The response to the raid on a flotilla of ships seeking to break the naval blockade around Gaza turns out to be a fascinating, if troubling Rorshach test on the entire Middle East conflict. You know Rorshcach tests – those ink blots to which viewers can attach the meaning of their choice. Well that’s what we have here.
The news reports are coming in fast and furious. The alerts from various advocacy organizations on both sides of the Middle East conflict flood my inbox even faster. And what they all mainly share is spin over substance, and politics over mourning.
YouTube is already getting crowded with competing videos that capture different moments during this morning’s boarding of the six-ship flotilla that attempted to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Some of them show passengers being assaulted by naval commandos and others show people who call themselves peace activists stabbing those commandos.
All of it happened and almost nobody who will read these words is in a position to assess what “really” happened, certainly not before an in-depth investigation of the events. In effect, today’s events — events in which as many as 12 human beings have been killed and at least as many injured, including both protesters and military personnel — have immediately become one more reason to intensify the conflict, not to pursue the peace that both sides claim they want.
Although the names of the dead have not yet been released, I can find almost no reports of attempts even to secure that information. Although there are families on both sides of this event that will bury their family members or visit them in the hospital, these facts, too, barely find a place in the coverage, unless it is to depict the brutality of the “other” side.
I am not without my own political biases, and they include sympathy for the suffering of Gazans whose lives are impacted by the blockade, and sympathy for the citizens of Israel who have endured more than 10,000 attacks by air, land, and sea since Israel left Gaza. I do not understand why Israel does not allow unlimited humanitarian aide into Gaza, nor do I understand how the world assumes that any nation should allow such aid to flow into another nation at war with it, as Hamas says it is with Israel. But none of that should matter today.
What matters today, at least in any conversation that claims to be driven by spiritual or religious sensibilities, as this one does, is the sadness at the loss of life and continued suffering on both sides of this conflict. This is not about moral equivalencies, which I do not believe exist here, or about who fired first. This is about those of us who are lucky enough to live out of harm’s way, not politicizing events when we should be mourning — and if not mourning, then at least doing more, or better, than using human suffering to promote a particular political agenda. Each side could start by addressing the following issues:
For example, when are so-called peace activists going to admit that while peace is desirable, it is not their primary goal? If it were, then those same activists would also position people among the civilian communities on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. They would sit in cafés, schools, and otherwise peaceful homes as they lived, or died, through Hamas rocket attacks and bombings. They would remind Gaza, as they have Israel, that not only is the whole world watching, but that the violence they do harms citizens of many nations.
Similarly, if running this blockade were really all about alleviating human suffering, then the sponsors of the flotilla would have worked with Israel and Egypt to bring in the aid by land after a requested inspection of the goods. And they would not have declared victory in advance, regardless of whether any suffering was alleviated, as Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh did earlier this week, claiming that it did not matter if the aid reached Gaza or if it was intercepted.
And when are supporters of Israel going to admit that suffering is suffering, and that no matter how much people may hate you, you/we cannot intensify their suffering while claiming to seriously pursue peace? We cannot have it both ways.
Can anyone really believe that what happened actually serves the interests of the citizens or the state of Israel? No matter how purposefully provocative the flotilla was, can anyone really think that violently boarding these boats was going to be anything other than a fiasco?
Perhaps the time has come to admit that we, Israel and it supporters throughout the world, are in a diplomatic/military cul-de-sac. If whatever one’s enemy does brings them victory — whether it succeeds or fails — perhaps the time has come to re-think the positions being defended.
Today should be a day for better questions, and yet all we get is more of the same tired answers. That, more than any of the day’s events, is the really disheartening news. Of course, there is always tomorrow.