By Gil Troy, The Mark News, 6-1-10
As the raid on the Turkish flotilla demonstrates, both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wish to appear virtuous but trust only strength.
The strange and sobering world of the Middle East conflict has now introduced a new phenomenon, the armed “peace activist,” seething with hate, professing pacifism, masquerading as an humanitarian, pounding away at another human being with a metal pole. The American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Amid all the indignant denunciations of Israel, with the Jewish state’s flag being burned the world over, it is nevertheless possible to hold two, seemingly opposing, groups of ideas at once. First: Israel’s commando raid was ill-conceived and poorly executed. The tragic human casualties and Israel’s diplomatic catastrophe should have been avoided. And the party with the greater firepower holds the greater responsibility, especially when it is a democracy. But at the same time, these alleged “peace activists” pulling weapons rather than pulling a Gandhi should give us pause. This was not a humanitarian operation but a power play. And the violence that began – on one boat – was clearly planned and intentional.
The expected street theatre, actually sea theatre, turned violent because of the Turkish activists’ ambush. In five of the six boats the Israeli navy boarded, everyone followed the anticipated script. These passive protesters trusted that images of armed commandos deployed against unarmed civilians would achieve their PR goals to embarrass Israel and weaken international support for the Israeli-Egyptian blockade against Hamas’s control of Gaza. Yet, as the videos show, the boaters on the Turkish ferry the Marmara swarmed the Israeli soldiers, who initially held their fire. Israel clearly sought to avoid the kind of bloodbath which occurred. Apparently, the soldiers initially were armed with paint ball guns for crowd control. As one soldier later complained, “We went into war, and all we had were toys.”
Some of the injured Israelis were stabbed, two were shot, one had his skull crushed. Some rioters had been recorded earlier shouting “Jews, remember Khyabar, the army of Mohammed is returning,” referring to the Muslims’ seventh-century defeat of Jews. Israelis described the mob scene as an attempted “lynch” – Israelified English for “lynching,” evoking the brutal mob murder on October 12, 2000 when two Israeli reservists were killed after making a wrong turn into Palestinian territory. One report suggested that the Israeli soldiers only began shooting thirty minutes into the confrontation – when their lives clearly were endangered.
The pro-Palestinian side’s failure once again to “go Gandhi” on the Israelis reflects the great crime of Palestinian nationalism, namely its unrelenting hatred for the Jewish State. This hatred is reflected in the vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric often deployed against Israel, the continuing calls for Israel’s destruction, and the violence on the Marmara and elsewhere. This hatred has blocked repeated attempts at compromise. Many Israelis – and well-intentioned outsiders – treat the conflict as a matter of borders to be drawn while too many – but not all – Palestinians treat the conflict as a state that needs to be destroyed.
That hatred looms large in the struggle over Gaza. Israel’s blockade of Gaza does not make sense unless you read Hamas’s charter, with its anti-Semitic rhetoric and calls for Israel’s destruction, or remember Hamas’s suicide bombs and Kassam rockets. Israel – along with Egypt – is blockading Gaza because Gaza is run by theocratic terrorists. The fact that Hamas and its supporters use humanitarian rhetoric, that they have hijacked the language of human rights, that they have won over much liberal support, does not make them worthy of those ideals. In fact, this masquerade, legitimized by its international enablers, makes Israel only feel more embattled, just as the harsh rhetoric delegitimizing Israel makes it all the more difficult to nurture the kind of trust and mutual respect necessary for compromise and peace.
Here, then, is the true Middle Eastern farce, which this week turned tragic. With pacifists wielding clubs pitted against naval commandos armed with paintballs both sides dance on the head of pin, seeking to appear virtuous while ultimately trusting power. True peace will not be attained, until both sides trust the power of virtue. The challenge for the international community is to nurture that trust on both sides, rather than siding with the armed peace activists over the paintball commandos.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University.