You can’t have a heart and a brain and not see the problem with Israel’s actions in the recent attack on the unarmed flotilla sending supplies to Gaza. Perhaps more than a dozen were killed (estimates vary); one of them was an American. (Another American woman lost an eye in a demonstration over the issue.) Juan Cole has done a better job than I ever could in explaining what happened and why.
But this doesn’t explain all the anger this has generated, including suggestions from some Turkish political leaders that the next flotilla will be accompanied by an armed naval escort. In the scheme of things, the Israeli attack wasn’t actually that bad. Perhaps a hundred times as many were killed in the earlier Israeli incursion into Gaza over a year ago. Nor has Israel committed the worst atrocities in the Middle East; that honor belongs to the United States, with its aggressive war against Iraq and hundreds of thousands of civilians dying in the ensuing bloodbath.
I think I know what the problem is. Joining this flotilla is just the kind of crazy thing I might have done when I was younger. Even in recent years I toyed (ever so briefly) with the idea of joining some group like, say, the Christian Peacemaker Teams. It wasn’t hard to talk myself out of this. For starters, you could actually get hurt. I see in the fate of these activists something that could, in a slightly different alternate world, have happened to me.
There is a historical analogy to all this in the Kent State killings and the invasion of Cambodia. Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia was the really evil action, but the killings at Kent State are what got people into the streets. Probably millions died in southeast Asia, and four people died here. I was actually in a minor anti-war demonstration (maybe a few dozen people) in front of a Nashville courthouse when the news of Kent State came through and spread through our group. It was just a bit scary, seeing those police cars watching us, and when we got back to our dorm rooms and heard the details, it was even more scary.
The same thing applies here. As long as it’s just the people in Gaza, it’s a moral outrage; but if you’re firing on us, it’s a much more serious matter.
(slightly updated June 7)
UPDATE June 7: Juan Cole brings to our attention that there is now a group called “Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East” (a group of German Jews) who are sending their own ship to Gaza. You can send them money.
UPDATE June 17: The American woman who lost her eye in the demonstration (pictured above) was Emily Henochowicz, a visual arts student from Maryland. You can visit her blog here, where she cheerfully says, “Having one eye is really just a design problem. There’s even research that suggests that ‘Stereoblindness might prove an asset rather than a disadvantage to an artist.‘”
She was not just any American with a sudden penchant for the Palestinian cause, as I imagined from the initial news report I saw, but actually a dual Israeli-American citizen. Her father was born in Tel Aviv and two of her grandparents were Polish Holocaust survivors.