And why arm those commandos with live-fire weapons? And why a pre-dawn helicopter drop, designed (I presume) to catch the flotilla off guard? And why board the ship at all, when the navy could just as easily have disabled its engines, or physically blocked its course?
Here is the story we are asked to believe: that Israel was surprised by the violent resistance of some flotilla members. We are asked to believe that this intelligence failure put Israeli commandos in a position from which they had no choice but to shoot their way out.
If Israel was not expecting violent resistance, why were these protesters engaged in this manner? And even if Israel were expecting violent resistance, we might ask the same question. Why this violent confrontation, when so many less-confrontational options presented themselves?
Spokespeople for the army and the Israeli government, some of them friendly people with whom I've worked in the past, say without a trace of irony that this flotilla represented a challenge to the "legitimacy" of Israel, that it is yet another in the endless chain of "existential threats" to the country.
This week they can learn two lessons: when every threat becomes existential, every response will be ugly and disproportionate. And when a government's only tool is its arsenal, a lot of problems start to look like terrorists.
"Free Gaza"-style naval missions like this flotilla have been going on since the establishment of the blockade, with varying frequency. I covered one such mission for the Post, and for that story I spoke with some of the members who became part of this most recent delegation. My aspiration (never fulfilled) had been to join one of these missions myself -- not because I supported them, but because they represented a volatile new permutation in the evolving role of Gaza in the Israeli-Palestinian process.
This week we have seen the complete realization of this form of protest as a political tool, magnified, I am certain, far beyond the wildest dreams of its organizers. In the next couple of weeks we will have a clearer idea of just how badly Israel has been damaged. I would not be surprised if this single incident does more damage to Israel politically than the entirety of the Gaza war. And if Israel's increasingly clueless diplomatic corps (both its official branch in the IDF, and its unofficial wing in the US) cannot find a way to start putting out some of these fires, we could be looking at the beginning of real sanctions.
At the very least, here are just some of the consequences I would expect:
- Renewed calls for commercial, academic, and cultural boycott and divestment around the world, likely with serious outcomes
- Suspended (if not severed) diplomatic relations with Turkey
- Suspension of proximity talks with Palestinians
- Suspension of proximity talks with Syria
- Some new set of concessions by the Netanyahu coalition on settlement growth
- Multiple nonbinding UN resolutions condemning Israel
- Renewed resistance from Iran on its nuclear program, and new resistance on sanctions against it
I have to believe that the writers who refuse to admit a moral error on Israel's part are sincere, because I can't imagine the endorsement of the murder of ~15 civilians as a purely political maneuver. But they are as complicit in the slow destruction of Israel as any of its other enemies, and while they may not be murderers in the way that members of Hamas are murderers, they are certainly stupid in the way that members of Hamas are stupid. There is no counter-factual counter- enough to wake them.
Commandos on a ship, alone but for one another, are set upon by violent activists who -- from what video we have -- appear intent on killing or badly wounding them. Backed into a corner, fearing for their lives, the commandos open fire, and it is fair to say that most soldiers from most countries would have done the same.
But that is where the comparison must end. Because most countries in the first world would never find themselves in such a situation. Most liberal democracies do not impose an economic blockade on over 1.5 million people in order to minimize random rocket fire that is, itself, in response to that blockade. Most countries that count themselves among the liberal order (or the "west" or whatever we are billing ourselves) do not respond to protesters with pre-dawn commando raids on the high seas. Most countries are not in Israel's position, and, increasingly, Israel has no one to blame but itself for that position.
So while I can excuse those individual commandos for making a difficult decision under extremely stressful circumstances, I cannot and will not excuse the government that gave them their orders. The brutality I saw yesterday looked like something that should have happened in Thailand or North Korea, but it is a logical progression in the course of a brutal, dangerously unempathetic and illiberal occupation.
A personal note: I turned 24 last week, and in all of those years, this is the first time that I have felt deeply, personally ashamed to be a supporter of Israel. The 2nd Lebanon war, the bombing of the Syrian reactor, even settlements and the Gaza war -- as politically and morally perilous as those events have sometimes been, I have always been able to see the opposing view. When I disagreed with a decision, this disagreement could take place for me in the political world, an acceptable disconnect in a democratic regime.
But I am now truly lost. I don't understand how the wholesale murder of barely-armed protesters is defensible, and I can't and really don't want to peer into the minds of those who feel otherwise. I read the news yesterday morning and I spent the day sick to my stomach. Writing in a blog that I closed is my pathetic little attempt to alleviate some of the symptoms.