On June 23, 2010 the Albuquerque Journal published my op-ed on Israel’s May 31, 2010 attack upon the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla that attempted to break Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip. The Journal titled my article “Oppressive Occupation Also Harms Israelis, Americans.”
The Israeli government has made disingenuous claims regarding its attack upon the Mavi Marmara. Among them that Israeli commandos used live fire only after three were captured and several stabbed by ship members armed with clubs and knives. “Weapons” confiscated by commandos were knives and wood and metal commonly found throughout every ship. Does this constitute evidence that activists planned to attack Israeli commandos?
Commandos fired tear gas and percussion grenades while shipmates were absorbed in morning prayers. The grenades were followed by live ammunition. At least nine shipmates were killed and many injured. Eyewitness reports contend that commandos rappelled down from a helicopter and boarded the ship while firing weapons. Other reports and forensic evidence indicate that shipmates were shot at close range. A 19-year-old American was killed by four bullets to the head. Shipmates disarmed three commandos, choosing not to harm them. Three ship doctors stated that shipmates were shot and injured before commandos were captured.
Israel claims the deaths were accidental, that commandos were startled by the sticks and forced to defend themselves. Prior to the attack, Israeli officials strategized for a week. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren stated that the ship was “too large to stop with nonviolent means.” Clearly, the deaths were no “accident.”
Commandos confiscated cell phones and video equipment. Israel controls the images the public sees as well as the narrative corresponding to those images. As evidence leaks out Israeli proclamations become more suspect. Given that past proclamations have been demonstrably false, one simply cannot rely on Israeli spin. For example, Israel denied using white phosphorus during its 2008–2009 Gaza assault until the evidence was so overwhelming denials were correctly reinterpreted as deceit.
Israel claimed that had the ship delivered its supplies to Ashdod, an Israeli port, Israel would have transferred all acceptable items to Gaza. On June 1 the World Health Organization asked Israel to allow life-saving medical supplies and other equipment needed for “appropriate healthcare.” Israel blocked these materials from entering Gaza. If Israel would ignore the WHO why would anyone believe it would not ignore aid coming from people it calls “terrorists?”
Israel had to remove its website’s allegations of terrorist affiliations when the U.S. State Department admitted it “cannot validate” such claims. The State Department also acknowledged that the IHH, the Turkish organization Israel calls terrorist, “has not been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.” Greta Berlin, Co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement said the group had rejected donations from radical groups and Iran.
Israel justifies the blockade in the name of security. But Israel has long known that in exchange for ending the blockade Hamas would agree to a long-term ceasefire. It is the blockade that is the stimulus for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.
Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. ANERA, an NGO that responds to humanitarian needs, disagrees:
- 8 of 10 Gazans depend on foreign aid to survive.
- 95% of Gaza’s water fails World Health Organization standards.
- Anemia under the age of 5 is estimated at 48%.
- 75 million liters of untreated sewage are pumped into the Mediterranean daily – because spare parts are not permitted.
Israel’s behavior is the engine that fuels anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism worldwide. Mossad head Meir Dagan said: “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.” Dagan’s admission confirms what is obvious to objective observers as well as to General Petraeus: “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples . . . and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.”
Finally, Israel attacked a vessel in international waters. The cargo had been checked before entering these waters. Ship members have a legal right to self-defense against an illegal raid, even if commandos do not open fire when boarding a ship. Israel’s act of aggression cannot be understood as self-defense. Yet, Israel is portraying those whose goal is to bring solace to a beleaguered population as terrorists and those who violate international law and commit murder as victims. It is time to wake up to the reality that a succession of Israeli governments have imposed an oppressive occupation that harms not only Palestinians but Israelis and Americans; and that this occupation is a major catalyst for anger in the Muslim world toward Israel and her complicit ally, the U.S. Richard Forer
Letters to the editor poured in to the Journal portraying me as a bigoted anti-Semite. Here is my reply to those letters, which the Journal chose not to publish:
On June 23 the Journal published my comments on the Gaza flotilla incident, which they titled “Oppressive Occupation Also Harms Israelis, Americans.” In the article I presented information from the State Department and other mainstream sources. My purpose was to counter “disingenuous claims” by Israel. On June 27 the Journal published five letters to the editor. All portrayed me as bigoted and ignorant. R. L. said:
“[T]he Arabs walked through Jewish neighborhoods and towns unmolested, while the residents of Jewish settlements live behind stone walls, armed wire and armed guards. Who is occupying whom?”
According to R.L, Israelis who steal land from Palestinians to build settlements – in violation of international law and any sense of decency – are occupied victims. And a people who desire the same rights to self-determination that Israelis enjoy are occupiers.
D. G. accuses me of being uninformed because of my commonsense assertion that “Israel’s behavior,” in denying Palestinians the ability to live like human beings, “fuels anti-Semitism.” D.G. chose to equate my criticism of Israeli behavior with criticism of all Jews. Israel does not speak for all Jews, certainly not for Jews who value justice and equality. D.G’s logic is that anti-Semitism existed prior to Israel’s establishment and is inherent. Therefore, she contends, Israel’s behavior could not be a stimulus for anti-Semitism.
As virtually all studies since the early 1900s acknowledge, there was little anti-Semitism in Muslim lands until the rise of Zionism. Just as anger toward Muslims increased in the U.S. after 9/11 so too does anger increase when Israel kills civilians or attacks an unarmed ship carrying humanitarian aid. Admittedly, a small percentage of the anger is misplaced against Judaism rather than a Zionist ideology that deprives people of their homes, their lands and their dignity.
J. D. claims that pro-Palestinian activists “were trying to create an ugly incident to spur world pressure forcing Israel to break the blockade and … to allow unlimited passage of arms from Iran.” The latter allegation is false. Not only was the ship’s cargo checked before leaving port but overtures from Iranian groups were rejected. The ugliness of the incident stems from Israel’s acts of aggression.
I agree that these activists wanted to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Their concern for their fellow man does not reflect a bias that favors Palestinians. Rather, it reflects a conviction that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as Israelis, something J.D. and the others don’t seem concerned with. The activists’ reaction to a nighttime raid in international waters by a country known for its use of lethal force was purely defensive, especially given that Israeli commandos did in fact shoot live ammunition and percussion grenades as they boarded the ship. Autopsy reports determined that five of the dead were shot through the tops of their heads, evidence that commandos fired from helicopters.
J.A. denounces the passengers of the Mavi Marmara because the other ships offered no resistance. That the Mavi Marmara was singled out with violent behavior explains why the other ships did not resist. Would J.A. have denounced the passengers of the Exodus for resisting British rule?
Perhaps these writers would have condemned freedom riders, some of whom gave their lives to expose the viciousness and bigotry of segregation in the Deep South.
R.R. characterizes my concern for truth and human rights as Hamas propaganda. Making such a characterization is far easier than examining actual evidence based on eyewitness reports and the writings of eminent Israeli journalists. It is easier still to parrot uninformed apologists.
R.R. alleges that rocket attacks justify the Gaza blockade, while ignoring the fact that Israel’s own strategists admitted that ending the blockade would ensure peace with Hamas for a generation. He ignores Israel’s use of far more lethal rockets against Gaza. Had he investigated Israeli sources he would have learned that from 2000 through 2008 Palestinian groups launched 8,088 rockets and mortars against Israel. From 2001 through 2008 eighteen Israelis were killed as a result of these attacks. From September 2005 to June 2006 Israel launched 7,700 rockets against Gaza. From 2005–2007, 1,290 Gazans, including 222 children, were killed as a result of Israeli rockets.
In his July 6 letter, J. G. grossly misrepresents my views. Suffice it to say that his argument that God supports the oppression of the Palestinian people is the kind of justification that has been used to rob, kill and exploit indigenous peoples throughout Mankind’s bloody history.
By defending systemic and unconscionable policies that knowingly harm civilians, including innocent children, these writers show a callous disregard not only for the Palestinian people but for the humanity that exists within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Rich Forer