HAIFA: Israel was dead wrong in launching an attack by naval commandos against a flotilla carrying pro-Palestinian activists who were making an attempt to break the Israeli-Egyptian siege of Gaza. That long-term siege, put in place after Hamas assumed sole control of the government in Gaza — breaking with the Palestine National Authority in the process — is a humanitarian catastrophe and a grave moral error.
There can be no excuses, no “but we didn’t intend.” The Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must apologize to the victims, investigate what happened on the blood-stained decks of the flotilla’s boats, and move on to honest peace talks with willing Palestinian leaders, like Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestine National Authority.
The fact that Hamas is refusing to make peace has nothing to do with the recent travesty in the sea en route to Gaza. The fact that Gazan militants have fired missiles on Israeli civilians, and continue to do so, is irrelevant. The fact that the flotilla did not carry only “peace activists,” but also many people who wish to see Israel destroyed and Israelis perish, is no reason to drop soldiers upon them.
Even the fact that some of the “humanitarian aid workers” turned on the soldiers with a rather un-peaceful array of knives and clubs is no justification for shooting to kill. The trespassers on the scene, the true-blue pirates, were unfortunately the uniformed Israeli commandos acting in my name.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak sent top combatants into a seafaring crowd of aggressive protesters and thought that they would win. What were they thinking? Other cabinet ministers had been promised that no fatalities would occur. The Israeli public woke up to a justified storm of global outrage. Once again, an army intended for self-defense on the battlefield was sent on a mission that only diplomacy, humanity, and tact could resolve. Has Israel lost the remainder of its wisdom? Are we witnessing a classic case of sheer political stupidity?
If so, then here’s further proof that only peaceful and stable countries can afford the luxury of incompetent decision-makers. In a hypersensitive reality, stupidity equals malice.
But I am afraid that something more than stupidity (though less than plain evil) is at work here. Israel’s current leaders, and a segment of Israeli society, are trapped in an idiosyncratic logic of fear and self-centeredness.
This deviant logic has expanded Israel’s justifiable acts of self-defense (such as targeting rocket launchers in Gaza and Lebanon) into all-out attacks. It has eroded the Israeli ethos of respect for the lives of civilians, even when militants hide among them. It has forced innocent Gazan civilians to pay dearly for their rulers’ crimes. And it has muddied the Jewish moral legacy demanding the active pursuit of both justice and peace. In short, Israel’s current leadership has inflated “security” into a surreal new cult, trumping morality.
Not all Israelis share this logic. Not all of us feel more secure when civilian protesters are shot in our name.
Israel should apologize and make amends. In this particular case, we must even apologize to those who openly loathe us and our state. Hatred, after all, is not a punishable crime.
Moderate Israeli citizens, who had nothing to do with the flotilla fiasco, should lower their heads in shame for their government’s act. And then we should raise our eyes again, proudly meet the gaze of those Palestinians who are willing to talk peace with us, and tell them: “Let’s get on with it. No time to lose.”
Fania Oz-Salzberger is Professor at Haifa and Monash Universities and the 2009/10 Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values. This commentary is published by Daily News Egypt in collaboration with Project Syndicate, www.project-syndicate.org.