x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The flotilla forces a choice between peace and violence

To make sure that we press forward after this tragedy on a path of justice, we must capture the initiative of the Freedom Flotilla and its promise of turning the page on history.

In the early morning hours before dawn broke over the eastern Mediterranean, Israeli warships and helicopters with 1,000 soldiers attacked six ships laden with humanitarian and reconstruction aid. The images that came across the live satellite feed from one of the ships were shocking, even for those who are accustomed to the brute force and violence of the Israeli army. However, today is a new day. To make sure that we press forward after this tragedy on a path of justice, we must capture the initiative of the Freedom Flotilla and its promise of turning the page on history.

There is no way to measure the sacrifice of the civilians who were murdered seeking to deliver a bit of hope as well as humanitarian assistance to people who have been trapped in Gaza. But consider what has already transpired - European ambassadors have been recalled from Israel in protest; the French president and foreign minister have condemned the attacks on the flotilla, calling Israel's actions disproportionate and shocking; to deal with the fallout from Israel's actions the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel visits to the two countries whose governments are his nation's best friends, Canada and the United States.

Today, Israel is led by an extreme right-wing government captured by the interests of an ideological and illegal settler movement as well as reactionary immigrants from the former Soviet Union whose commitment to Israel runs as deep as a passport is thick, but whose privilege vis-à-vis the Palestinians is something they will fight to protect. This is a government with ministers who regularly call for ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians or population control by limiting births. As for the mission of the flotilla, the Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the defence minister Ehud Barak, and the vice minister of foreign affairs Danny Ayalon were sparring for weeks before the ships were launched to claim the mantle of pre-emptive incitement against the ships.

The world was shocked by the Israeli rabbis who gave their blessing to the killing of Palestinian civilians. But where was the outcry towards government ministers calling for the use of violence against unarmed civilians delivering medicine, water sanitation devices, prefabricated homes and cement? Israeli leaders thought they could shoot to kill and then claim that the victims were to blame for the violence. The passengers are deemed radicals for trying to challenge an illegal policy of collective ly punishing 1.5 million Palestinians. The passengers have become terrorists according to official Israeli statements. The victims are responsible for their own injuries or deaths, as is often the case when an Israeli soldier shoots a Palestinian or a Palestinian supporter.

But the world is not silent. At the very least, efforts at boycott, divestment and sanctions will intensify as the grassroots movement to promote freedom and justice moves forward. World leaders, so keen to talk about non-violence, freedom and democracy must choose to stand with the Freedom Flotilla or in their silence and complicity, align themselves with the Israelis who carried out the murderous predawn attack.

Adam Shapiro is co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian organisation that helped to organise the flotilla to Gaza