By Abdel Bari Atwan
We thank God that the Freedom Flotilla set sail from the ports of Turkey; we praise Him more that one of them, Mavi Marmara, was flying the Turkish flag; and we praise Him for the third time that Turkish martyrs were killed by Israeli soldiers who stormed the ships and deliberately fired on activists, aiming to kill not disable.
The entry of Turkey into the Arab-Israeli conflict arena with force and passion is bearing fruit at an unprecedented pace. The Security Council convened within a few hours to discuss the Israeli massacre and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt opened the Rafah crossing to Gaza promptly. Demonstrations have swept Turkish territory seeking revenge for the blood of its martyrs.
When did the Security Council meet this fast to discuss Israeli aggression at the request of Arab states, or issue a resolution demanding an immediate investigation according to international standards, or condemn the Israeli crime in question? It’s true that the latest UN statement was not as strong as we would have liked, but it was different, and the reason for that is Turkey’s involvement.
Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, acted more like an Arab than the Arabs themselves when he addressed this Israeli crime with power and courage. As a member of NATO, Turkey could also call for a meeting of that organisation’s supreme body. Mr. Erdogan took the initiative and withdrew his country’s ambassador immediately from Tel Aviv and demanded that Israel lift the blockade on Gaza; he described the attack on the Freedom Flotilla as despicable state terrorism and warned the Jewish state about his country’s impatience.
Such language has not been heard in this arena since the death of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. In fact, the sight of the current crop of Arab leaders taking such a position is rare as many now consider the mere mention of any negative opinions about Israel to be a cardinal sin. We are not necessarily commending Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though he is laudable, but are comparing his position to those of the Arab leaders and their Arab League, with its Secretary-General and his assistants, who hold positions that have encouraged Israel in its crimes.
It is shameful that the UN Security Council met throughout the night just hours after the flotilla massacre, but the council of the Arab League did not meet until days later. What difference will the Arab League make, apart from giving the impression that its members have a mild interest in what has happened?
Israel now lives the worst of its days, not because of any military effort or Arab diplomacy, but because it does not care for the Arabs and thinks little of them. It also shows contempt for international laws and conventions. On top of all that, it always has the guarantee of US and Western protection. This power has made it commit follies and piracy on the high seas.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has become a professional liar, like most Israeli officials. This dubious talent peaked when he said that his soldiers shot and killed civilians on the flotilla “in self-defence”. What sort of self-defence can be argued when your soldiers, armed to the teeth, land on a foreign vessel in international waters in the middle of the night and begin to use live ammunition on civilians? What sort of warped mind can claim such a defence? Did Netanyahu expect the passengers to greet his commandos with flowers, dancing and singing, or even with the slaughter of a sheep?
The boats were not carrying bombs and missiles and not one gunman was on board, only electric wheelchairs for the elderly, whose limbs were broken by rockets and phosphorous bombs during the Israeli invasion of Gaza; boxes of medicine for the sick; building materials to patch up what had been destroyed by Israeli bombs; and water purification equipment, banned by the Israeli authorities in order to kill the people of Gaza with water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
Two years of US pressure and appeals to persuade Israel to allow the entry of construction materials and cement to put an end to the suffering of 60,000 people living in tents on the ruins of their homes, were to no avail. Hence the rather desperate measure of the convoys trying to break the siege.
It is ironic that the Israelis accuse the organizers of those convoys of using them as a means of provocation and propaganda, when the Zionists were the first to use this method seventy years ago. They filled ships with Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, in order to embarrass the British Mandate Authorities in Palestine who were trying to stop them by force for fear of a Palestinian uprising.
What is more intriguing is that the leaders of the Zionist Jews who arranged those ships to clash deliberately with British troops imposing a naval blockade (the British had the authority to do so, unlike Israel today) claimed that British gas bombs killed a baby. They were hoping to change international public opinion in the struggle to get support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, where a UN mission was then examining the question of partitioning the country. This pressure succeeded in getting a UN resolution passed to split Palestine in two. According to the Daily Mail, the child in question was not killed by British bombs, it died a few days before the confrontation.
This week, Israel violated international law by attacking a number of ships at sea in international waters and then hijacking them and kidnapping the passengers and crews, killing at least nine and wounding fifty more. One of these ships was flying the flag of Turkey, a member of NATO.
How would the United States and NATO have reacted if it had been Iran attacking a US, British or any other vessel in international waters, shooting its passengers, injuring the captain and then hijacking it to an Iranian port? We all know the answer: it would be seen as an act of war and naval task-forces and bombers would already be attacking Iranian positions while the UN Security Council imposed severe economic sanctions and called for Iran “to show restraint”.
Israel has this week confirmed for the umpteenth time that it is a rogue state, defying international law. It is wrong to claim that this is only due to the extreme right-wing government now in place, because the previous Kadima-led government committed war crimes during the invasion of the Gaza Strip last year, using white phosphorous bombs and killing more than 1,400 innocent people, a third of them children.
The current and previous Israeli leadership are all war criminals and there must be a swift international investigation to uncover all the facts of this latest massacre. All of those involved, starting from Netanyahu, who gave the green light for the attack, through Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff who carried it out, to Ehud Barak, the defence minister who supervised it, must be brought to account.
Netanyahu has announced that his navy will stop any other ships trying to break the siege using the same tactics. The Freedom Flotilla organisers have, meanwhile, said that they are preparing new convoys to challenge Israel’s arrogance. The passengers on future convoys will be even more aware of the risks involved but will not be intimidated by Israeli threats.
Israel has damaged relations with its most strategic ally in the region, earning the enmity of the proud Turkish people in the process. It is also embroiled in a worsening war of words with Iran, another rising regional power, and yet it continues to embarrass its Western allies and threaten their security by its rogue behaviour.
The only friends staying loyal to Israel – and this is said with bitterness – are Arab regimes who still fantasise about the peace initiative and are in orbit around the US and its lackeys. With satisfaction and sincerity we say, congratulations to Israel for its choice of friends; they have never been any good to their own people, religion or the Arab nation and their just causes, so why should they be any good to Israel?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.