There is something curious about the response hereabouts to the Israeli night boarding of the Mavi Marmara on May 31.
Despite Israel’s control of information for days, its claim of self-defense, and redefinition of international law, the world community quickly recognized that Israel commandos had illegally and violently boarded and hijacked the Turk Mavi Marmara, known to be on a humanitarian mission, bearing no arms, in international waters.
The attentive soon learned that the dead – Turks and one Turkish American – were perhaps all deliberately killed, some executed, that many of the peace activists on board had been beaten, some handcuffed too tightly and denied medical care, and all denied toilet use, adequate food, and access to embassies and attorneys. Money, cameras, computers, notebooks, passports and other possessions were stolen; the cargo’s fate was uncertain.
The resulting intense focus on Gaza revealed that, since Hamas won the elections the U.S. demanded four years ago, blockaded Gazans have received only 25 percent of subsistence requirements delivered previously. Many children’s growth is stunted. Dozens have died for lack of life-saving hospital equipment. Construction materials required to replace homes, infrastructure, water and sewer systems, and irrigation piping destroyed in the massive late-2008 assault have been denied entry.
A released government document now reveals that the Israeli blockade is not in response to rocketing but “economic warfare,” an admission of collective punishment – a war crime. In fact, Hamas had suspended rocketing for many months, in return for promised gradual lifting of the blockade that never came. Instead, Israel assassinated more than 80 Gaza officials, prepared to level Gaza, and then killed four Palestinians in Rafah to create a provocation Hamas could not ignore. With the first Hamas rocket, Israel cried self-defense and attacked.
Having isolated flotilla members and commandeered film and notes, Israel blamed those who resisted the boarding. But under international law, crew and passengers had the right to use any means to repel boarders. Officials asserted that commandos were “lynched;” actually, doctors treated their scratches and passengers freed a commando caught in the rigging.
Israel claimed to be stopping rockets reaching Hamas, but it knew the cargo had been cleared by Turk and United Nations inspectors. The ship was 65 miles from Israeli waters, but Israel dubbed the victims al Qaeda terrorists (later retracted), its critics anti-semitic, and, if Israeli, traitors. In reluctant response to demands for an investigation, it named its own judges.
The circumspect Catholic Commonweal called the boarding a “senseless assault,” the “latest disproportionate Israeli response,” certain to cost support for the U.S. Iran policy – Israel again refusing to recognize its obligations to the U.S.
What is extraordinary is that weeks later, not one public word of criticism of that murderous act of war has been heard from Maine’s Congressional delegation, the southern Maine Jewish community, or area mass media. These are the voices critical to changing public perception and changing U.S. policy from supporting and funding whatever horrors Israel would perpetrate in its campaign to evict all Palestinians from their homes in Palestine or reduce those remaining to abject subservience.
Does their silence join them in Israel’s denial to Palestinians of the human rights and security Israelis demand for themselves, by definition racism? Or are they, like most of us, indifferent to the suffering and death our foreign policy violence causes – morally dead?
Portland resident William H. Slavick is a member of Maine Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine and coordinator of Pax Christi Maine.