By Bilal Al-Hassan
Even though the Freedom Flotilla was not allowed to reach Gaza as planned, the mission was far from unsuccessful. The situation in Gaza has been put back on the international agenda, with many countries around the world calling for the immoral and illegal Israeli siege to be lifted. Even the United Nations, part of the so-called Quartet which has to-date insisted that Hamas must recognise the state of Israel before the siege can be lifted, has called for it to be scrapped. Of course, some demands for this to happen are loaded with caveats, especially from the US and Europe, that Israel's "security" must not be threatened. And Egypt's decision to keep the Rafah crossing open "indefinitely" is, it seems, not for aid, but people. Nevertheless, the decision to open the border was significant.
Only Israel remains intransigent: the siege, it claims, is there to protect its security and "terrorists" rule in Gaza with support from Iran. So Israel's state terrorism, attacking and hijacking foreign ships in international waters, is "justifiable" as far as the Jewish state is concerned.
If there is any winner at all in this situation, it has to be Gaza, the plight of whose people is now at the forefront of international concerns. The people of Gaza have every reason to be grateful to the organisers of the flotilla, therefore, even though they did not break the blockade physically.
There is now a movement for change – not of the rhetorical Barack Obama variety – with mass demonstrations in major cities around the world against government policies which support Israel, and even calls for cultural and academic boycotts of the Jewish state unless and until it stops its oppression of the Palestinian people. Those behind such calls include Jewish and Christian activists, as well as Muslims and people of no particular faith. This is a mass, popular movement that crosses nation states and cultural divisions, the like of which has not been seen in Europe since the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Meanwhile, inside Israel itself, the state has been pursuing a policy for almost 10 years of population "transfer", pushing the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel across the border into the West Bank or Gaza (and, latterly, from the West Bank itself). This is ostensibly to preserve the "Jewish identity" of the state but in any other country it would be called ethnic cleansing and roundly condemned. Included in this vile process is a campaign against the "Israeli Arab" leadership, many of whose members have been charged with espionage and treason to give the state an excuse to imprison them and try to cut off the head of the popular resistance. The campaign has taken on an almost comical turn; if, for example, one of the leaders happens to meet someone from Lebanon at a conference, he is accused of being a Hezbollah agent; if the leader meets with a Syrian or other "hostile" Arab, he is "communicating with the enemy". Such ridiculous attempts to disable the Palestinian community are nothing less than racist in nature, focusing solely on the Palestinian Arabs living in Israel (those and their descendents who refused to be ethnically cleansed by the nascent Jewish state in 1948).
Arab members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, now face similar accusations and attempts to strip them of their parliamentary privilege for the "crime" of working against government policy. That's right; in the much-vaunted Israeli democracy, opposing government policy is regarded as treason if the MPs asking questions are Arabs. Some commentators are now airing the opinion that Israel has entered a "fascist" phase, raising fears amongst its supporters in the West which have prompted the calls for the easing of the Gaza blockade.
Change in the United States has given rise to a distinctly colder relationship between President Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes Obama's policy to give priority to a political settlement with the Palestinian Authority as part of the strategy to strengthen the US position in its confrontation with Iran. Netanyahu, on the other hand, wants to see Iran confronted first, without regard to any agreement with the Palestinians and the impact such a breakthrough would have on Arab opinion. The arrogance of the Israeli government makes it blind to the fact that its stance is hardening attitudes towards US soldiers across the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, putting their lives at risk. This point has not been lost on America's military leadership which considers that Israel is now a liability to the US.
All of this has led to a media war in Israel itself, where criticism of the government's policies and attitudes is mixed with calls for an official inquiry into the Freedom Flotilla incident. Israeli unity is under threat, with some Israelis now prepared to compare openly Israel's neo-right government's policies with those of apartheid South Africa. This sort of debate has not happened in Israel before. Israel not only faces a battle to maintain the siege on Gaza but also to fend off accusations of racism from friend and foe alike.
Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.