Resorting to brute force is an expression of fear. Its deployment yesterday by the Israeli soldiers who raided and opened fire on the freedom flotilla en route to Gaza, killing at least 10 civilians and injuring dozens more, will not serve Israel or treat its existential anxiety. As a psychiatrist and a resident of Gaza, I understand Israel's reflexive use of force against civilians as a symptom of a structural pathology. Israel resorts to the use of maximum force as a form of intimidation. But this is the choice of the weak. It is quite possible that through Israel's actions, it is tightening its own noose.
More than a decade ago the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu published a book defending Israel's right to "a place under the sun". But it is the racist desire to create "a nation above nations" that is the desire of Zionist extremists. In this context, peace is anathema; the siege and war on Gaza are legitimate and justified; Israel will use every possible means to avoid reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Indeed, Israel is marching rapidly towards becoming an apartheid state.
Due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the unemployment rate in the strip is near 50 per cent. The World Bank has stated that 90 per cent of water in Gaza is not suitable for human consumption, 80 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, and 70 per cent depend on charity for food supplies. Chronic malnutrition affects 15 per cent of Gaza's children and its serious consequences for their cognition and growth will be felt for years to come.
The boats that the Israeli soldiers attacked were carrying food, medicines, and materials to build prefabricated homes for the people of Gaza. The freedom flotilla was a new attempt to break this Israeli blockade, condemned by the human rights community the world over. The former US president Jimmy Carter has called the blockade an assault on civilisation. Justice Richard Goldstone has rightly called Israeli actions crimes against humanity. So many voices, including those of many Jews, have called upon Israel to end this draconian siege.
One and a half million Palestinians remain prisoners of the largest open-air jail on earth since Israel's siege on Gaza began in December of 2008. Then, Israel's army demolished 15,000 homes, destroyed factories and ministries, and chopped off the minarets from mosques. Even the American School in Gaza, a sprawling establishment, was completely destroyed and Israel bombed schools run by the United Nations. Israel used illegal weapons against the people of Gaza during this war, killing hundreds and wounding thousands of civilians including children.
The attack on the freedom flotilla is just the latest act of Israel's violence. Now there is defiance in the streets of Gaza from people who demand that the world force Israel to respect them as human beings. For the Palestinians, this is the time for us to be reunited. It is doubtful if Palestinian factions will rise to the occasion and end their internal strife as their political alliances dictate otherwise. It is also doubtful that many Arab regimes will heed the calls from the people of Gaza, as they are not independent from external political and economic pressure.
Yet the mass killing of those on board the freedom boats has drawn condemnation around the globe with critical statements from the United Nations and from European capitals. Israel's action may reinforce calls to boycott its products. This could be a turning point in the struggle to end the siege and the Israeli occupation. Dr Eyad Sarraj is president of the Gaza Mental Health Programme and founder of the International Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza