As per usual, when push comes to shove, the right-wing Israeli government, along with the Israel Defense Forces spinmeisters, have gone back to the simple formula: when they do something illegal and barbaric, blame the victim, for the United States will obligingly agree and stand by that narrative. Like always, while the rest of the world protests in condemnation and speaks out against Israel's actions and crimes, the U.S. government stands by complicitly, continuing to shower Israel with over $3 billion per year in military aid into perpetuity.
A Bit of Background is in Order
In 2006 Hamas, an Islamist faction inspired from the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood, won a fair and clean democratic election in the Palestinian Occupied Territories that was praised as such by The Carter Center. In return, the U.S., Israel, and the European Union subsequently decided that the people of Gaza chose the wrong elected officials and held them accountable for it, with Israel implementing a blockade by land, air, and sea, furthering their stranglehold over the people of Gaza. They imposed sanctions suspending all foreign aid, upon which Gazans depend, which has since turned into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
Next came an attempted coup of the Hamas government in late-2006 through mid-2007. The Fatah military, backed and trained by the United States, attempted to violently overthrow the Hamas government and failed to do so, which resulted in 120 deaths and the strengthening of Hamas, as well as a de-unification of the Palestinian government at-large, with Hamas now leading the people of the Gaza Strip and Fatah now leading the people of the West Bank.
Blazing along, late 2008 and early 2009 brought Operation Cast Lead, or what Amnesty International called "22 days of death and destruction" in the Gaza Strip. It was Israel's punishment for rogue Islamic factions shooting rockets into Israel. Israel was charged with war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by the Judge Richard Goldstone. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including 300 children, hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and over 115 women and some 85 men aged over 50.
While the U.S. government rushed to applaud Israel for acting in self-defense, the rest of the world saw things differently, and saw what ensued as not a war, but a bloody massacre. While the world protested and condemned, again, the U.S. government sat by idly, or worse, applauded the massacre. The infrastructure of Gaza, already crippled by the siege, was now destroyed. Gaza to this day remains besieged.
Enter, the Freedom Flotilla
It is in this context that the Freedom Flotilla set sail to the Strip in an attempt to free Gaza and end the blockade. The ship was part of the Free Gaza Movement, whose self-described purpose is "to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise. We have not and will not ask for Israel’s permission. It is our intent to overcome this brutal siege through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world." It was the ninth Free Gaza seat delegation ever sent to the Gaza Strip and many more are to come, including a Jewish-led one in mid-July.
The Mari Marvara, along with six other ships, set sail to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, with a value of $20 million, including food and medicine, and building materials such as cement. In the middle of the night on June 1, 2010, shooting their way onto the ship from above, the IDF commandos boarded the Mari Marvara and killed nine of the aid-carrying activists, wounding dozens of others nearly 70 miles off of the coast of Gaza.
The Isreali Spin Machine
Israel got to tell its story first, as it imprisoned all of the journalists and activists on the ship for two to three days, disseminating its videos and account throughout the world and not allowing for any passenger rebuttal. Israel released videos showing those on the ships beating up the IDF with metal poles, with hard-to-take-seriously Orientalist pictures of knife-wielding Islamic men, pictures of weapons spread on the floor of the Mari Marvara, and going so far as to say that this was a terrorist mission affiliated with Al-Qaeda, so Israel had every right in the world to "defend" itself.
But, as Phil Weiss of Mondoweiss blog asked, "Does this story pass the laugh test?" The answer is a resounding "no," yet those who are blind supporters of Israel ate it up anyway and myth became reality, victims became victimizers, and a heinous crime committed by the IDF became a two-tiered storyline that is somehow up for debate.
While protests raged throughout the world, including here in the U.S. and also in Israel, most members of Congress, along with the Obama Administration, failed to condemn Israel, lending legitimacy to Israel's implausible account. Dozens even condoned. Two members of Congress did condemn Israel: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Now that the other side of the story is being told, though, nearly everything the IDF has said is being refuted.
Rules in International Waters
First of all, when the IDF attacked the Mari Marvara, it was in international waters, meaning this was an act of piracy. Secondly, the record demonstrates that the ship was in a mode of retreat when commandos boarded the ship with guns blazing. Thirdly, much of the audio and many of the photos have been found to be doctored or taken out of context, and much of the fairy-tale the IDF tried to propagate to the world has been shot down by serious journalists. Lastly, if attacked in international waters by pirates, one has the right to defend himself if under fire. Though violence is not laudable, it is, at minimum, understandable as a gut reaction when being shot at from all angles. In short, serious people who are looking into the truth have found that the IDF's story doesn't have much grounding in reality.
So, we're back at square one. The siege is still in play, with Israel still in complete control of what goes into and comes out of the Gaza Strip. Israel and the U.S. refuse to communicate with the Hamas government, which is a huge mistake. American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lead another loyalty oath to support the most recent Israel barrage, with dozens of members of Congress standing by Israel and against the peace activists on the Flotilla, despite the fact that one of the nine slaughtered was an American civilian.
President Obama's Choice
Obama's team has a choice: kowtow once again to the right-wing Pro-Israel lobby, meaning the likes of AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and friends, or, make a bold move and push for an end to the cruel blockade, come to the negotiating table and talk to the leaders of Hamas, and discuss the steps it will take to achieve a just solution to the nearly century-long conflict. Israel is in a dangerous place in its history, losing allies left and right, becoming more racist by the day, and becoming a truly undemocratic place to live, and it needs the U.S. to be a wise mediator, rather than the unwavering, blindly loyal one it has been for the past 40+ years. Lives and livelihoods are on the line, and it is in this moment of crisis that Obama must step up to the plate and make the tough decisions it will take.
Those who stand for justice are always on the right side of history.