The bid to shape global perceptions by portraying the Palestinians as victims of Israel was the first prong of a longtime two-part campaign. The second part of this campaign involved armed resistance against the Israelis. The way this resistance was carried out, from airplane hijackings to stone-throwing children to suicide bombers, interfered with the first part of the campaign, however. The Israelis could point to suicide bombings or the use of children against soldiers as symbols of Palestinian inhumanity. This in turn was used to justify conditions in Gaza. While the Palestinians had made significant inroads in placing Israel on the defensive in global public opinion, they thus consistently gave the Israelis the opportunity to turn the tables. And this is where the flotilla comes in.
The Turkish flotilla aimed to replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to project. As with the Zionist portrayal of the situation in 1947, the Gaza situation is far more complicated than as portrayed by the Palestinians. The moral question is also far more ambiguous. But as in 1947, when the Zionist portrayal was not intended to be a scholarly analysis of the situation but a political weapon designed to define perceptions, the Turkish flotilla was not designed to carry out a moral inquest.
Instead, the flotilla was designed to achieve two ends. The first is to divide Israel and Western governments by shifting public opinion against Israel. The second is to create a political crisis inside Israel between those who feel that Israel’s increasing isolation over the Gaza issue is dangerous versus those who think any weakening of resolve is dangerous.
What I'd like to point out is that there is significant opposition to the current Gaza blockage within Israel, and protest against the violence of the past day. There's this letter signed by a group of progressive rabbis calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. There was a leftwing protest in Tel Aviv today, that -- unfortunately, again -- led to a teargas canister causing the loss of an eye from an American Jew protesting the Israeli actions. There's the progressive U.S. Jewish PAC, J Street, calling on President Obama and the U.S. to provide stronger leadership to end the overall conflict now. And there's this opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, linking the failure of the flotilla operation to that of "Operation Cast Lead," the three-week 2006 attack on Gaza which, no matter how well intentioned in response to Hamas bombs being lobbed in Israel, left over 1000 Palestinians (and 13 Israelis) dead, many of the Gaza casualties being civilians, with many homes destroyed by Israeli forces. Per Gideon Levy in Haaretz:
Again Israel will pay a heavy diplomatic price, once which had not been considered ahead of time. Again, the Israeli propaganda machine has managed to convince only brainwashed Israelis, and once more no one asked the question: What was it for? Why were our soldiers thrown into this trap of pipes and ball bearings? What did we get out of it?
If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series. Israel proved yesterday that it learned nothing from the first movie.
Yesterday's fiasco could and should have been prevented. This flotilla should have been allowed to pass and the blockade should be brought to an end.
This should have happened a long time ago. In four years Hamas has not weakened and Gilad Shalit was not released. There was not even a sign of a gain.
And what have we instead? A country that is quickly becoming completely isolated. This is a place that turns away intellectuals, shoots peace activists, cuts off Gaza and now finds itself in an international blockade. Once more yesterday it seemed, and not for the first time, that Israel is increasingly breaking away from the mother ship, and losing touch with the world - which does not accept its actions and does not understand its motives.
If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again without any improvement in result, isn't it time for Israel to try another tack? I remain both hopeful and skeptical that there will be peace; hopeful due to my belief that most people just want to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families, skeptical because of the lack of a contiguous Palestinian state boundary, lack of faith in the current Israeli government and rightward drift due to newer more fundamentalist Israelis, and trepidation that the brainwashing of Palestinian children, indeed Arab children throughout the Middle East, that Jews and Zionism are intrinsically evil -- teachings that will not go away quickly, no matter what benevolence Israel bestows.
That said, this is the kind of symbolic/real-life event that, like the ongoing ocean-killing in the Gulf of Mexico, that has the potential to turn public opinion in a positive way and lead to real statesmanship. Nothing one can bet on but, in the right hands, a teachable moment.
I'll pray for it.