Dismantling Israel's Myths

Certain perspectives on the flotilla, Gaza and Israel have taken on mythological proportions but have little logical force, and they are an obstacle to moving forward. Here are some myths, dismantled.

1. "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza #1" (as a reason why the blockade is not so bad) There is some humanitarian crisis in Gaza; Israel lets in limited, insufficient, arbitrarily determined supplies and a thriving tunnel business provides the rest, but eats away at any semblance of a legitimate economy, increases lawlessness and becomes an employer for overqualified Gaza graduates who should be the next generation of leaders. Starvation is only one kind of crisis: being trapped and immobilized, with severely limited goods and options, is another.

2. "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza #2" (as a reason why the ships didn't need to be let in). The ships needed to be let in because they were a symbolic act of protest against a policy that is deemed an unfair, unlawful and immoral violation of the human rights of the people of Gaza. People have a right to protest both the policy and its results.

3. "The ships were not intended to provide aid, but to cause a provocation." This is an absurd argument and I am not the first to point this out. There is no disagreement. The ships were intended to both provide aide and provoke Israel into exposing the bankruptcy of its Gaza policy (which - like the flotilla situation itself -- is lose-lose for Israel, as it fails to provide internal security and is damaging internationally). The Exodus too, sought to both get the refugees into Palestine, and focus world attention on Britain's post-war Jewish immigration limitations.

4. "The ships were equivalent to Karine A," the shipload of Iranian weapons bound for the Palestinian Authority, which Israel intercepted in 2002. Or, "allowing sea access to Gaza is an umbilical cord to Iran." So far no weapons cache has been reported, except for the light weaponry on the Mavi Marmara used in the confrontation. The WMD fiasco might be a better analogy. The Iran excuse against opening up access to Gaza is false, since eventually Gaza will be opened as part of a political conflict-resolution process, and Iran will still exist.

5. "Israel disengaged from Gaza and all we got were 12,000 lousy Qassam rockets." This is a very prominent, very dangerous myth that is nearly meaningless because it blots out huge chunks of reality. Israeli settlements were dismantled in 2005; the word 'disengaged' is inappropriate since Israel has been constantly engaged since then. Reciprocal attacks through to June 2006 escalated during two weeks in mid-June when 18 Palestinians were killed; two weeks later two soldiers were killed and Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted; Israel re-invaded Gaza with air and ground forces, bombing infrastructure and cutting electricity in an offensive that lasted through November 2006; there was another air and ground incursion in March 2008 in which over 100 Palestinians died. Following the 2007 Hamas takeover, Israel imposed a blockade on movement of people and goods, which has lasted for three of the five years since the settlements were dismantled. Israel controls land and sea crossings except for Rafah (controlled by Egypt). In June 2008 Israel and Hamas agreed on a six-month ceasefire in return for easing the blockade. Hamas claims Israel did not comply, and refused to renew the ceasefire but did renew Qassam attacks. Rocket fire fire has been ongoing except during the ceasefire and reduced following the January 2009 Cast Lead Operation.

6. "Israel is no longer responsible for Gaza -- the Palestinians are." The flotilla disaster highlights the fact Israel controls Gaza. See above. Israeli officials now constantly repeat that Israel's "sovereignty" was threatened or violated by the flotilla -- so even Israel admits that what pertains to Gaza pertains to its sovereignty.

7. "Hamas is a group of evil terrorists, sworn to Israel's destruction, cynically abusing their people, stifling human rights and oppressing women." Partly -- maybe even mostly true. But mainly, this is an internal Palestinian issue, neither Israel's moral nor political responsibility. And by now, it is irrelevant as a justification for Israel's Gaza policy and irrelevant for Israel's best interests: getting out.

8. The last is not an Israeli myth but relates to the flotilla: "The people on the ships were peace-seekers." Peace means bringing two sides together. If that's what they were, the activists could have taken aid or letters to abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit too. Further, peacemakers would not have tarnished their mission with what could turn out to be hired thugs. Political provocation is legitimate. But they would have been far more effective if they hadn't added more hypocrisy and cynicism to a region that has enough already.

The events can't be undone but the myths can. Then we can try to salvage some political opportunities from the wreckage. Here are two simple recommendations. Israel should heed the unbearable international pressure and end the Gaza blockade. It has failed everyone -- Palestinians and Israelis alike. Israel must stop dealing with Gaza in isolation of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and get working on the latter. To true peacemakers: keep your hands clean and your intentions pure or you risk alienating dissenters who do not agree with what the government is doing in our name.