The Gaza Flotilla Incident
On May 31, 2010, six ships calling themselves the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla" attempted to break the Gaza Strip blockade imposed by Israel to prevent the flow of terrorist weapons into the region. Organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), the flotilla contained humanitarian aid, medical supplies, construction materials, and — according to the organizers — "peaceful activists."
Israeli authorities requested to board and inspect the ships and deliver approved items to Gaza via established checkpoints. In the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, IDF soldiers boarded the first five ships and conducted the inspections peacefully. When they boarded the sixth and largest ship in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, activists on board savagely attacked the soldiers with metal pipes, bats, knives, and a gun. In the process of defending themselves, IDF soldiers killed nine IHH members. Seven IDF soldiers were injured.
The event spurred immediate and highly critical responses from international media. Most portrayed the flotilla as a group of peaceful activists out to deliver much-needed aid to a beleaguered population that had long been denied access to essentials like food and medicine by a powerful neighboring state. And they portrayed the incident as a clear case of good vs. evil — the plucky underdog activists paying with their lives for defying the laws of an oppressive and cruel nation.
Further evidence painted a different picture. Though portrayed as "peace activists," many of those aboard the Mavi Marmara were members of the IHH, which experts say has ties to Hamas, al-Qaeda, and other radical Muslim terrorist groups. These "peace activists" were ready to fight. Chilling videos taken by the IDF and posted on the Internet show Israeli commandos descending by rope from helicopters onto the boat, only to be swarmed by a mob of club and knife-wielding thugs who beat and stabbed them and threw them over the ship’s railing. Given the danger, it should not come as any surprise that the Israelis resorted to lethal force to defend themselves.
And what about the blockade allegedly starving Gaza residents? The fact is, even after the blockade was put into place in early 2009 in an attempt to dry up terrorist weapons supplies, Israel has allowed essentials into Gaza. Last year, more than 700,000 tons of food, medical supplies, and other humanitarian aid entered the strip from Israel, with the total for 2010 standing at over 230,000 tons as of early May. The fact is that Israel has always taken into account the humanitarian needs of Palestinians living in Gaza. The myth of Gazans being starved by Israel is just that — a myth.
Obviously, the Gaza flotilla was less an attempt to help Palestinians than it was to provoke Israel. Sadly, it worked: By putting Israel in a situation where the use of force was inevitable, the organizers of the flotilla stirred a firestorm of condemnation from a world all too ready to judge Israel guilty until proven innocent.
Israeli authorities rejected demands for a U.N. investigation into the incident, claiming a lack of faith that they would conduct an impartial investigation. Israel conducted a military inquiry of its own, citing "no failure, but mistakes" in the handling of the incident, namely flawed intelligence-gathering and inadequate planning. The report also praised the IDF commandos who took part, underscoring that they were justified in opening fire as a means of self-defense.
Under international pressure, Israel also eased the Gaza blockade in the weeks following the flotilla incident, allowing more consumer goods into the region but maintaining the ban on construction supplies and any sort of weaponry.
While the incident drew harsh criticism of Israel, it also galvanized her supporters. Many world leaders came out in support of Israel’s handling of the Gaza flotilla, reiterating their love and support of Israel in the process. As Israeli blogger Ami Farkas wrote, "Unity is also crucial. Israel is waking up to that fact, and is solidifying her relationships with all the voices around the world that share her values, as well as with those who share her understanding that Israel is the frontline of the global war against terror."
Other flotillas, most notably from Iran and Libya, indicated they would attempt to break the Gaza blockade in the weeks and months following the Gaza flotilla incident. To date, all of them have deteriorated in the planning stages or have been peacefully diverted to other ports.