Flotilla 2 – Why the sequel is rarely as good as the original
July 8, 2011 Leave a comment
In May last year the entire media was dominated by news of the Flotilla clash with the Israeli navy. As with many evolving stories, the first eyewitness accounts talked about a big number of dead as a result of a massacre committed by the Israeli Army. These news reports prompted immediate condemnations from many countries around the world. However, as time progressed and more light was shed, it became apparent that the number of casualties was much lower than first reported. Later on it was apparent that while it could be debated whether Israel used too much force, it was clear that it was engaged in combat and did not open fire on unarmed people practising passive resistance.
Perhaps learning the lessons from the Goldstone report Israel agreed to cooperate with a UN committee to investigate the events. It is very likely that the cooperation also stemmed from the fact that this committee was commissioned by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, rather than by the Human Rights Council, which Israel deems biased against it (a claim also made by Judge Richard Goldstone in his Op-Ed). The committee headed by Geoffrey Palmer the former prime-minister of New Zealand, which also bears his name, includes both Israeli and Turkish members. Although the report has not yet been published, it has been leaked that the report suggests on the one hand that Israel’s blockade was legal although too much force was used too soon and on the other hand that the Turkish government was wrong to back the IHH Flotilla.
However the Palmer report has failed to make big news outside of Israel and it is still to be seen whether it will after it is published. However even if the report does make main headlines, last year’s flotilla could still be held as an enormous PR success to the organizers, as yet it again it put the Gaza issue on the top of the agenda, while supporting the theory of an over-aggressive Israel.
Based on the success of the first Flotilla, the organizers decided to use the momentum created and organize a repeat of the events. Initially this was a foolproof plan, as the journalists were already on their side after the previous year, many members wish to take part, including American Jews that wished to show solidarity, therefore in essence, the main task was to simply sail the boats and exposure would be gained even if there is no deadly confrontation with the Israeli army.
However several circumstances changed and failing to spot those led to a disaster for the organizers.
At First, weeks before the Flotilla was due, Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement, which resulted in Egypt opening the Rafah border. While this didn’t deter the members of the flotilla, it did start eating away at the public support for the legitimacy of this venture.
The second factor to change was the Turkish government’s stance. The Turkish government suffered a blow as they aligned themselves alongside Asad, who was killing civilian protestors, which was perceived badly around the world and resulted in a flux of refugees fleeing to Turkey. Also, the AKP had just won the elections, so it decided to tune down the anti-Israel attitude to ensure it does not impact the economy by damaging its relationship with the US. It is also likely that they knew that the Palmer report was also going to shine some negative light on its conduct. As a result the IHH was pressured by the government to pull out of the flotilla.
The third factor that changed in 2011 was the killing of civilians in both Syria and Libya. It has been reported that over 1500 civilians were killed in Syria and somewhere between 2000 and 10000 were killed in Libya. This fact again was chipping away at the public interest and support.
The fourth factor to change was the shift in the Greek government’s policy towards Israel. In the past Greece was known to support the Palestinian cause and criticize Israel. This position was mainly due to Israeli cooperation with Turkey, with whom Greece was in conflict over North Cyprus. However, with the Israeli and Turkish relations drifting apart in the past year, Greece has spotted an opportunity to tighten its relations with Israel, which has managed to stay stable throughout the economic crisis. The flotilla organizers missed this development and misjudged Greece’s willingness to take their side/ As a result they were surprised to find the Greek government’s refusal to give them permits to sail as well as the Greek Coast Guard enforcing the law by bringing back any ship that tried to sail unlawfully.
As a result of all the above factors, the flotilla boats stayed moored and the number of participants decreased as time passed. During the mooring period some protesters tried to make headlines by accusing Israel of sabotage of the mooring boats as well as blackmailing the economically weak Greek government. Another course of action was protesting outside of the embassies. A small group of Spanish protestors even managed to enter the Spanish embassy and fly the Palestinian flag form the window. Although some of these actions were reported in the media, it failed to reignite public interest as it did a year before.
While some protestors gave up and headed back, others decide to turn their attention to the Air effort. This was an effort planned previously, in which some protesters would fly in by air and as well as organize demonstrations in the airport, they would visit the Palestinian areas. However, Israel managed to predict this move and stop the protesters either in their country of origin or upon landing. The coverage so far has been minimal and included mainly Israeli protesters, who made their way from Tel-Aviv to show solidarity and were arrested by airport security shortly for an illegal demonstration and disrupting the peace.
While Israel could be pleased with the success of stopping another PR fiasco, it laments the fact that the demonstrations are taking needless resources and more importantly taking the attention away from issues they deem urgent such as the Iranian nuclear plan, which unlike the flotilla and protests is causing Israel genuine concern.