Without knowing it, Edward Peck, a former US ambassador to Mauritania and one of the activists on those now-legendary Gaza boats, did Israel a favor Wednesday while telling his version of events on CNN.
Peck was not aboard the Mavi Marmara, where the outbreak of violence that led to the deaths of nine people occurred. But looking at footage of the mayhem taken by Israel, which clearly shows the boarding Israeli troops being attacked, Peck rationalized the actions of the flotilla crew as “defending their ship.” As for the deck chair that one sailor is clearly shown to be swinging at an Israeli commando, Peck declared “a deck chair is not a weapon.” I suspect he might feel differently if someone swung one at him, and be less forgiving in his retelling of the incident to the police.
It should be no surprise that, as Peck demonstrated, people who will rationalize away the violence of the Palestinians of Gaza, which has become the world’s most prolific anti-civilian rocket base, will just as easily explain away the violent reaction of their fellow activists against an attempt at orderly border control and security. Israel had offered the flotilla leaders to help deliver their cargo if they made port at Ashdod. Had this been a true peace activist operation, the chair-swingers and those reportedly carrying clubs and knives, would have had no problem standing down and letting their ship be inspected stem to stern. As it turned out, the amount of usable relief supplies bound for Gaza, some toys and food, was reported to be scarce and scattered throughout the ships, which proves that the actual relief intent of the demonstration took a distant back seat to the task of publicly poking a finger in Israel’s eye and waiting for it to poke back.
Now that it has, Israel should not let its savaging by Judge Goldstone in the past stand in the way of an international investigation that could boost its side of the story. If it has nothing to hide, there is no harm in a process by objective probers, perhaps led by the U.S. (and as U.N.-free as possible), into the circumstances of the raid and the chronology of events. Perhaps Israel should even appoint its own civilian-led investigation panel. Enough information is already coming out to show that the flotilla sailors were planning violence before they encountered the Israeli forces, such as this video, which shows the peace activists gearing up with gas masks, clubs, a slingshot and a broken bottle:
Still, the Israeli government would no doubt take some lumps in the investigation. Even its own military chief, Gabi Askenazi, admits that the men sent on board didn’t have riot control equipment or training.
The world need only look at the 2005 evacuation of Gaza, in which soldiers and police faced thousands of resisters, some of whom attacked them, to see that Israel is capable of carrying out a tense confrontation with civilians without casualties. It will be up to Israel to explain the differences between the two situations. An independent review can prove Israel’s claim that there was no choice but to use deadly force on that boat, and bolster the idea that Israel holds the lives of all civilians as sacred, even those who hold the country and everything it stands for in disdain.