Now I'm having some doubts. I have yet to speak to or hear from any of the people who were on the flotilla, but a May 25th press release of the Free Gaza Team, which was one of the leading organizations of the flotilla stated, ""However, we will non-violently resist Israeli attempts to seize our boats."
Non-violence is not easy in the face of police or military actions. It requires strong intention, strong group discipline and, often, significant training and preparation.
The above quote came from an article title, We Will resist Israel's attempts to stop us. That could hve been done non-violently, but with 500-600 people on the main vessel of the flotilla, that would have required very strong leadership, preparation and discipline.
At best, the non-violent intentions failed. At worst, there were agents provocateurs on the ship who had no intention to keep the attempt to break the Israeli blockade non-violent. Israel provides images of people brandishing iron rods. This does not look like an attempt to be non-violent. It looks like a prepared group of a handful of people who wanted to escalate the expected confrontation.
Regardless of whether the intent to be non-violent was shared by all or whether it was sabotaged by people who planned a violent response, the result was the same-- nine people killed and many wounded.
Regardless of the actions of the people on the flotilla, Israel engaged in an act of war. A naval blockade IS an act of war. That might have worked for Israel when it was dealing with Hamas and Gaza, but the vessels Israel boarded were flagged by Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. Boarding them could be interpreted as acts of war against those nations and Israel has little defense against those charges. Israel's story does not work because past boats coming to Gaza were handled differently. Israel chose to escalate their response, and that is what led to the confrontation. Israeli's bad judgment led to the deaths.
But we must still face the question of intention of ALL the flotilla participants. If I was on that flotilla, with the understanding that it was to be a non-violent action, then I would have known what it meant to be non-violent. It means you don't fight back. The freedom riders and protesters along side Martin Luther King did not fight back. The throngs of people who protested with Ghandi did not violently respond.
Were there a handful of people who betrayed the plans, the confidence and intentions of the vast bulk of the people in the flotilla?
Israel accuses one of the Turkish sponsors-- the organization that came up with the big money to buy the ships-- ardim Vakafi (IHH) of having connections to Hamas and Al Qaeda. Organizers deny this. I have no answer and don't accept the Israeli report at face value. But all of the nine killed were Turkish. I'm assuming the Israelis shot people who were wielding weapons or attacking soldiers, or at least in close proximity. Maybe I'm wrong.
Yesterday I wrote an article, Not In My Jewish Name. I stand by that. Israel should not have boarded the flotilla on the open seas in international waters. They could have been there at the docks, and monitored unloading. This massacre could have been prevented.
But we really need to consider whether some of the 700 people on the flotilla actually were planted to engage in violence, with the expectation that a violent confrontation on a humanitarian ship would produce the outraged world response we're now seeing.
I support non-violent efforts to break Israel's Gaza blockade. I support boycotts that aim to force Israel to end its apartheid, the same kinds that worked to force South Africa to end its abhorrent policies. But we must also be careful that good hearted, innocent humanitarians are not exploited by people who would use violent means-- the same people who use suicide bombers and explosions in marketplaces and mosques to send their messages.
Israel was clearly ensnared in a trap that led to a horrific media disaster for Israel and all Jews. The Israeli leaders who allowed the Israeli Navy to fall into the trap failed Israel. That's obvious. But we must also ask what happened to the non-violent flotilla? Was discipline broken or were the vast majority of peaceful people on the flotilla betrayed by infiltrators with violent intentions? Or was the violence actually intended by the leaders and planners of the flotilla, while claiming non-violent intentions.
Let's hope that any investigations explore ALL the questions-- not just the ones on the Israeli side. Because peace and justice activists have a right to expect that their non-violent intentions are not exploited.
I'm expecting to take serious flack for this article. So let me be clear that I supported and still support a non-violent flotilla effort challenging Israel's inhumane siege of Gaza. But I would never support an effort that purports to be non-violent and recruits people to participate, expecting a non-violent action, where the leaders actually planned to allow or employ violence, even in self-defense. That would be exploitation of the innocent humanitarians.