This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka
By Ameen Izzadeen
Israel’s latest crime — the massacre on board the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that was bringing aid to the besieged people of the Gaza Strip — is likely to go unpunished. By next week, few, if any, will be talking about the deaths of the aid workers on Monday in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea — with the World Cup soccer making headlines on front pages.
Even if Israel is to commit another heinous crime hard on the heels of this week’s attack, the maximum the international community would do is issue a strongly-worded condemnation or summon the Israeli ambassador to hand over a note of protest. Sanctions or punishments are for countries like Iran.
Encouraged by the muted condemnation from the US and its European allies, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu had what most analysts see as the audacity to describe the aid convoy as a “flotilla of terror supporters”. He justified the raid saying the Iranians could be sending rockets to Hamas and praised the attack saying it was an act of self-defence.
The accounts of those on board the ship — people from 20 countries, including Western nations — differed sharply from that of Israeli officials. As to who started the clash on board, only an international probe can tell. But many international law experts say the Israeli raid was illegal while peace activists say it was immoral and horrendous.
To maintain world peace, countries that resort to criminal acts in the guise of self defence, need to be punished. In civil society, punishments have a utility value aimed at preventing crime and contributing to the welfare of society. But within international community, justice is politicised. If a country is close to a powerful nation such as the United States or even China, it can commit crimes and get away with them.
For instance, the United States, since 1972, has used its veto power at the UN Security Council on more than 40 occasions to protect Israel from international censure. Moreover, the US rewards Israel with 4.5 billion dollars of financial and military aid annually. Israel has used US aircraft and weapons in its 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2008-2009 raid on Gaza.
If war crime charges are levelled at Israel, the US should face charges of complicity. It is because of the US’ unstinted support that Israel is emboldened to carry out attacks even on peace activists. In 2006, when Israel launched a massive air attack on southern Lebanon, killing thousands of civilians including children and virtually reducing every building in the area to rubble, the US just stood and watched without calling for a ceasefire or extending its support for moves to convene an emergency UN Security Council meeting.
The US also resorted to its see-no-evil attitude again when, in December 2008, Israel carried out a massive air attack on Gaza. Some 1,500 Palestinian people, including some 500 children, were killed when Israel fired missiles, shells and even white phosphorus bombs, the effects of which still take a huge toll on the health of the people of Gaza.
When Barack Obama assumed office in January 2009, peace hopes reached fever pitch. But as the days passed, Obama emerged to be no different from his much scorned predecessor George W. Bush. His first defence of Isreal came when a UN report last year said Israel had committed war crimes during the Gaza War. Obama administration officials, including peace envoy George Mitchell, ganged up to lambaste the report as one-sided. This week, the administration went out of its way to save Israel when the UN Security Council took up the attack on the aid ship. Washington’s diplomatic arm-twisting produced a watered down resolution that did not condemn Israel. It just called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”
Many Security Council members thought the resolution meant an international probe, but the US was quick to point out that the investigation would be carried out by Israel. Yesterday, at the UN Human Rights Council, too, the US voted against a resolution condemning Israel.
Shame on Obama, for he is promoting war crimes and protecting Israel’s cold-blooded murders. With such open backing for Israeli crimes, how can the US play the role of honest broker in the West Asia peace process? The fact of the matter is that the United States is committed to protect Israel even if Israel uses nuclear weapons and wipes out every Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Even if the US itself is attacked by Israel, the man in the White House will whitewash Israel’s crime, as happened exactly 43 years ago — on June 8, 1967 — when the US warship, USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli war planes off the coast of Egypt, killing 34 US sailors and wounding 170. The wounded sailors on Liberty continue to petition the US courts, but successive US governments have succeeded in quashing their moves and covering up the incident.
In the latest crisis, the US should have remained neutral because it involves another US ally, Turkey. The aid ship belongs to Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
What if it was the Iranian navy that had boarded a ship belonging to a NATO country and killed some people? The US would have treated the attack as an attack on the entire NATO and urged all NATO members to join a war against Iran.
Turkey was the only Muslim ally Israel had. The two countries maintained close trade and defence links. However, relations between them in recent years have soured over a series of incidents. One was the walkout of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a heated argument over Israel’s war on Gaza. In another dispute over a Turkish TV show, Israel humiliated Turkey by summoning the Turkish ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and making him to sit on a low chair while the Israeli deputy foreign minister sat on a high chair. An Israeli newspaper captioned the photograph as “The height of humiliation”. On another occasion, Turkey cancelled a scheduled military exercise with Israel and instead opted for Syria.
The Mavi Marmara massacre has further strained the Turkish-Israeli relations. On Wednesday, Turkey made the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip a condition for normalizing relations. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Erdogan said: “Israel’s behaviour should definitely be punished. The time has come for the international community to say ‘enough’.” Obviously, his reference was to the US, the protector of Israel.
Of late, Turkey, though being a US ally and NATO member, has been championing the Palestinian cause, filling a leadership void created by the Arab countries’ lack of courage to challenge Israel and the US.
Turkey — the successor state to the Ottoman Empire that ruled Palestine before the British grabbed the territory through a League of Nation mandate after World War I — gave full support to the aid flotilla organized by the Turkish aid group IHH. The aid flotilla was taking wheelchairs, cement, water purification systems, children’s toys and exercise books to Gaza — items not allowed by Israel. Thousands of Palestinians whose houses were demolished in the Gaza war live in tents unable to rebuild their houses because there is no cement. The Gaza Strip is the world’s largest open prison. A UN report last year said insufficient food and medicine were contributing towards the further deterioration of the mental and physical health of 1.5 million people.
Adding to the Palestinians’ misery was Egypt which closed the Rafah point on its border with the Gaza Strip at the obvious bidding of Washington. Egypt this week opened Rafah but it is only a matter of time before it closes the border again.
While Israel — also Egypt — contributes to the slow death of the Palestinian people, the Mavi Marmara massacre stands as testament to Israel’s aversion to peace or activities of peace loving people. Meanwhile, an Irish ship — MV Rachel Corrie, a ship named after a US peace activist crushed to death by an Israeli tank — is sailing towards Gaza with aid.