The Flotilla Massacre: Historical Perspective, Aftermath and Implications – by Stephen Lendman
During the Mandate period and throughout its existence, Israel’s history has been bloodstained, barbarous, and out-of-control – and for most of it generously funded and heavily armed with the latest weapons and technology by its Washington paymaster/partner to reign terror on the region and Palestine. Early on, Israel was a regional menace. It’s now a global one, posing a grave threat to world peace and stability.
The Flotilla attack was just the latest among its thousands of other atrocities, large and small, including preemptive wars, smaller incursions, bombings, killings including targeted assassinations, torture as official policy, and numerous other crimes against humanity as advocated by early leaders like David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) saying:
“We must expel the Arabs and take their place and if we have to use force, to guarantee our own right to settle (on their land) then we have (it) at our disposal.”
Or former IDF Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan (1978 – 1983) saying:
“We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel….Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours.”
Or the secret (1976 published) Koenig Report saying:
“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”
Or Benjamin Netanyahu, as Deputy Foreign Minister, saying “Israel should have exploited the (1989 Tiananmen Square violence), when world attention focused on (China), to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories.”
Little wonder why Israel’s history is so bloodstained, some notable examples below:
— on July 22, 1946, future prime minister Menachem Begin’s Irgun (a notorious terror group) bombed the King David Hotel, massacring 92 Brits, Arabs and Jews, wounding 58 others, in an operation approved by David Ben-Gurion as head of the Jewish Agency at the time;
— also under the Mandate, the terrorist Stern Gang (future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir one of its leaders) carried out numerous bombings, kidnappings, and killings, including the 1944 assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo – Britain’s highest ranking official in the region;
— on April 9, 1948 (during Israel’s “war of independence”) the Irgun, Stern Gang and other Israeli terrorists slaughtered well over 120 Palestinian men, women and children in the bloody Deir Yassin village rampage; on April 14, The New York Times reported 254 killed;
— Israel’s “war of independence” (Palestine’s Nakba, its “Holocaust”) depopulated 531 towns and villages and 11 urban neighborhoods, committing mass slaughter, rapings, vast destruction, and countless other atrocities in displacing about 800,000 Palestinians – one of history’s greatest ever crimes of war and against humanity;
— a week after the war’s mid-May 1948 end, Israeli troops massacred over 200 al-Tantura villagers, mostly unarmed young men murdered in cold blood;
— on July 11 & 12, IDF forces slaughtered several hundred Lydda civilians, including 80 machine-gunned inside the Dahmash mosque;
— from October 24 – 29, 1948, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 50 Hula, Lebanon villagers;
— on October 29, 1948, they massacred around 200 al-Dawayima villagers;
— on October 30, 20 more in Majd al-Kurum, 94 when they blew up a house, and hundreds in Sa’sa’ village;
— on October 14, 1953, Ariel Sharon’s notorious Unit 101 murdered 70 Qibya, Jordan villagers;
— on April 5, 1956, IDF shelling massacred 56 and wounded 193 in Gaza City;
— on October 29, 1956, the IDF slaughtered about 50 Kafr Kassem village men, women and children;
— during the 1956 Suez War, Israelis executed about 273 Egyptian soldiers and civilians in cold blood;
— on November 12, 1956, the IDF slaughtered over 100 Rafah Refugee Camp civilians;
— during Israel’s preemptive June 1967 Six Day War, its forces massacred around 2,000 captured Egyptian soldiers, another 340 Syrian villagers in the Golan Heights, and displaced over 300,000 Palestinians who fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria to escape the carnage;
— on June 8, 1967, Israeli forces preemptively attacked the USS Liberty (a clearly marked US intelligence ship), killing 34 Americans and wounding another 171 in international waters; Lyndon Johnson’s defense department whitewashed it as a case of “mistaken identity,” despite clear knowledge of a premeditated assault;
— on February 21, 1973, the IDF shot down Libya Airlines Flight 114, killing 106 passengers, including one American;
— on February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein (a member of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extremist Jewish Defense League) attacked Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs Ibrahim mosque, massacring 29 and wounding another 129;
— during Israel’s 1982 Lebanon invasion and occupation, IDF forces slaughtered about 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, including around 3,000 by its Phalangist allies in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps;
— during the first (1987 – 1992) and second (2000 – 2005) Intifadas, IDF rampages slaughtered thousands of Palestinian men, women and children in cold blood;
— in April 2002, IDF forces invaded Jenin and its refugee camp, cut them off from outside help, destroyed hundreds of buildings, buried many alive under the rubble, cut off power, water, food, and other essential supplies, refused to let in help (including medical aid), and killed or wounded at least dozens (perhaps hundreds) of Palestinian civilians; Israel removed bodies and buried them to prevent an accurate count;
— during the July 2006 Lebanon war, the IDF caused mass destruction, killed about 1,300, wounded many more, and displaced around one million civilians (about one-fourth of the population);
— during the June 2006 Operation Summer Rain against Gaza, Israelis killed around 240 (mostly civilians) and caused widespread destruction – including three main bridges, the Nusairat and al-Boreji refugee camps’ main water pipe, and the Strip’s only power plant, supplying 80% of the Territory’s electricity;
— during the same period, the IDF conducted around 50 West Bank incursions, raiding homes, razing farmland, arresting dozens, and on June 29 the entire (elected) Hamas leadership, including eight ministers, 25 PLC Change and Reform Party members, and other Hamas officials; and
— during the 23-day December 2008 – January 2009 Operation Cast Lead, IDF forces slaughtered over 1,400, injured around 5,500 more (many seriously), and inflicted vast destruction throughout Gaza, including vital infrastructure, hospitals, schools, mosques, government buildings, factories, other businesses, farmland, private homes, and much more unrelated to military necessity in violation of international law; as a result, the Goldstone Commission concluded that:
“the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the (entire) population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of (vital infrastructure and non-military targets) was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.”
And now the Flotilla massacre, Israel’s latest crime against humanity, enraging millions worldwide, getting Turkey and South Africa to recall their ambassadors, Nicaragua to downgrade diplomatically to a consular level, and several other countries to consider their own measures.
Qatar announced it will pay to take Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and will fund a worldwide media campaign on the incident and Gaza siege.
Arutz Sheva (Israel National News.com) reported that the Egyptian Bar Association is collecting material to file an ICJ suit, its chairman, Hamdi Alifa, saying they’re being reviewed to file “giant lawsuits” against Israeli crimes, including the Flotilla attack and Gaza siege.
Haaretz reported that Swedish dock workers will blockade Israeli ships from June 15 – 24. Norway announced it cancelled a scheduled special operations seminar because its Defense Ministry objected to an Israeli officer’s participation. In Bournemouth, England (with a large Jewish population and Jewish mayor), people demanded cutting city relations with Netanyahu.
The French operator Utopia said it won’t screen the Israeli-made film, “Five Hours From Paris.” Israel flags were publicly burned in many cities. New Delhi Muslims demanded their government sever ties with Israel. The BBC reported that 200 or more in Belfast protested the Rachel Corrie seizure, five days after the Flotilla massacre.
Ynet News.com reported that President Shimon Peres will likely cancel a scheduled Asia trip, because he’s supremely unwelcome, and longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas said Israeli Jews should return to Germany, Poland, and America, prompting B’nai B’rith’s international VP Daniel Mariaschin to say:
“There should be no place for her in a news organization. Her comments go beyond commentary and land well in the camp that will stop at nothing to delegitimize Israel.” B’nai B’rith has long supported the worst of Israeli crimes, denouncing anyone who dares expose them.
On June 7, Haaretz reported that a Knesset panel voted 7 – 1 to “strip Balad (Party) MK Hanin Zuabi (an Israeli citizen) of privileges over (her) Gaza flotilla participation.”
In a same day op-ed piece, Haaretz’s Ruth Gavison called measures to “limit dissent and protest” dangerous by “enforc(ing) the platforms of those who claim Israel is becoming a belligerent country that belittles democracy and human rights.”
In fact, throughout its history, Israel has always been belligerent, and has never respected democracy, human rights, or the rule of law.
Global Outrage – Resonating and Growing
After the massacre, world protests erupted, including in many US cities – among them:
— New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC in front of the White House, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, Atlanta, Tampa, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Charlotte, Raleigh, Knoxville, Fresno, Dearborn, Denver, Sioux Falls, Fort Wayne, Fayetteville, Portland, Boise, and Seattle.
US major media reports ignored them, but aired Israeli propaganda blaming the victims, calling them terrorists, and claiming the Netanyahu government acted responsibly to prevent “pro-Palestinian radicals, jihadists” from smuggling in arms to Hamas – Palestine’s legitimate government, falsely called a terrorist organization to justify premeditated murder, a suffocating siege, claiming they’re for self-defense, another refuge for scoundrels caught red-handed as evidenced by the worldwide outrage.
On May 31, Al Jazeera headlined what millions around the world feel: “Global outrage over Israeli attack” – condemnation from high officials to street anger everywhere, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya proclaiming May 31 “freedom day” in calling on Palestinians throughout Gaza and the West Bank “to carry out a total strike (throughout the Territories) to show solidarity (against) Israeli crimes.”
Longtime Palestinian supporter, Hugo Chavez, expressed condolences to the families and friends of the “heros who were victims of this crime,” calling on “those responsible for the murders (to) be severely punished.”
In a prepared statement, he condemned the “brutal massacre committed by the state of Israel against members of the Freedom Flotilla (and its) war against unarmed civilians who were trying to bring humanitarian assistance to the….people of Gaza (under) a criminal blockade imposed by the state of Israel.”
“The revolutionary government of Venezuela will continue denouncing the terrorist and criminal nature of the Israeli government and reiterates….its unshakeable commitment with the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom, national sovereignty and dignity.”
In early 2009, over Cast Lead atrocities, Chavez severed diplomatic ties with Israel and hasn’t restored them.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly condemned Israel’s attack as “despicably cowardly, brazen, reckless, and vicious – against international law, against the heart of humanity, against world peace,” referring to the massacre as an “abhorrent terrorist attack” against a humanitarian mission in international waters.
He recalled his ambassador, cancelled three jointly scheduled military operations, called for an emergency Security Council meeting, asked for immediate international community action, and said “Everything has a price. And this government will have to pay (it).”
Aside from its latest appalling crime, a litany of explanatory lies, and a common street thug as prime minister, Israel and America (its paymaster/partner in all belligerent acts) have a whopping PR disaster on their hands, given world outrage resonating to top officials who must answer to their own constituencies.
Moreover, the Netanyahu government’s farcical justification compounds its untenable position. Obama’s indifference and Security Council obstructionism exposes his, along with outrageous congressional comments. These people can’t even lie well, or perhaps as automatically count on reliable allies ahead, getting fed up with ones more an albatross.
Objectives of Both Sides
Flotilla planners’ clear agenda included:
— delivering essential to life aid to 1.5 million besieged Gazans, three years this month, but more importantly
— symbolically breaking the siege to encourage world condemnation, highlighting an intolerable injustice, and taking another important step toward ending it.
On the pretext of blocking the entry of weapons, Israel carried out a premeditated, carefully planned and rehearsed military operation, designed to commit murder and mass casualties against unarmed civilians, even announcing it in Maariv, one of Israel’s leading dailies, days in advance, the caption reading:
“On the way to violence, one of the boats is on its way,” suggesting a kill-or-be-killed encounter with “terrorists.”
Israel’s plan had specific objectives:
— to maintain its oppressive blockade;
— keep 1.5 million Gazans trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison;
— cause enough harm to deter others from coming, and
— assassinated designated activists on board.
On June 5, the UK Independent’s Catrina Stewart reported an interview with Jamal Elshayyal, one of eight Al Jazeera on board reporters, seven on the Mavi Marmara, saying passengers found on Israeli commandos a list of names and photos, Alshayyal telling Stewart:
The “protesters rummaged through captured soldiers’ belongings and claimed to unearth a document that they allege is a list of people Israel intended to assassinate. The booklet, written in Hebrew and in English, contained some photographs of passengers on the Marmara, including the leader of IHH, the Turkish charity that provided two of the ships, an 88-year-old priest and Ra’ad, head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Mr. Elshayyal said.”
Autopsy reports show Flotilla members were shot multiple times at close range, two or more in the head, indicating murder, not self-defense as Israel claims.
The Israeli Project produces pro-Israeli propaganda, claiming it’s information is accurate, unbiased, and “not related to any government or government agency.”
In its post-Flotilla attack conference call, Rep. Brad Sherman (D. CA) accused Flotilla activists of aiding Hamas in violation of US law, then called on US Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute US participants on terrorist charges, saying:
“The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 makes it absolutely illegal for any American to give food, money, school supplies, paper clips, concrete or weapons to Hamas or any of its officials.”
Sherman, a so-called “liberal” Democrat, supports the most extremist elements of Israel’s government, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman among them, notorious sponsors of state-terrorism.
The entire Senate and most House members also back Israel’s belligerence and broader objective to destroy PA authority to subjugate all Palestine – by ruthless attacks against civilians, considered legitimate targets to weaken their will to resist through mass slaughter, other atrocities, and numerous other abuses.
Cast Lead did it horrifically, the Flotilla slaughter just the latest example of how far Israel will go – with Washington’s full support through generous funding, the latest weapons and technology, and use of its Security Council pressure and veto.
Stratfor Global Intelligence on the Flotilla Massacre
Providing information and insights to world decision-makers, Stratfor’s CEO George Friedman examined the effect of Israel’s attack, calling it “unprecedented in size” for an assault of this kind, citing three factors differentiating it:
— over 600 foreign nationals were involved, including politicians and journalists, “raising the stakes for all players;”
— the incident drew unprecedented media attention and preparation; immediately, “pre-arranged interviews with various pro-Palestinian representatives were filling regional media such as Al Jazeera” and others (but not in America where they’re banned); world protests erupted, calling for accountability and sanctions against Israel; and
— “Most importantly, a non-Arab foreign state played a role in instigating this incident. Turkey has been feeling its way forward in the region,” trying to increase its political stature through “new tools of influence.” Its government “did everything it could to benefit from the public relations that a successful breaching of the blockade would generate.”
In addition, because of Israel’s “direct action, a web of international relationships will be affected,” and Turkey can leverage the incident by “providing military escorts (for) future aid flotillas that could increase in size” and further heighten tensions if Israeli recklessness continues.
Already, Middle East instability has increased, “the last thing” America needs with more than enough on its plate. In addition, Washington-Tel Aviv relations are affected, at least overtly as well as Israel’s Western and regional relationships. Fumbling a “military action against a civilian convoy….is something that works directly against American policies.”
Given what’s happened and world outrage, “the issue has….shifted from a military question to a political one.” Key ahead is how Israel, Washington and Ankara will react, besides the potential effect on other world governments, given growing demands for accountability and mass public calls for action.
Friedman discounts the idea that the commandos used “paintballs” in the attack, calling them “training rounds” not likely to be used during a mission of this sort, especially on a ship with over 600 activists. Claiming it flies in the face of up to 20 killed and many more wounded, Friedman added:
“We find this hard to believe, given Israel’s extensive experience (against) hostile civilian crowds,” perhaps ready to offer resistance.
Israel’s Shayetet 13 force is an elite Naval Special Forces unit, specializing in sea-to-land incursions, assassinations, counterterrorism, sabotage, and other belligerent acts – not crowd control, “so a civilian opposition would not necessarily be their area of expertise,” a mission Israeli police could have handled.
Friedman omitted what Today’s Zaman reported (an English language Turkish daily) on June 7, stating:
“Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek (said) Turkish citizens who were injured or killed were subjected to serious torture, and this much is evident from traces left on their bodies as well as from bullet shots, most of which were fired at close range.”
The paper’s photographer, Kursat Bayhan, was on the Mavi Marmara and related his “30 hours in cell number 5202” in Beer-Sheva Prison. All their belongings were taken. They were body-searched, handcuffed, photographed, forced to sign a document saying they weren’t harmed, those requesting return of their luggage and passports then beaten, how Israel treats virtually all detainees.
Fallout from the Flotilla Massacre
Joshua Landis is Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. On his June 1 web site posting, Syria Comment, he headlined, “Israel Pays High Price for Attack on Turkish Flotilla with Aid for Gaza,” saying the damage is mounting:
— Greece “decided to discontinue the joint military exercise currently under way and to postpone” the Athens visit of Israel’s air force general staff head, scheduled for June 1;
— Turkey recalled its ambassador, and its foreign minister says “relations are irreparable;”
— Netanyahu had to cancel his important Washington visit;
— an emergency UN Security Council session was called, no surprise afterward that Washington prevented any meaningful resolution;
— “Obama will try to distance the US from Israel in due course. What choice does he have? Israel is increasingly a millstone around America’s neck;”
— China got Washington to agree to exempt its companies from US measures for doing business with Iran for whatever new sanctions it agreed to;
— “Negotiations will now become harder and more costly for the US as the world largely sees (its) effort to punish Iran to be driven by Israeli concerns. Iran hardly threatens the US,” Israel or any other nation.
On May 31 in Foreign Policy, Professor Stephen Walt headlined “Israel’s latest brutal blunder,” saying:
“What could Israel’s leaders have been thinking? How could they possibly believe that a deadly assault against a humanitarian mission in international waters would play to their advantage?” Actions like this galvanize efforts to “delegitimize the country….This latest escapade is as bone-headed as the 2006 war in Lebanon” and Cast Lead. They provide “more evidence of the steady deterioration in Israel’s strategic thinking that we have witnessed since 1967.”
Importantly, the Flotilla attack “poses a broader threat to US national interests” because the world associates Israel’s actions with Washington, given the “unbreakable bonds” between them. It’s clear that “the special relationship with Israel has become a net liability.” Tel Aviv portraying itself as a blameless victim is wearing thin, a shameless canard, increasingly likely ahead to fall on deaf ears.
On January 19, 2009, after Cast Lead, Walt addressed “The Myth of Israel’s strategic genius,” saying:
The record shows otherwise. Israel’s military victories are often strategic failures, showing it’s expert only at shooting itself in the foot, so far at least without consequences, but for how long.
According to noted Israeli supporter Leon Wieseltier, its settlements project was another “moral and strategic blunder of historic proportions,” one, in fact, “never openly debated within the Israeli body politic,” but taken behind closed doors.
For decades, Israel has stumbled from one strategic blunder to another, showing there’s “no reason to think (it) possesses uniquely gifted strategists or a national security establishment that consistently makes smart and far-sighted choices.”
Yet remarkably, some of its most incompetent leaders, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon, and Netanyahu are rewarded with new chances to repeat mistakes, perhaps because of Washington’s unflagging support, but for how long, given the price America pays for damaged goods, compounding its own appalling record abroad and at home with a shelf life of definite limits and an ability to preserve it running out of cash.
Perhaps also its willingness to stick with a dubious partner, the same problem Washington faces with allies, sooner or later to get fed up and walk away, cutting their losses to advantage their own futures. The same ones Americans should consider for their own welfare, and assess how far they’ll go to defend it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.