Have They Missed the Boat?
June 20, 2011 Leave a comment
Israel suffered a huge PR defeat in 2010, when the flotilla leaving Turkey arrived near Gaza and the Israeli navy boarded the Mavi Marmara boat in an ordeal which left 9 participants dead.
Israel damage control failed miserably, as the media was dominated in the first few days by numerous versions damning the Israeli Navy and estimating the killed at a much higher number than was eventually verified.
The Israeli army only released footage a week later, a time when world opinion has already formed and Israel’s claims and footage were either pushed to the side by many mainstream media outlets or declared as tampered with by the public that has already made up its mind.
The BBC was probably one of the only mainstream media organizations that looked at the conflict with no prejudice in the feature called “Death in the Med” in the investigative program Panorama. The BBC reporter managed to obtain rare interviews with the Israeli elite unit, in which the soldiers explained what they thought went wrong. The reporter also collated the evidence the Israeli army has released along with interviews with the participants and their footage to try to piece together what actually happened.
While claiming that the blockade is legal under international law, Israel was criticized for confronting the boats and accused of using excessive power. Apart from the worldwide condemnations from many governments, even before Israel had a chance to respond, the most noticeable damage was probably the altercation with the Turkish government, which preceded by an already shaky relationship. Turkey to this day demands from Israel an official apology and compensation to the families of the dead, a thing that Israel refuses to do.
The international’s community’s outrage comes mainly from the fact that the declared purpose of the flotilla organizers was to break the siege and provide the people of Gaza humanitarian relief. Israel’s released footage of some of the people on the Marmara declaring their willingness to die as martyrs or acquiring weapons and organizing a violent resistance has not had the impact Israel had hoped for. The damning images of poverty in Gaza, has given the resisting groups large room to manoeuvre within as well as outside the law before being criticized.
However, this situation is about to change. In the last 2 weeks, following the removal of Mubarak from power, Egypt has declared that in exchange for Hamas reconciling with the PA, Egypt is planning to open its Rafah border crossing to Gaza. So far the border has been sealed to any goods and allowed very limited humanitarian movement, since the Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. In fact, the Egyptian closure was a determining factor that allowed Israel’s blockade to have an impact, as goods were limited and brought in mainly via tunnels and traded on the black market with Hamas, reportedly, controlling these tunnels and pocketing the profits.
Any individual following the situation knows that this development is surprising, considering the great differences between Hamas and Fatah, as well as a mixed blessing for Hamas’ rule. On one hand, Hamas will now be able to better rule the strip by improving the lives of the civilians, importing good that were restricted by Israel, increase the arms smuggling by dedicating the tunnels to weapons only and perhaps gain popularity again for negotiating this improvement. On the other hand, Hamas is now bound to the PA, will inevitably become part of the negotiations with Israel in some capacity, which means it would be under pressure to curb its extremist stance and perhaps abandon its charter that calls for the takeover of the entire land of Israel (rather than 1967 borders as is commonly discussed). The reconciliation will also have an impact on the popularity, if the cooperation actually translates to actions on the ground, i.e. letting Fatah back to the Gaza strip as well campaigning again in the West Bank.
Another impact of opening of the border would be the onus on Hamas to improve the economy and the condition of the residents of Gaza. If Hamas does not succeed in this, it would have to go to great lengths to convince the world that the bad economical situation is still because of Israel.Failing to do this could further push Hamas out of the status of victims and change the international community’s sympathy to future flotillas.
Israel would then perhaps be in a stronger position to argue its case that the solidarity flotillas are nothing but a risk to its security or a provocation, since Israel claims that it has in the past stopped boats with arms as well as regularly allowing goods to be imported via land with the cooperation of the UN bodies.
The next few months will be a test to whether a real change will take place or whether things will stay the same. Claude Léostic (AFPS) and Thomas Sommer (CCIPPP), who declared their intention to send another boat to Gaza this June, will find out whether the world is still unconditionally on their side, or whether they’ve simply missed the boat.