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Caldwell on the Gaza Flotilla

8:55 AM, Jun 7, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Christopher Caldwell writes in his latest Financial Times column:

“Botched” and “stupid” are adjectives that have been applied all week to the events of Monday, when Israeli soldiers killed nine passengers and wounded dozens more on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish flagship of a six-boat convoy. The boats, sponsored by a Turkish charity with ties to Islamist radicalism, had a humanitarian objective: to deliver aid to Gazan ports. But as the flotilla leaders themselves acknowledged, they also had a military one: to break the blockade of Gaza that Israel imposed in 2007. When participants in a conflict blur the line between civilians and combatants, good options disappear. Under the circumstances, the raid was neither stupid nor botched. It successfully repelled an attack on Israel’s borders, albeit at considerably higher cost than Israel would have wished.

There is a blockade of Gaza because Hamas, the Islamist party that runs Gaza, wants Israel destroyed. In recent years, it has launched thousands of rockets at cities in the Israeli south. One can argue over whether quarantining Hamas is wise, reasonable, proportionate or effective. But this is a separate question from whether Israel has the right to enforce a blockade in a war zone. Those complaining loudest about the Israeli raid tend to mix the two up and to say that because a) Israeli’s blockade of Gaza is unjust, and b) the passengers of the Mavi Marmara oppose the blockade of Gaza, therefore c) in any encounter between Israel and the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, Israel is in the wrong and the passengers are in the right. This is an unreasonable viewpoint. It is also a blueprint for escalating violence. Imagine the dangers, if, during the cold war, non-governmental organisations from the Soviet bloc had sailed flotillas into US waters to protest about racial conflict, or into British waters to protest against IRA internment.

Israel has provided evidence that its soldiers were in mortal danger when they abseiled on to the decks of the Mavi Marmara – high-quality video footage, which was released within hours. The government has shown that the passengers brought gas masks and had pre-fabricated propaganda videos. The Guardian reports that three of the dead Turkish citizens were seeking “martyrdom” through the operation.

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