In the torrent of rage and confusion generated by the loss of life when the Israeli Navy enforced the embargo on the Gaza Strip this week, there has been a regrettable overlooking of certain fundamental facts. As is so frequently the case, these facts have gotten buried in the rubble of political rhetoric. In order to prevent this incident from having a deleterious effect on the peace process going forward, the following must be understood:
Fact 1: The Gaza Strip is an armed camp, ruled with an iron fist by a repressive Hamas regime that has not only repeatedly pledged itself to the annihilation of Israel and the torpedoing of any prospects for Middle East peace, but has made good on its pledges by firing approximately 10,000 missiles, rockets, and mortar bombs at Israeli civilians over the past several years for the express purpose of killing or wounding those civilians or, at a minimum, terrifying them.
Fact 3: When faced with an armed enemy committed to its destruction, which has done its very best to make war against Israeli civilians, Israel has two choices: to try to protect its civilians from those attacks, or to simply shrug its shoulders and hope that the attacks stop. There is, quite simply, no nation on earth that would choose the latter course, and no reasonable and fair-minded person who would expect it to.
Fact 4: In an effort to stop the missiles from being manufactured and used against it, and only for that reason, Israel has been forced to try to keep the materials used for that purpose out of the Gaza Strip. This is an obvious step needed to prevent the kind of war that caused so much destruction in 2008, when the increase in attacks by Hamas and its allies against Israeli civilians eventually triggered an Israeli response to stop them. There can be no real doubt that Israel is entitled to keep weapons of war from being used against it.
Fact 5: Israel repeatedly, and expressly, made clear to those who organized the effort to break the embargo that it would willingly take all of the humanitarian aid that was on their boats and transfer it to Gaza, without delay. All that Israel wanted was to be able to ensure that materials were, in fact, humanitarian aid, rather than the sorts of materials used for launching attacks that are supplied to Hamas by the Iranians and others. The organizers of the flotilla refused – because, of course, getting humanitarian aid to Gaza was not what their gambit was really about.
Fact 6: Israel regularly provides humanitarian aid to Gaza, and volunteering to get the humanitarian aid from the ships to Gaza was consistent with Israeli policy all along.
And Fact 7, which is now coming to light several days after the initial and predictable barrage of criticism of Israel: Those on at least one of the ships planned all along to attack Israelis when they sought to enforce the embargo, and indeed, their attack on the Israelis was brutal.
This fact has been starkly captured in video widely circulating around the Internet, showing the vicious beatings initiated by those on board one of the ships against Israelis, who for their part had been instructed to refrain from using any force if at all possible. Indeed, in Israel the military is being criticized for failing to adequately prepare its naval personnel to anticipate the attacks on them from the boats, and for being too passive, and too trusting, in its approach to the flotilla.
As for the evidence that certain individuals of those responsible for orchestrating this tragedy are linked to Al Qaeda and other representatives of the worst forces on the planet, the next days will likely yield more information.
But the larger issue is this: Has the desire to blame Israel in certain quarters reached such an irrational frenzy that the fundamental facts of any issue relating to the Middle East conflict will reliably be overlooked? Are those who are committed to a fair-minded and reasonable analysis of that conflict prepared to insist that others who like nothing more than jumping to conclusions stop, pause, think, and consider the actual evidence?
There will always be those who don’t let facts to get in the way of their biases. But fair-minded people examine the evidence before forming conclusions, especially when emotions run high. Israel – and the cause of peace in the Middle East – is counting on them to do just that.
Nadav Tamir is the consul general at the consulate general of Israel to New England.