The Israeli attack on Mavi Marmara, one of the six ships in the aid flotilla off the coast of Gaza, in the early hours of 31 May marks a turning point in Middle East politics and international relations. Having murdered nine people and wounded several dozens, most of whom are Turkish citizens, Israel has antagonised 72m Turks, perhaps irreparably, over a billion of Muslims, and millions of others around the world.
Israel’s use of brutal force against the aid flotilla is a clear violation of international law. The attack on Mavi Marmara took place 77 miles off the cost of Gaza in international waters over which the state of Israel has no legal entitlement. By brutally attacking and killing unarmed people, the Netanyahu-Lieberman government has committed a crime that must and will be investigated by an international court.
People in the aid flotilla came from 32 different countries and included aid workers, peace activists, writers, journalists, reporters, lawyers, members of parliaments and ordinary citizens. Contrary to the claims of the Israeli propaganda machine, these people are not terrorists but aid workers and peace activists from around the world who believe that the blockade of Gaza by Israel must end to restart the peace process in the Middle East. This was a chance for Israel to show that it is genuinely interested in peace. By defending the attack and the killing of civilians, the Netanhayu-Lieberman government has shown that they have no interest in peace in the region.
The aid flotilla was bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza who have been suffering under a suffocating siege since the Gaza war at the end of 2008. Let’s remember that Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel at the time, had given orders for the destruction of Gaza only four days after he met the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara to finalise the Syrian-Israeli talks. Having lied to Turks, Syrians, Europeans and Americans all of whom were involved in the talks, the Olmert government started a war which resulted in the killing of more than 1,400 civilians with thousands injured. In the three-week war, Gaza was completely destroyed and no civilian buildings, schools, hospitals, houses of worship or even a UN building were spared. Since then, Gaza and its 1.5 million people have been living under Israeli blockade.
Israel has turned a deaf ear to calls by the Obama administration and the European Union to lift the blockade in Gaza, stop settlement activities in the Palestinian territories and restart the peace talks. By defying the international community and violating international law, Israel has cornered itself both morally and politically. The international reaction to the murdering of unarmed civilians in the aid flotilla shows the extent to which the world is becoming ever more impatient with the arrogant and irresponsible policies of successive Israeli governments. While the rage over what happened in Mavi Marmara has not died down, other ships like Rachel Corrie – in remembrance of the young American student so cruelly bulldozed by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza 2003 while trying to stop the demolishing of a Palestinian home – were already making attempts to challenge the blockade.
The United Nations security council and the UN human rights commission condemned Israel for its action. So did scores of other states and international organizations including Nato and the Elders Group, which includes Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu. Heads of states from the UK and Russia to the Arab world have called for the investigation of events and the immediate lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
Israel faces a dilemma here: the siege of Gaza has not localised the reality of occupation but internationalised it. By acting in defiance and hoping that it can get away with illegal use of force against unarmed civilians, the Netanyahu-Lieberman government is turning against the whole world.
I personally do not know if the Turkish-Israeli relations will ever go back to normal after what happened in Mavi Marmara. But it is clear that Israel must formally apologise to the Turkish people for its brutal killing of Turkish aid workers. An international fact-finding mission, as called for by the UN, must be immediately established to investigate the events and those responsible for the raid must be brought to justice. Finally, the blockade of Gaza must be lifted to normalise the lives of 1.5 millions Palestinians. Furthermore, Egypt must keep the Rafah gate open to let international aid into Gaza.
These measures will not make us forget what happened in the early hours of 31 May. But they may being some semblance of rationality to the region.