All in the Same Boat
Posted Thu, Jun 3, 2010

The flotilla affair was the hour of the “advisors.” Many “experts” raised their voices in Israel and elsewhere. All are clever and witty; all know naval tactics perfectly well, as though they were veterans of the marines, special units’ commanders and senior Intelligence officers. All, from the soldiers who hung down the rope to the pre-planned lynch on Marmara’s deck, to the Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister, behaved with poor judgement. If only the “advisors” and “experts” sat on the leaders’ chairs, Israel would have been benefited with great marshals and statesmen who are knowledgeable in all fields of expertise and immune to any inadvertency or mistake.
The flotilla affair has many aspects. First and foremost, there is a deteriorating geopolitical atmosphere in the Middle East, the gradual transformation of Turkey into an enemy of Israel and a strategy striving to bind the hands of Israel from exerting the right to self defence. The organizers of the flotilla and those behind it – Turkey, radical Islamic organizations, leftist and human rights organizations – intended to create international shock waves and impose restrictions on Israel whether by violent confrontation as occurred or by defiant breaking of the siege.
It is not a onetime “protest”, but a devised plan; which its next stages may include dispatching from Lebanese ports ships packed with Palestinian refugees, many of whom “peace activists” of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad along with international “peace activists.” Dozens and maybe hundreds of boats will head the port of Tel Aviv in their humanitarian mission to return to the homeland of Palestine. Hezbollah will deport them willingly and with their consent and the dilemma will be intensified. How could Israel resist the return of the “deported” refugees from Lebanon on Tel Aviv’s coast? If Israel absorbs the refugees from Sudan and Eretria there would be no justification for closing the borders to those who were born in Palestine and became once more refugees. Israel will probably be accused of violating the international law, failing to comply with resolution 194 and numerous other UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian refugees.
A golden opportunity has emerged for the “advisors” and “experts” to express their voice and opinion, now beforehand and not retroactively. The floor is yours to advise how Israel should behave in this aforementioned scenario and when the flotilla of the “peace seekers” are escorted with Turkey’s destroyers and warplanes in order to coerce Israel to abide by the international law. Should Israel confront the peaceful flotilla and jeopardize its relations with its close friend Turkey and other countries or to accept settling the successive waves of Palestinian peace seekers in Tel Aviv as a humanitarian gesture and consequently gaining the sympathy of the world. All of Israel, from left to right, are in the same boat and no one has an interest in adopting the option of willingly committing suicide as a political strategy.
The public debate regarding the flotilla affair was focused also on the “siege” on the Gaza Strip. Zahava Galon, former Knesset Member (Meretz), blamed the Israeli government of “stupidity” and quoted the “reliable” data published by Amnesty International on the severe economic situation in Gaza. The very same organization, Amnesty International, has published early this week an official announcement harshly criticizing the Israeli policy in Gaza and arguing that “Only a fraction of [Palestinian] patients in need of treatment outside Gaza are allowed out.” Official data published by Hamas government portrays different reality. Last year 11,608 Palestinian patients left Gaza for receiving medical treatment and the entrance of only 150 was refused by Israel.
Human rights organizations call the Gaza Strip a huge “prison” in which 1.5 million Palestinians are trapped. Their description has nothing to do with the real situation in Gaza. 62,726 people crossed in and out the Rafah border to Egypt. The Rafah crossing is open “irregularly” on Wednesdays and Thursdays and it is learned from Hamas official reports that it is also “irregularly” open on other days of the week. There is consistency between the number of those who registered for travel in Hamas Ministry of Interior and those who actually crossed the border to Egypt. The Gaza Strip’s export from Egypt is approaching one billion USD annually, according to an estimation published in the official Hamas newspaper. This export, depicted as “smuggling”, includes all necessities from cement, iron, motorcycles, and food products to hundreds of poor Egyptian girls who are sold to the wealthy Gazans for one thousand USD each paid to the middleman. Taxes on the export from Egypt enriched Hamas government treasury and the surplus goes to financial and real estate investments. In addition, the Gaza Strip receives hundreds of millions of USD from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, the European Union, international organizations and from Israel every year. Hamas leaders enjoy free movement in and out Gaza and the Hamas’ military operatives are sent regularly for training in Syria and Iran.
Peculiar alliance has developed between Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and human rights organizations who insist to contend that Israel is still the “occupying force” of the Gaza Strip. None outlines the conditions to end the “occupation”, but rather all of them demand pressuring Israel to open its borders to its enemy Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It seems that the principal consideration standing behind the hesitant Israeli policy towards Gaza is related to an Egyptian threat to firmly react on any attempt to transfer the responsibility for Gaza, it is quite possible that the threat includes an intention to deploy army forces in Sinai Peninsula, in contradiction to the Camp David peace treatment, as proactive measure to deal with the security threat of the Gaza Strip. Hesitation proved itself as bringing about a political catastrophe and Israel, even though it pulled all of military and civilians from the Gaza Strip, Israel still pays high price for “virtual occupation”.
The political manoeuvring area is extremely narrow. However, Israel should act with resolve for absolute disengagement from the Gaza Strip correspondingly to diplomatic efforts to gain support from the US and EU in order to minimize damages to its relations with Egypt. The flotilla affair can be used as trigger to make changes in Israeli policy.

Jonathan Dahoh-Halevi
Fellow and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs , head of research of the Orient Research Group Ltd., investigative journalist and an activist in the Jewish and Israeli communities.

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