Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Unfair argumentation methods IX: Ships to Gaza

with 4 comments

On May 31, the evil Israelis boarded a ship with selfless pacifists, killing nine of them. This to uphold an unlawful and inhumanitarian blockade against innocent Palestinians.

Or so the story goes, in many news sources, on many blogs, and from the mouths of many politicians. Certainly, this version is the one used to start a new wave of anti-Israel propaganda in Sweden—“Ships to Gaza” (“Skepp till Gaza”; the name used by the Swedish anti-blockade movement for the attempts) being a phrase turning up everywhere the week after the events. (Notably, most Swedish media and leftist organisations seem to operate under the assumptions that Israel is evil and to automatically and uncritically blame anything that goes wrong in the on-going conflicts on Israel.)

The reality may be something completely different—and under no circumstances is the issue as clear-cut as it is often painted.

Consider first the legality of the blockade:

Here it is highly notable that the opinions among experts vary, with many considering the blockade legal. Certainly, this is the position of the Israeli government; certainly, a strong case can be made.

Take e.g. these blogs explaining why the authors feel that the blockade is legale, that it is necessarye, and that Hamas, not Israel, is the probleme. (There is also some discussion of the raid it self.)

Consider then the legality of the raid and who is to blame for what: Again legal opinions differ considerably, but it is at least highly likely that Israel acted in the belief (whether correct or not) that it had the law on its side. Lacking omniscience, I can only go by what other sources have written about the events, but, yet again, highly different opinions exist. The Israeli version certainly paints a very different picture from the activist version.

An import question here: Assuming that Israelis deliberately set out to use the excessive unprovoked violence they are accused of—why did they do so? They must have been aware of the reactions that would follow. Further, they (allegedly) went berserk on one single ship out of six. Why just one? Further yet, according to Wikipedia, this was the “ninth attempt since 2008 to break the blockade by sea, but the first that resulted in deaths”. Why this time around, and not before?

It is simply highly implausible that the result was deliberate (or even what may be considered “grossly negligent”)—Occam’s Razor. Possibly, there was an unfortunate miscommunication somewhere. Possibly, a few individual soldiers had their own agenda. Possibly, things just went out of hand due to an unfortunate chain of events. In any reasonably likely explanation I can think of, however, it would be a misfortune rather than state-sanctioned murder.

There is another explanation: The Israelis did not cause the problem, but the activists did. Possibly, the activists on board this one ship were of a different kind than on previous/other ships. On the balance, again using Occam’s Razor, this is what appears most plausible to me—and this well matches the Israeli version of the events.

Again, I am not omniscient: I know neither the true version of the events, nor the intents of the involved parties. However, and this is the important part, neither do the members of the chorus of condemnation. Notably, even most participants of the flotilla will not know, and the claims of some participants that they were on a mission of peace (or similar) are specious: Even if this applies to some or most of them, there is nothing to prevent another group from having a very different agenda—with the pacifists being “useful idiots”.

Going through the Wikipedia page on the “Gaza flotilla raid”w (revision 371402678), it is possible to get a good overview of what various people claim. Below, I have extracted a number of statements that tell or support the Israeli version (all emphasis added by me):

Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, Chicago Law School Professor Eric Posner, and Johns Hopkins international law Professor Ruth Wedgwood, said that the naval blockade and the boarding in international waters were in accord with long-standing international law, and comparable to other blockades in unrelated, historical conflicts. Dershowitz and Posner also defended the specific use of force as legal.

Israel requested to have the cargos inspected at the port of Ashdod and items permitted by Israel delivered by land; the flotilla refused this request.

Nine activists, all from the IHH [sometimes suspected of being a terrorist organisation, cf. Wikipediaw] were killed by the Israeli troops

Israeli soldiers said they used their pistols only after their lives were endangered,

Israel seized and inspected the cargo, 70 truck-loads, and requested the UN to oversee its transfer to Gaza.

According to Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration, every day about 100 trucks are allowed to enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Israel says the naval blockade is needed to prevent rocket attacks against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Israeli prime minister said “If the blockade had been broken, it would have been followed by dozens, hundreds of boats. Each boat could carry dozens of missiles.”.

Some supporters of the flotilla announced on 28 May: “A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade.” Some of the activists who would later die during the MV Mavi Marmara clash spoke in terms that suggested they put religious duty before their lives. On 29 May, Aljazeera broadcast footage of some activists on the MV Mavi Marmara participating in a chant invoking battle against Jews.

According to Israel radio the following message was sent by the Israeli navy to the captain of the Mavi Marmara: “You are approaching an area of hostilities, which is under a naval blockade. Gaza coastal area and Gaza Harbour are closed to maritime traffic. The Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in Gaza Strip and invites you to enter Ashdod port. Delivery of supplies will be in accordance with the authorities’ regulations and through the formal land crossing to Gaza and under your observation, after which you can return to your home ports.” The reply was: “Negative, negative. Our destination is Gaza.”

After Israeli warnings that the ships are approaching a blockade, voices responded “Go back to Auschwitz!” and “Don’t forget 9/11”.

Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran war correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth was aboard the Victory, an Israeli missile ship. He said the army planned to land a team on the top deck and rush the bridge and take control. He reported that that the assessment was that the passengers would show “light resistance and possibly minor violence”. He said the soldiers were told to confront protesters verbally, use crowd control tactics and use firearms only to save their own lives. The commandos were not able to rush the bridge as planned and another helicopter was sent with a second troop. At first, the soldiers attempted to stop the violence with stun grenades; however, after a soldier was reported injured, the troops then asked for permission to use their firearms, which they received.

Israel has asserted that it did not begin firing live weapons until after the guns of two soldiers on board were taken by passengers,

The IDF said that all of the equipment that was on board was examined and that none of it was in shortage in Gaza.

Robert Mackey of The New York Times suggested that the passengers on the ship may have mistaken the flash grenades and paintball guns for deadly weapons, which enraged them.

Activist Espen Goffeng said that “[t]he defense of the boat was quite well organized”.

Mohamed Beltagy, an Egyptian member of parliament who had also been on the ship said Egyptian television program “10 at Night” that the flotilla participants overcame three Israeli commandos and snatched their weapons from them. His admission of employing force against IDF soldiers was accepted as truthful in Egypt, as evidenced by the heavy criticism of him in the Egyptian media, not for exaggerating or lying, but for granting Israel a “public relations gift.”

According to the IDF, Israeli commandos prepared to encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, were armed with paintball guns and handguns as sidearms. The soldiers had orders to peacefully convince the activists to give up, and if not successful, use non-lethal force to commandeer the ship. The commandos were instructed to use the sidearms in an emergency, when their lives were at risk.

The commandos fired warning shots and dropped stun grenades prior to abseiling to the ship. The IDF reported that the commandos were immediately attacked after descending from helicopters onto the deck of the ship, beaten, and stabbed. One soldier was thrown to a lower deck. Two Israeli commandos had their guns wrested away. An Israeli commando said that there was live fire at some point against them from below deck. Two of the commandos suffered gunshot wounds. The troops said later: “We were fired upon, we fired back.” According to Major Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the activists attacked the soldiers with knives, slingshots, spikes, and clubs, and with pistols that were seized from Israeli commandos. The Israeli Navy said they recovered 9mm shell casings of a kind not used by the Israeli commandos, suggesting that the activists had other weapons not seized from the IDF. They were reportedly thrown overboard prior to the Israeli commandos taking complete control of the ship. Israeli commandos also boarded the ship from boats. As the boats approached, activists fired water hoses and threw a box of plates and a stun grenade at them, and beat the hands of soldiers as they climbed on board.

One video shows, according to IDF, each commando being attacked by metal pipes and bats as he was lowered by helicopter. IDF also reported that one soldier was thrown overboard and another to a lower deck. Other videos show at least one incident in which a stun grenade and fire bomb was thrown at the soldiers, as well activists beating one of the soldiers and trying to kidnap him. Another video, edited from the ship’s surveillance footage, is described by the IDF as showing activists preparing for a clash hours before the Israeli Navy made contact with the ship.

One IDF commando who took part in the operation summed up the clash between the activists and the naval intercept team this way;

“They (IHH activists) came prepared for a battle. We came prepared to straighten thongs out, to talk to them, convince them to unboard the ship.”

The cargo of the ships included medical supplies as well as weapons such as knives, clubs, slingshots, bulletproof vests, gas masks and night vision goggles. Israeli Army found the weapons and military supplies only on Mavi Marmara.

Israel reported that seven soldiers were injured in the clash—two seriously. Two of the soldiers sustained gunshot wounds, and one soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost consciousness after being tossed from an upper deck by the activists.

Copyright statement: Due to the great dependence on the quoted Wikipedia page, this article is “copylefted” using the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA)e. My normal copyright terms do not apply.

For the sake of formality, an APA-style reference to the used page:

Gaza flotilla raid. (2010, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:32, July 6, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gaza_flotilla_raid&oldid=371402678

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Written by michaeleriksson

July 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I like you tend to think that it is stupid to argue that there was any deliberate intention to kill any of the activists in this incident.

    Iain Hall

    July 12, 2010 at 6:59 am

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    July 26, 2010 at 4:20 am

  3. […] to be very good at painting themselves as victims (cf. the “Not touching! Can’t get mad!” stunt of the Mavi Marmara); while feminists rely on a mixture of lies, misinterpreted or falsified statistics, spreading of […]

  4. […] Trusting first impressions is extremely dangerous; making a decision after only having heard one side of the story is inexcusable. Cf. also an older discussion of the Mavi Marmara incident. […]


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