The Israeli commando raid on what has become known as the Freedom Flotilla is shocking on a number of levels. What could have driven Israel to order its navy to attack, in international waters, a flotilla of ships full of human rights activists, MPs from governments around the world, a Nobel Prize winner and two former US diplomats? What was there to gain from killing civilians—at least nine are dead, along with several dozen injured—attempting to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid for the 1.5 million people of Gaza suffering under an Israeli blockade? Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading daily, said, "The decision makers’ negligence is threatening the security of Israelis, and Israel’s global status."
Condemnation of the raid was immediate and overwhelming, with the shameful exception of the US government, whose UN representative merely expressed "regrets" at the loss of life. Demonstrations broke out in cities worldwide, including New York. Many countries condemned the attack—notably Turkey, until recently a key Israeli ally and regional power broker with whom relations may now be irreparably damaged because so many of its nationals were in the flotilla. The UN Security Council demanded an end to the Gaza blockade, although Washington successfully watered down the official statement and forestalled calls for an independent investigation. Without such an inquiry, it’s unlikely that those responsible for this assault will be held accountable.
The attack on the Freedom Flotilla is the culmination of more than four years of failed policy, in which a siege has been imposed on the entire population of Gaza in an attempt to weaken and isolate Hamas after its victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Israel does not bear sole responsibility for an unjust blockade that also undermines its own long-term security; indeed, the policy was jointly crafted and executed with the United States and has enjoyed the collusion of the European Union, Egypt and even the Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority.
The effects of this policy on the people of Gaza have been devastating. According to various UN agencies, the formal economy has collapsed. More than 60 percent of the people are food insecure, and nearly 80 percent depend on the UN for sustenance, with rising levels of malnutrition. The destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure has been comprehensive, with the reduction in electricity supply damaging food production and storage and dangerously limiting access to safe drinking water. The blockade has prevented all but minimal repair of the damage from Israel’s 2008–09 military assault; thousands are still displaced from their homes.
The United States has had ample opportunity to change its one-sided policy, which has resulted in continued warfare, occupation, misery and death for Palestinians and Israelis. Israel’s occupation would not have been possible without tens of billions in US military aid, without dozens of UN vetoes cast by Washington, without the State Department’s back-room strong-arming of other nations. It would not have been possible without the dishonesty of a US media establishment that habitually twists or simply refuses to report basic facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict—and is often less critical than the media in Israel. It would not have been possible without the active collusion or cowardly silence of the vast majority of the Democratic Party and liberal policy establishment, which for too long has bowed under the intimidation of AIPAC and other right-wing Zionist organizations, including Christian Evangelicals, all of which claim to defend Israel but which in fact support the most retrograde forces in Israeli society—elements that are leading Israel on a path of self-destruction.
The rightward trend in Israeli politics, and widespread outrage stemming from the 2008–09 attack on Gaza, have led to tough questioning of the US-Israel alliance, not only among the younger generation of activists and bloggers in America—many of them Jewish—but also by the new liberal lobby J Street. This phenomenon was exemplified and noted recently by former New Republic editor Peter Beinart in a scathing New York Review of Books article critical of the older Zionist establishment. The trend is also analyzed at length by Norman Finkelstein in his new book, "This Time We Went Too Far": Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. Disenchantment may finally be growing in official circles too. As noted recently by Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, Washington’s uncritical defense of Israel has increasingly become a threat to US interests in the region, where Islamist extremists use the oppression of Palestinians as a recruiting tool and where leaders have become increasingly wary of association with the United States.
One positive outcome of the attack on the humanitarian flotilla is that it has focused the world’s attention, as never before, on the indefensible blockade of Gaza. The siege must end immediately, and along with it the counterproductive US-Israeli policy of isolating Hamas. Only then will it be possible to work constructively toward a resolution of the conflict.