poles. As it was, disastrous planning by Israel’s soldiers led to a needless loss of life.
For anyone who cares about Israel, this tragedy should be the starting point for deeper questions—about the blockade, about the Jewish state’s increasing loneliness and the route to peace. A policy of trying to imprison the Palestinians has left their jailer strangely besieged.
The blockade of Gaza is cruel and has failed. The Gazans have suffered sorely but have not been starved into submission. Hamas has not been throttled and overthrown, as Israeli governments (and many others) have wished. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier taken hostage, has not been freed. Weapons and missiles can still be smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.
Just as bad, from Israel’s point of view, it helps feed antipathy towards Israel, not just in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but in Europe too. Israel once had warm relations with a ring of non-Arab countries in the vicinity, including Iran and Turkey. The deterioration of Israel’s relations with Turkey, whose citizens were among the nine dead, is depriving Israel of a rare Muslim ally and mediator. It is startling how, in its bungled effort to isolate Gaza, democratic Israel has come off worse than Hamas, which used to send suicide-bombers into restaurants.
Israel is a regional hub of science, business and culture. Despite its harsh treatment of Palestinians in the land it occupies, it remains a vibrant democracy. But its loneliness, partly self-inflicted, is making it a worse place, not just for the Palestinians but also for its own people. If only it can replenish its stock of idealism and common sense before it is too late.