Home > Analysis, International Relations, The Middle East > ‘Biased and One Sided’ why Israel might not be wrong

‘Biased and One Sided’ why Israel might not be wrong

The report published today by the UN Human Rights Council condemns Israel and Israeli troops for its actions during the raid on the 31st of May. The Council says that “There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health”.

Just a quick bit of background information on the raid in case anyone has forgotten the events of the 31st of May 2010. Operation Sky Winds took place on the 31st of May and was the seizure of the six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by Shayetet 13 commandos of the Israeli Navy. The Flotilla had been organised by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief. The aim of the flotilla was to breach the blockade of the Gaza Strip, in an aim to bring humanitarian aid, construction materials and medical supplies to the inhabitants. The blockade has been in place since 2007 with the purpose of preventing Hamas from acquiring weapons and materials needed to attack and defend itself from Israeli attacks. On the 30th of May Israel requested that the six ships enter the port of Ashdod to have their cargos inspected, with all cargo not considered contraband being transported overland to the Gaza Strip. The ships refused. After being shadowed by Israeli ships and aircraft, Shayetet 13 commandos boarded the ships and were met with passive resistance on five of the six ships. However it was the actions on board the Mavi Marmara that led to this report. Nine people from on board the ship were killed dozens injured and seven Israeli commandos were also wounded. After all six ships had been commandeered they were towed to the port of Ashdod. What followed was a large agitation of the international stage, with countries taking sides and with relations between Turkey and Israel, one of the few Arab countries Israel had cordial relations with, taking a nose dive.

Before I launch into my analysis of this, I feel the need to explain my own view on the Middle East ‘Crisis’. I think it was wrong after the Second World War to create the Jewish homeland where it is now. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time. There wasn’t any particular tension between Arabs and Jews. Especially compared to the history of the Jews in the previous thirty years. However this does not make me pro Arab. The decision to create Israel was a colossal mistake in my opinion, with sixty years of hindsight. However, this is not a factor in my current beliefs on this volatile region and how peace can be achieved.  The only viable solution is a two state system. I have sympathy with both sides, to be a repressed people unable to return to your home, forced to live in bad conditions because you were there first is deplorable. On the other hand I feel that the Israelis have a right to defend their sovereign state in what is a very volatile region, having had to fight wars on and off for the whole of the country’s short history. I do not even think religion is even a major factor in this crisis, just a way to identify which group an individual belongs to. So in short I think that aggression on both sides is deplorable whether it is settlement building or rocket attacks. I do not support one side over the other.

Now to turn to the matter of the report, the report condemned Israel completely for its actions. I agree that Israel’s actions were condemnable but not for the same reasons as the UN Human Rights Council. The UNHRC cites the Israeli forces for wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health. All this happened on one boat. If the passengers on this boat had reacted in the same manner as the passengers on the five other boats, this would not even have been referred to the UNHRC. There is clear video evidence of aggression by the passengers and an Israeli commando being thrown from one deck to the next one down. These are not the actions of peaceful protesters trying to get food and aid to a population under blockade. These were the actions of people determined to fight against Israel.

As in all situations there are two sides to the story. In this case Israel is completely right to call the report biased and one sided even if there choice of language is superfluous. Over 100 witnesses were interviewed from or in Britain, Jordan, Switzerland and Turkey, but not Israel. This was a mistake and one which has cost the UNHRC my respect. It is unacceptable to conduct a report in this manner and not interview any Israelis.

The responsibility for the raid on the flotilla is split with seven tenths of the blame apportioned to Israel and the remaining two tenths apportioned to the organizers of the flotilla and one tenth to Turkey. The Turks are responsible for one tenth as they allowed this convoy to sail from Turkey and knew of its intentions to force the blockade and knew this would provoke a response from Israel. They did not act to prevent this. The organisers of the blockade were acting completely legally when the raid happened. They were in international waters attempting to breach a blockade that is morally grey at best and considered favourable by few outside of Israel. However they could have complied with Israeli demands and saved the lives of the nine activists. They chose to ignore the instructions and life was lost. Most importantly though the organisers knew this was a high profile event that was bound to illicit a response from Israel and used it to highlight their cause. They share a proportion of the blame for the loss of life for choosing a course of action that while legal was just not smart. I am not cynical enough to say they wanted this, but it was not bad PR for them. Israel should shoulder the majority of the blame. They broke international law by boarding six vessels with peaceful intentions and a very low probability of smuggling contraband into the Gaza Strip. However this crime pales into insignificance against the reason life was lost. The Israeli Military planners forgot or ignored basic rules for military strategy. Their intelligence on the flotilla was either not properly gathered or not properly analysed. This in turn led to an even bigger mistake and the crux of the matter. The reason why this is even remembered is because of the choice of the wrong type of personal to carry out the operation. Shayetet 13 commandos are excellent amphibious troops, who specialise in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding. That is what they specialise in, they do not specialise in pacification of large amounts of angry passengers who took an instant dislike to heavily armed commandos boarding their ship illegally. If Israel had used the correct troops this operation would have been carried out with no loss of life. The response of these highly trained troops was predictable and understandable.

I await the UN report and the internal Israeli reports. I do not expect a whitewash from Israel but I expect them to lay the blame anywhere but at the feet of their military. I do hope the UN report ordered by Ban Ki-Moon interviews Israelis and reaches a more balanced conclusion than this report has.

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