Would a flotilla by any other name…
Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/06/2010
Like many of you in cyberspace, I’ve been reading extensively about the “Gaz Freedom Flotilla affair/raid/attack/massacre”.
At first, I received an avalanche of such emails. Frankly, I was irritated by the tone of these emails. They all focused on “Israel’s barbaric acts” and “its monstrosity”. This kind of commentary is shallow (how important is labelling), easy (it’s done by people who are hostile to Israel and/or its policies to start with) and useless (it’s intended for audiences that are hostile to Israel and/or its policies), and usually boders on Tourette Syndrom. Not only it preaches to the converted, but its language confirms the pro-Israel public in its own prejudice and paranoia. It mostly forgets that the whole issue is about GAZA, and not Israel. Take a look at Carlos Latuff’s cartoon and try do imagine how a supporter of Israel would understand it.
Then I started reading blog entries about the whole affair. Trying to look beyond the praise, the condemnation, the victimisation and the accusations, I started processing some information:
- What are the facts? If you think identifying the relevant data or “hard facts” is an easy matter, well think again. Check out the articles written, pick out anyone of them, randomly. Ignore all the commentary (accusations, justification, condemnation) and set aside the hard facts. You’re not left with much. Here’s a little quiz: how many boats did the flotilla consist of? How many injured were there (on both sides)? What do you know about the deceased?
- What do we actually know about what actually happened? Nothing much. It’s more about “they did it again” or “they were looking for trouble and they got it”.
- What are we being told about it? One could excuse the cyberworld for sticking to the emotions and emotional responses. But what excuse does the Media have for doing such a lousy job. I just watched the news report on the BBC, two days after the events, and all I got was two conflicting versions, one made by Israeli officials, and another made by activists from the Flotilla. Both versions were either unspecific or blatantly inaccurate, with more smear than info.
- What are the contentious issues? There’s a bunch of them: the Israeli blockade on Gaza (is it legal, ethical, effective, productive?); the Gaza freedom flotilla’s attempt to break the blockade (is it effective? is it lawful? is it suicidal?); the Israeli army’s enforcement of the blockade and its capture of the boats (is it brutal? proportionate? hysterical? lethal? normal?)…
- What are the frameworks within which the data is being processed and propagated?
Next came the “pro-Israel” blogs and outlets. I wasn’t surprised by their reactions either. I’ve heard their arguments before, and actually expected to hear them. One could sum them up in three sentences : “we are the victims”, “they are the agressors”, “they made us do it”. The cartoon pictures here illustrates this perception perfectly. The argument presents itself in the following manner: it starts with an abstract apologetical formula that is not linked to an act but to an outcome (which is odd for an apology). Then there’s a quick recasting of the events in which are presented an elastic yet always humane “we” (that alternatively or hypothetically refers to the IDF, the government, Israelis or Jews) and an accusative barbaric “them” (in which those directly concerned are presented as a small sample of a much larger and threatening group). Any act attributed to “we” becomes a mechanical reaction to an act attributed to “them”. This transforms this “act” (and any act is by definition voluntary) into something of a “coerced” or “involuntary” reaction (think knee jerk reflex) which absolves the person who committed it from any responsibility.
Finally, I started constructing my own story (compatible with my worldview, you’d argue), trying to verify some info, and comparing it with other affairs to try to make sens of it all. If one wants to strip the whole affair to its bare elements, the story is quite simple, and let’s not start arguing about chronology.
- Who: The flotilla brought together an international group of militants who want to break the blockade on Gaza as a first step towards getting it lifted.
- What: The blockade is imposed by Israel (with the complicity of many other international actors, including Egypt), and its alleged objective is “defensive” (to prevent the rearmament of Hamas). The result is punitive: collective punishment that transforms Gaza into a large prison and creates an informal economy completely dominated by Hamas and that is dependent on tunnels through which many things are smuggled including material that is used for weapon construction.
- How: The strategy is to force Israel into changing its policy towards Gaza, more specifically, to get it to lift the blockade. The key word here is obviously “force”. And it’s a tricky word and a complicated objective. Basically, you have a group of people who want to change a military strategy through non-military means… The Media is a central component of this strategy because it’s about “image”, symbolic steps and building pressure within and outside Israel to get its security complex to modify its strategy.
- Where’s the problem? Israel can no longer count on domestic pressure because its Jewish population is today totally unconcerned by Palestinians and insensible to their plight. Its only concern is to remain unconcerned, untroubled by them. As for international pressure, it is not strong enough to influence the Israeli government. So the Flotilla’s strategy didn’t have a chance to succeed. All it could do was encourage more flottilas to head toward Gaza and hope that this would lead to a snowball effect… and in the meantime keep the blockade on the global agenda (the international community has a very short memory span). It also could hope to get as much humanitarian aid through as it can. But that’s about it.
- What next? With its customary brutality and the death toll it leaves behind (that is obvious to all who simply look at the figures), the IDF might have changed things. The “Mavi Marmara” deaths have already started a new dynamic, just like the Cana massacres did in 1996 and in 2006 or the Sabra and Chatilla massacre in 1982. Sure, the story will be revisited over and over again, whitewashed as much as possible. But in the meantime it would have created an insufferable image for Israel that would force it to revise its strategy or at least refrain from doing the same mistake (while at the same time denying it was a mistake) in an immediate future. And in this immediate future the Rachel Corrie will be arriving, and probably other flotillas.