My deep condolences go to the family, friends, and comrades of those who were killed or injured by this latest unjustifiable atrocity.
There was a demonstration here in Boston yesterday, one of many around the world against Israel's act of piracy. I learned about it too late to go, and haven't yet heard anything about how it went. But when I was thinking about if I could go, a chant came to me, bearing the message I would have wanted to say there. I doubt it would have been welcome. I was thinking:
<i>No more pirates; no more knives -
No more games with human lives!</i>
It's been awhile since I've participated in the kind of non-violent direct action (not the same as protest) that the Free Gaza flotillas have brilliantly exemplified. But I have done so, and I know that its success depends on the firm commitment of participants to maintain a non-violent approach, even when resisting unjust violence by armed authorities.
As much as I am repulsed by Israel's unnecessary and self-destructive brutality, and knowing that they are fully responsible for the assault and the murders they committed, I must say that I am also disgusted with what I see as the betrayal committed by those participants in the Free Gaza flotilla who took up arms against the invading Israeli commandos. Not because I think self-defense is illegitimate; I don't. But let those who want that kind confrontation organize their own effort, train themselves in hand-to-hand combat if they wish, and then go out to provoke an attack so they can be glorious martyrs all by themselves. I will grieve for them and for their choice.
Instead, for their hour of exhilaration, they brought down the fury of Israel's enraged and frightened special combat forces also on their nonviolent partners to whose path they had made, or feigned, a commitment. Do you think the commandos retaliated so precisely that the casualties of their attack were all and only the ones who beat them? Neither do I.
Videos show some of the passengers gathered to receive the rappelling commandos with iron blows, and hurling bodies over the side (reminiscent of Hamas's treatment of Fateh supporters during the civil conflict in Gaza after the Palestinian election). These videos will be broadcast as widely and frequently as the Israeli government and its defenders can manage. Naturally, Free Gaza spokespeople are downplaying this as an almost instinctive and understandable, if regrettable, lapse into self-defense. But what will be the effect on FG's image and prospects in the coming year? On their ability to recruit the necessary support from various governments, prestigious international leaders, and other participants commited to nonviolence? On the prospects for their, or anyone's future challenges to the blockade?
Israel's response to the violent defense they encountered on the Turkish boat was so ugly (and Free Gaza so European and non-Palestinian) that they are taking quite a hit in the international arena. Is this a propaganda victory for those who risked both their own and their nonviolent comrade's lives to provoke that response? What if they had exercised the passive resistance for which Free Gaza (they say) had trained them? No carnage, no international criticism? I don't think so. I think we've all experienced enough images of the massively armed Israeli David defending itself against the feeble brutality of the antizionist Goliath to know that whatever criticism of Israeli aggression it engenders is undercut by the perception of two comparably nasty antagonists endlessly slugging it out.
Much of Palestinian gains have come through nonviolent means. Minimal as those gains are, they still make a significant difference in both the lives of Palestinians under occupation and in the political prospects of the Palestinian people as a whole. In the West Bank, for example, there is now a rapid rate of economic growth and job creation in the West Bank, where the leadership has also, with the support of the Obama administration, more or less forced a reluctant right-wing Israeli government to enter into final status negotiations and give lip service at the outset to a two-state solution. This coincides with the most extensive network of internationally supported (including support from much of the Israeli left, as in Sheikh Jarrah) nonviolent Palestinian resistance to occupation there has ever been, laying the groundwork for the international campaign of "anti-apartheid" boycott, divestment and sanctions that would likely emerge as the next phase of struggle if a two-state solution is taken off the table by another failure of negotiations. How much of this could have been accomplished by, or even during, the Al-Aqsa intifada? None. Compare this to the bleak situation in Gaza, for which Hamas proudly claims violent "victory," where the economy and public health are tatters and the ability of ordinary Palestinians to engage in independent political resistance is extremely limited.
Participants in the Free Gaza movement cannot afford to "make Israel look bad" at the cost of crawling down into the mud with them. The power and beauty of passive resistance is that the passengers could just as well have exposed Israeli aggressiveness without losing the moral high ground and, more importantly, without loss of life - all while growing the pool of credible and influential future participants. I hope Free Gaza's internal response to this tragedy will be as incisive and clear-minded as what I've seen so far of their public response.
But supporters of Palestinian rights must examine our own motivating impulse at a deeper level than a strategic cost-benefit analysis. Are we confronting zionism as an irredeemable evil that we must reveal (or goad the zionists themselves into revealing) to a world that stubbornly refuses to adequately recognize it? Or do we want to model - and thereby invite from those who, in fear, stand against us - the kind of compassion, humility, and repentance that are ultimately essential for reconciliation to occur? Because that is the underlying spiritual vision of nonviolent action.
Love and blessings,