05.31.2010 06:42 AM

From one friend to another

It’s only been hours.  But as someone who has been a devoted supporter Israel for many years, it seems to me that the attack on that boat carrying supplies was an act of profound stupidity.

If, as has been reported, the people on the ship were unarmed, I cannot see how the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can survive.  If they were unarmed – if – Netanyahu has recklessly plunged Israel into a downward spiral of instability and further isolation.

Coverage here and here and here, from sources that can’t be seen as highly critical of Israel.

Your views are welcome, but keep it calm.  I won’t hesitate to delete anyone who gets out of hand, on either side of the divide.


  1. Brammer says:

    Kudos to Al Jazeera, who have been tracking the flotilla on their website since it left port and continue to live-blog it today.

    Interesting that it took place today – most of the US is shut down for a holiday.

    Harper’s polarization of the issue (blatant unquestioning support for Israel) will not produce measured response from Canadians. Then again, division is one of his greater skills.

  2. Joseph says:

    Bibi’s government can still survive, but it will have to depend on the far right parties, and that is not going to work. Sounds to me like someone in the coalition is out to undermine Bibi. They did it with the Biden visit to Israel, and now this on the eve of his visit to Washington.

  3. Noah says:

    It seems as though the violence occurred after the Israeli Forces encountered protesters armed with knives, and other weapons. Many news reports seem to also indicate that some protesters exchanged live fire with the soldiers, although nobody seems to know for sure who shot first.

    The reality is that these ships were trying to break through a well established blockade and were given every opportunity to change their course and avoid confrontation. In fact, many of the ships reportedly agreed to this after encountering Israeli Forces. This one ship, where the soldiers encountered violent resistance, was where all the problems seemed to occur.

    While I by no means encourage violence, and deplore the loss of life, one has to think that if the protesters had not turned violent, then the loss of life would have been minimized, even eliminated. Critics of Israel will say that the Israeli Forces on the ship shouldn’t have used their weapons to respond, but if they were under attack from the very moment they set foot on the ship, what could they have been expected to do? Do people really expect them to have simply allowed themselves to be brutally beaten or even killed themselves? This seems to me to be the perfect example of the double standard Israel faces every day.

    • Scott Tribe says:

      That’s of course if you accept the IDF and Netyanhu government’s version of events. Regardless, Israel Attacking a convoy in international waters isn’t exactly kocur either.

    • Liz J says:

      Noah: “if they were under attack from the very moment they set foot on the ship, what could they have been expected to do?”

      Um, how about retreat? Back off and try negotiation.

      I find it profoundly sad that sometimes when people have suffered abuse they become hardened and abusive toward others. This applies to individuals and to states. I pray for both sides to allow their suffering to bring them to an empathy toward each other and find a way to make peace with each other. It won’t be easy, but do it for the sake of the children.

  4. parnel says:

    With all due respect to this incidence, the Israelis know the Iranians are continuing their attempts to supply Hamas with arms and cannot tolerate that. That is A major problem to be resolved first and foremost.

  5. Steve T says:

    Provocative action, in the hopes of generating a response, is nothing new in that part of the world. It’s the same reason that the Taliban hides amongst, and launches attacks alongside, civlians.

    We will invariably see a tamed-down version of this same tactic at the G8/G20 summit in Toronto. Protesters damage private property and attack police, in the hopes of getting an out-of-context picture or video that generates sympathy for their misdirected “cause”.

  6. Connoisseur says:

    Shameful on the part of Israel, but not surprising. At least Turkey has the nads to say something because we all know Canada will be kissing butt as usual :-((

  7. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    The Middle East is a tragic, never-ending conflict. What makes the circle of blood complete? Both sides are totally right, the other is always the aggressor or the bad guy — not to mention the alleged terrorist…

    You don’t make peace with your friends, rivals or opponents. You make it with your blood enemies. Perhaps one day, but somehow I doubt it.

  8. helen heller says:

    It really doesn’t matter which version of this incident is the right one. (I suspect neither of them are telling the truth.) The optics are horrible and could have been avoided with even a 5-minute think about how to handle the situation. It’s not enough to say ‘the Palestinians came at us with knives’ etc. Why would they not do that? They were being threatened. On the other hand I’m not buying the general air of wide-eyed innocence worn by the organizers of the flotilla. Which I suspect set sail with just this end in mind. It’s time the Israeli government stopped showing the world its iron fist every single time a Palestinian pops his head over the parapet. I’d say ‘use your head!’ But I don’t think Bibi has much of a head. He’s a kind of poorer, shorter Dubya. He needs to be gone. And if Israel didn’t have to suffer through the back-room deals and back-alley shortcuts of proportional representation, he would be. Because if that were the case, Shas and the other right-wing religious parties wouldn’t have any power at all to hamstring the country.

  9. GHitchings says:

    I support an Israel that establishes itself within the 1967 borders, vacates all the land they’re occupying in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and lifts the ‘medieval seige’ of Gaza, but since Israel today seems to have no intention of doing those things, I cannot support it.

  10. Neil says:

    “I cannot see how the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can survive.”

    Survive? Looking at his coalition partners, I think this outrage will actually stengthen his position.

  11. HonestB says:

    I’m willing to acknowledge that the video released by Israel makes it clear that at least some protesters used violence (though the video makes me think non-lethal violence) to defend their ship. It’s not clear to me why trained soldiers would need to kill 19 people to defend themselves against civilians armed with metal poles and (maybe) knives. Or why they boarded a civilian ship in international waters in the first place. There’s a huge gulf between what the Al Jazeera correspondent who was aboard the ship claims happened and what the IDF claims happened. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe and international news organization that has a record of telling the truth than any government, letalone Israel’s.

  12. Brian says:

    Things have taken a turn for the surreal when people can argue with a straight face that the crew of a ship that’s being boarded from the air, at night, by armed men in international waters *shouldn’t* respond with violence.

    I have tried to be more open-minded, and more broad-minded about Israel’s precarious defence position over the years. But stupid is still stupid. And this was stupid, especially since saner alternatives – like interdiction by sea in daylight – were almost certainly available. But I guess they wouldn’t have been as dramatic, right?

  13. JStanton says:

    Let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of conflating the actions of the current Israeli regime with “Israel”, “Israelis” or “Jews”. Neither of these latter groups or categories are necessarily supportive of the tactics used by the state’s security apparatus, or of the current regime’s policies.

    Much like in Canada, most folks would rather increase regulation of oil exploration and oilfield development, decrease weapons systems expenditures and combat deployment, and reduce the influence of fundamentalist religious beliefs on government policy. Just as our wishes are ignored by Mr. Harper, so to are Israeli’s wishes ignored by Mr. Netanyahu.

  14. Mulletaur says:

    The Israeli Defence Forces made the mistake of not using overwhelming force right from the beginning and ended up botching the raid.

  15. GHitchings says:

    What exactly do you mean by “overwhelming force”?

  16. abe says:

    Reports are that the ships were in international waters when boarded. What implications does this carry, if any?

  17. Brian says:

    The NATO Charter – of which Turkey and Canada have both long been signatories – reads as follows:


    The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

    Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security .

    ARTICLE 6 (1)

    For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

    * on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France (2), on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

    * on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

  18. allegra fortissima says:

    “The pro-Palestinian organizers had described the fleet which they had hoped to break through the Israeli sea blockade of the Gaza Strip on Monday morning as a ‘humanitarian aid convey’. But as the Israeli army stormed the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, the activists they encountered were in no way exclusively docile peaceniks. Some of the ‘peace activists’ received the Israelis with crow bars and sling shots. Some of the self-professed ‘human rights activists’ reportedly even tore the weapons from soldiers and began to shoot.

    That’s not what a peaceful protest looks like.

    …And a number of questions remain unanswered:

    – Why did Israeli soldiers shoot at the passengers from helicopters flying overhead?
    – Why did the Israeli navy board the ship when they could have simply blocked the ships’ paths?
    – And why did Israel strike in international waters, long before the fleet had arrived in Israeli waters?”

    (Spiegel Online International, Israel Falls into the Trap 05/31/2010)

  19. Domenico says:

    Brian I believe you are insinuating that somehow NATO is somehow compelled to respond militarily to this? I am not sure how that would help.

    Two things strike me from this incident:

    1.) These are not peaceable protestors on the ships but violent political agitators.
    2.) The IDF responded clumsily and with disproportionate force.

    An incident like this only strengthens the ideologues on both sides. We all now how Harper will come down on this incident, I am much more interested in how Ignatieff responds.

    • Neil says:

      Also awaiting Ignatieff’s response but not expecting too much, with “human rights activist” Irwin Cotler in his caucus.

    • Bill Templeman says:

      Warren: When Michael or another senior Liberal make a statement on this tragic situation could it be posted or at least linked here on your blog? And when might that be, I wonder?

  20. J. Coates says:

    Based on all the media coverage I can find… it seems that 5 of 6 ships voluntarily agreed to be searched and nothing was found.

    The sixth ship was armed to the teeth with assorted weapons.

    This smells of a calculated, manufactured incident.

    I don’t understand why Gaza needed this additional aid. The UN aid they already receive is more than enough to sustain Gaza. That is if it hasn’t been diverted elsewhere.

    • P Morgan says:

      J. Coates,

      You’ll need to provide links or something substantial if you want your comment to seem credible.

  21. Stormcrow says:

    Canada is a friend of Israel, but it seems to me that one of the most important parts of being a friend is knowing when to tell a friend when they have a problem, be it alcohol, gambling or damned idiotic/messy domestic and military decisions.

  22. Nick says:

    The biggest issue is that the boarding took place in International waters. Why couldn’t the IDF wait until the boat got closer to shore. Were other boats going to clog the shore if these boats proceeded. Seems really clumsy and careless to me. There is definitely blame to go around on both sides and this was a calculated move by the “protestors”. Nevertheless the IDF bungled the situation and gave their enemies a huge PR victory. You can;t legally board boats in international waters.

  23. Gerry says:

    Warren, a few months ago I decided to really study this whole middle east problem because I never understood it (and I follow the news all the time). I read Martin Gilbert, Benny Morris, and many others I can’t even remember right now and I for the life of me cannot understand how anyone who researches the history can support Zionism as it has manifested itself since about, perhaps, 1915. And I don’t understand how a similarly informed person can be anything but sympathetic toward the Palestinians in light of what has taken place these last 100 years. Even Ben-Gurion was quoted in the 50’s as saying that if he were a Palestinian he would not make terms with Israel because, “…..we took their land”.

    Is their any reading you can suggest that you believe explains why support for Zionism as it has manifested itself is just?


  24. I won’t comment on your initial judgement here Warren until you avail yourself of more facts. Suffice to say that the peaceful humanitarians shouldn’t have brought knives to a paintball gunfight.

  25. AmandaM says:

    With an Israeli partner, who served for 4 years in the Israeli Army as an Officer, my day has been full of debate about this issue. I’ve been searching for what I would consider to be a neutral source, and chose Reuters in the end, although with a smattering of Haaretz; a paper which is usually critical of the right-wing policies in Israel. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to seek out many views on this and other issues.

    I think that a blog posting on Foreign Policy’s blogs said mostly what I feel, and I think it’s worth a read, particularly from an International Relations/communications perspective: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/05/31/why_the_gaza_boat_deaths_are_a_huge_deal

    I also read an article on Haaretz from Saturday that was clearly tracking the movements of the flotilla, and I believe that the facts are a) the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) had long-planned this attempt to break the blockade, b) the Israeli government knew what was happening well before Sunday, c) the flotilla had gone through 4 nations’ customs and as such were not carrying arms (they wouldn’t have been allowed through those nations’ customs if they were), d) the FGM ships were loaded with North Americans, Europeans (including a peace prize winner and legislators) and Turks who were likely interested in press attention more than anything else. Given these facts, this situation that was unfolding was ripe for proactive action rather than reaction, which is what a military (and my Israeli partner would agree) is trained to do – almost exclusively. It’s why military isn’t good at nation-building, but that’s a separate issue.

    As happens time and time again in politics and international relations & diplomacy, people are so much more willing to hear the propaganda and 10-second talking points rather than the real explanations of what happened. If the FGM was about showing that Israel is the bad guy, they got exactly what they were after (although I cannot imagine they wanted casualties); no amount of explanation from Israel is going to convince people who have seen headlines and perhaps some video on the late news. And considering that our world is made up of people who scan headlines and watch the late news, this is precisely why Israel is at risk of losing important friends – quickly – on the international stage. The point is that in order to avoid a situation where a long explanation is even needed, with real consequences, a very different decision needed to have been made.

    The proper proactive action would’ve been, a week ago, to get Prime Minister Netanyahu or Minister Ayalon (even Minister Lieberman, although I can’t imagine he would’ve been helpful) on the phone with the top organizers at FGM and say something along the lines of, “Look, you have to understand our security issues – there is no debate about the rockets and mini-wars – but, we are interested in getting aid to Gazans, and as such, we would like our customs agents to board (no guns, no military) at sea and just make sure of the cargo, after which point we will escort you through the blockade and into Gaza, and hey, we’ll even help you to distribute the aid. Let’s also get a big group of international press together so that everyone gets something they want – you get to get through the blockade and deliver your aid with lots of press, and we get to maintain security. You can say that we are over-reacting by escorting and confirming cargo, that’s fine, but let’s get everybody out of this situation with something they want”.

    I agree with Stormcrow. I think that friends are honest with each other. And in this case, Israel was wrong. Israel also needs to hold herself to a higher standard as a member of the Western club of nations. She needs to accept international judgment (like every Western nation has had to do from time to time) without it being labeled as anti-semitic, because the moment that word is introduced, all discourse stops. The last thing Israel needs is for discourse to stop, and Canada needs to be honest with our friend.

    • Abe says:

      Smart post. Will be interesting to see more full video footage as it comes out; aljazeera’s footage via a ship journalist is interesting.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    I have always supported Israel, until recent years. This – just doesn’t make any sense. They are in danger of becoming that which they have feared for so long.

  27. Isee says:

    Gerry: “Is their any reading you can suggest..” Yes, read the Palestinian and Hamas Charters. Explains everything.

    • Gerry says:

      Isee: Just checked. Palestinian Charter is circa 1963. Hamas Charter is 1988. Zionist project was very advanced by then. Is there anything that can justify Zionism from the Palestinian Arab (the people who lost out) perspective, between the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the state of Israel?

  28. nastyboy says:

    The ship tried to run a blockade. Isreal was well within it’s rights to board the vessel.

    Article 67a of the San Remo Manual on maritime laws

    67. Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:

    (a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture;
    (b) engage in belligerent acts on behalf of the enemy;
    (c) act as auxiliaries to the enemy s armed forces;
    (d) are incorporated into or assist the enemy s intelligence system;
    (e) sail under convoy of enemy warships or military aircraft; or
    (f) otherwise make an effective contribution to the enemy s military action, e.g., by carrying military materials, and it is not feasible for the attacking forces to first place passengers and crew in a place of safety. Unless circumstances do not permit, they are to be given a warning, so that they can re-route, off-load, or take other precautions.

    The “activists” wanted a confrontation. They got one. With tragic results. They are as much to blame as the IDF.

    • Brian says:

      Er, yeah, and I could waste an hour explaining why the Israelis didn’t follow the rules for enforcement of those rules. But why bother when the readers won’t actually care what the facts are?

      It’s clear that we live in a world where there are two kinds of people: those who will defend anything Israel does no matter how stupid, and those who will attack anything Israel does, no matter how necessary.

      Those of us in the middle shouldn’t bother having an internet connection.

  29. Michael Teper says:

    The IDF radioed the captain of the Mavi Marmara that the ship was forbidden to approach Gaza, and that if it wanted to send humanitarian assistance to Gaza, it could proceed to Ashdod where the cargo could be off-loaded, inspected, and delivered to Gaza. The captain refused, and persisted in attempting to run the blockade. The IDF therefore had reasonable grounds to presume that the ship was carrying contraband, and acting as an auxiliary to the terrorist de facto government of the Islamic Resistance Organization (i.e., “Hamas”). The fact that the crew and passengers violently resisted boarding confirmed those reasonable grounds. Those on board the ship had ceased to be neutral “peace activists” and inserted themselves into the conflict as belligerents. Israel therefore would be justified in summarily blowing the ship out of the water without further warning. The IDF exercised restraint in not doing so.

    • Brian says:

      The status of the activists is irrelevant to the whole discussion. This isn’t some roadside checkpoint outside of Nablus; these are ships under a foreign flag in international waters. By law, the ships in question WERE Turkey until proven otherwise.

      • Michael Teper says:

        See Article 67 of the San Remo Manual, helpfully cited above.

        “67. Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:

        (a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture…”

        Yes, by law the ships were Turkish, and by law, the ships entered the conflict as belligerents, thereby forefeiting their right to protection as neutral civilian vessels, and rendering them liable to legitimate attack.

  30. Darren says:

    I’ve been having trouble finding good information about some details of the incident, particuarly whether or not there is a verifyable manifest of what the ships were carrying. Not just the virtually meaningless “humanitarian aid” label but what materials and equipment were on those ships, particularly the one in question.

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