Editorial: Israel's bullets have killed its credibility

Last updated 05:00 02/06/2010

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OPINION: Israel believes its problems can be solved with bullets. It is wrong, and deserves the condemnation now raining down on its head for attacking a ship bringing aid to Gaza and killing at least 10 of those aboard.

There is no doubt that the actions of the "Gaza Freedom flotilla" were designed to be provocative and turn the world spotlight on the plight of the Palestinians suffering in Gaza as the result of Israeli-imposed sanctions.

However, it was not "an armada of hate and violence", as Israel's deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, has dubbed it.

Israel must explain why it believed there was no other way of reacting to the flotilla than with an assault launched in international waters in the hours of darkness by a highly trained and – by all accounts – lethally efficient commando unit. It must say why other options to deal with what was a policing problem were not used.

That explanation should be given to an international inquiry with which Israel fully co-operates. Nothing less will do.

Mr Ayalon has argued that the organisers were linked to al Qaeda and that they had a history of arms smuggling. He claims weapons found on the Mavi Marmara, the boat on which the fighting took place, had been prepared and were used against the commandos – though the evidence so far is that the only firearms involved in the fighting were those brought on board by the commandos.

Put bluntly, Israel has a credibility problem over Gaza. Its invasion in response to Hamas rocket attacks ended in excessive civilian casualties, according to a United Nations investigation led by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone. The report concluded that Israel deliberately set out to "punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population".

Now Israel is waging economic war on the 1.4 million people of Gaza, including women and children, however much it may deny it. According to UN agencies, 75 per cent of those crammed into its tiny 8km-by-35km barbed-wire borders rely on food aid. Sixty per cent have no daily access to water.

Israel says the aid being carried by the "armada" could have been unloaded at an Israeli port and then shipped to Gaza. That is unlikely. UN agencies and charities argue that Israel has banned or delayed the shipping of any items that could be used for other purposes. This includes items such as paediatric hygiene kits, bedding and school textbooks. In short, Israel has reduced Gaza to a desperate state.

Israel won a military victory when its commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara. None of its soldiers died, the flotilla was stopped and Israel will continue to decide what, if any, aid is delivered to Gaza. But it has lost politically. Its reaction to the flotilla was disproportionate, relations with countries sympathetic towards it have been damaged, and it has turned the world's eyes to Gaza.

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For that, Israel's leaders have no-one to blame but themselves. Israel must now account for its actions to the world.

- The Dominion Post

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