Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon spent yesterday endeavoring to convince the world that the massacre by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commandos of humanitarian aid activists on board the Turkish Mavi Marmara—part of the Freedom Flotilla en route to Gaza—was in fact justifiable due to ties between ship passengers and global jihad, Al Qaeda, and Hamas. It was not clear why the latter two phenomena were not sufficiently covered by the first; Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev meanwhile confirmed terrorist links on the part of the Turkish NGO IHH, one of the pillars of the movement to break the siege, and added that the international activists were not actually interested in delivering aid to Gaza but rather in accruing “headlines for their cause” via a confrontation with the Israeli military.
A Turkish friend of mine suggested to me that the terrorism charges may stem from the fact that IHH project coordinator Bahattin Yıldız, who perished last month in a plane crash while scouting out land to build an IHH orphanage in Afghanistan, had previously visited that nation for other purposes such as fighting the Soviet occupation. If alleged terrorist links are indeed the result of such a thought process, the Israelis might discover additional links by applying the same logic to past U.S. support for Afghan mujahideen and considering their own critical role in the formation and rise to power of Hamas.
The exploitation by Israel of the term “terrorist”—often employed to describe such things as entire Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon—is so painfully clichéd that it has even become painfully clichéd to talk about how clichéd it is. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently varied things up a bit by accusing Israel of “inhumane state terrorism” in the Mavi Marmara attack, while variations by the Israeli regime include the use of the word “lynch” by IDF spokeswoman Avital Liebovitch to describe the alleged violence perpetrated against Israeli commandos by ship passengers. Liebovitch refrained from speculating as to whether the IDF was also the victim during the 1967 attack on the USS Liberty by the Israeli Air Force.
The current lynch allegation of course leaves out critical elements of the sequence of events leading up to it, such as that the IDF had descended of their own accord from a military helicopter onto the Mavi Marmara while it was in international waters and had promptly begun firing at people who were transporting food and other useful items to a population that has in recent history not been permitted to import pasta or pencils. The Israeli talent for presenting drastically abridged timelines has been honed over the decades, enabling the IDF to claim in 1996 that it had not realized it was fatally shelling over 100 civilians who had taken refuge at the United Nations compound in Qana, Lebanon, despite the fact that the shelling had occurred with the help of a video-equipped drone.
Robert Fisk has drawn attention to other discarded sections of the Qana timeline such as that the refugees had “heeded Israel’s order to leave their homes”—a tactic that also resulted in massacres of civilian convoys during the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. Reporting from the scene of the 1996 massacre, Fisk quotes the enraged retort by a UN soldier to the IDF’s post-massacre announcement that it would stop shelling the area: “Are we supposed to thank them?” It appears that the Israelis were also expecting a greater degree of gratitude for their invitation to the Mavi Marmara to have its humanitarian load transferred overland to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod, the genuineness of which offer was of course cast into doubt by the aforementioned IDF tradition of giving orders to civilians and then attacking them either way.
Another conceptual scheme invoked by Israel to excuse civilian casualties is that of human shields, according to which it is acceptable to murder humans as long as they are located in the vicinity of a terrorist. This model may thus prove useful in the event that some of the Mavi Marmara victims are revealed not to have been in direct cahoots with global jihad and to have merely been caught in the crossfire; footage of the weapons cache discovered on board the ship may meanwhile herald the addition of marbles to items prohibited in carryon luggage and inside the Gaza Strip.
Previous international human shields have included the American Rachel Corrie, whose demolition in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer was a result of the fact that she was standing between it and a Palestinian home. Superior discretion was exercised vis-à-vis Irish human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly, who was merely shot in the thigh in Jenin in 2002 while attempting to dissuade IDF soldiers from firing at Palestinian children and who is currently on board the Freedom Flotilla. Israel’s capacity for irony is set to be tested once again in the coming days with the decision by the Irish flotilla ship named for Corrie to continue on toward Gaza as planned.
As for the fate already met by the Mavi Marmara, it may provide inspiration for the scriptwriters of the popular Turkish television series “Kurtlar Vadisi”, which prompted a diplomatic skirmish with Israel in January by portraying Israeli intelligence agents in a negative light. Following the portrayal, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon subjected the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Oğuz Çelikkol, to humiliating treatment such as being seated in a chair at the Foreign Ministry that was lower to the ground than those sat upon by his Israeli interlocutors. Israel was subsequently forced to apologize for its behavior.
Depending on how the current diplomatic crisis plays out, we may either see more Israeli apologies or new seating arrangements for Çelikkol at the Foreign Ministry, such as a hole in the ground. Ministerial creativity will presumably undergo further tests in the aftermath of Erdoğan’s suggestion today that the Israelis are worse than pirates when it comes to ethical standards, which has yet to be countered with an official Israeli statement on pirate victimhood.