Just indictment

Israel’s military action on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May this year has been declared illegal by a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) probe. On May 31, a convoy of six ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists from several countries and thousands of tonnes of aid sought to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed and many injured in the Israeli military action. Under international criticism for its heavy-handed action against the flotilla, Israel claimed that its commandos had been attacked by the activists and they had acted in self-defence. Indeed video footage revealed Israeli commandos boarding the ships being ambushed by activists with steel rods and chairs. However, its version of events omitted the fact that the ships had been fired upon prior to the ‘activists’ ambush’ and that the commandos were armed with lethal weaponry including sten guns, grenades and tear gas. The UNHRC investigation has declared the Israeli action as ‘disproportionate,’ one that involved ‘an unacceptable level of brutality.’ It has said there is strong evidence to prosecute Israel under the Geneva Conventions.

Israel has rejected the findings as ‘biased’ and ‘one-sided.’ It has pointed out that while the UNHRC team interviewed over a hundred witnesses these did not include Israelis. If this is so, a more balanced probe is required. The findings of another UN investigation ordered by secretary general Ban ki Moon and an international probe ordered by Israel are awaited.

Israel has always tended to respond excessively to a perceived threat. It deploys its commandos at the drop of a hat, even in situations that could be defused by mediators. In the case of the humanitarian flotilla, for instance, where was there a need to dispatch its navy and air force against unarmed activists? The unit that led the operation against the activists’ ships was Flotilla 13 unit of the Israeli navy, an elite military formation that is notorious for its ruthless operations. Instead of wallowing in victimhood, feeling isolated internationally and going into denial when confronted with its brutal behaviour, Israel would do well to indulge in some introspection and mend its ways. At the heart of anti-Israel international activism is its illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its inhuman blockade of Gaza. These must end if international criticism of its actions should cease.

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