First, tragic though these events were, we must not lose sight of the circumstance that engendered them. This is Israel’s ongoing siege of 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In spite of its much trumpeted ‘loosening’ of its blockade – which has happened solely because of the courageous actions of those who organised and took part in this and earlier humanitarian missions- the siege of Gaza is still in force.
What happens inside Gaza is subject to a barrage of disinformation propagated by the disciplined international public relations machine that has been one of the great strengths of the Zionist movement since its inception. In effect denying the humanity of 1.5 million Palestinians, Israel describes the Gaza Strip as a ‘terrorist entity’. It thereby justifies any manner of deprivation and abuses against the civilian population. These actions are then covered up with false reports that Gazans are thriving on the generous amounts of food that Israel magnanimously allows them.
This propaganda contradicts all reports from Gaza, which depict an entire population penned into an open-air prison camp with their economy crippled by the blockade, suffering appalling public health, and prevented from leaving freely or rebuilding after the devastation of Israel’s assault in 2008-2009.
The cumulative effect of this siege amounts to collective punishment under belligerent occupation (which Israel’s high seas blockade has again proven is still in place). This constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is a potential war crime and perhaps a crime against humanity. These were among the conclusions of the report of the committee headed by the respected international jurist, Judge Richard Goldstone. The saga of the flotilla has brought further attention to the reality of Gaza and has further shredded the screen of lies Israel has erected to conceal its actions there.
The media view
Second, it is worth reflecting on discrepancies between how the attack on the Mavi Marmara was reported by the mainstream American media and how it was depicted elsewhere. Utilising what has become a favoured tactic for muzzling the press, one perfected during the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza – keeping the victims forcibly under wraps and isolated from reporters – Israeli forces kidnapped the flotilla passengers, stole their phones and cameras, and held them incommunicado for two days.
All the while, Israel’s PR machine tirelessly propagated its fanciful depiction of the events that took place at sea. Because there was initially little access to alternate sources of information, the Israeli spinners thus had a crucial 24-48 hours in which to establish their false version of events. This concoction quickly became ascendant in the mainstream American media and on Capitol Hill, where politicians soon fell over one another striving to read the lines fed to them by Israel.
As those detained at sea were released, the truth of what happened on the ships eventually came out. These facts, however, were slow to be picked up by the US media. They never made any impact on the American political sphere. The situation was quite different everywhere else in the world. There, what actually happened on the hijacked ships very quickly asserted itself over the fairy tale retailed by the Israeli government about poor defenceless Israelis being viciously assaulted by those on the humanitarian flotilla.
In virtually every European country, including those that are generally pro-Israel, and in the rest of the world, the bulk of the media and public opinion did not swallow this ludicrous Israeli story. Even in Israel, many journalists and commentators were not taken in by the government line, and described the operation as the brutal fiasco it was. However, for the Netanyahu government and its supporters, the fact that their skewed version of reality was rejected virtually everywhere was simply taken as further evidence that Israel lives beleaguered in a world populated by anti-Semites.
Attack on an ally
This brings us to the third and perhaps most interesting reflection. What could Israel’s leaders have been thinking when they ordered an attack on a Turkish-flagged ship on the high seas, knowing that Turkey is and has been for over half a century Israel’s only Middle East ally? This could also be asked of many earlier Israeli decisions. Previously, the answer was in large part a smug certainty in Jerusalem, where the political elite is located, and in the Qirya (the Israeli Pentagon) in Tel Aviv, that the US would cover for Israel, whatever happened.
In this case also, the US continued to cover for Israel in the UN security council, accepting an Israeli-controlled investigation into the attack on the flotilla instead of an impartial international one. One can judge the surreal atmosphere in Washington from the fact that 329 representatives and 87 senators signed letters demanding support for Israel’s act of ‘self-defence’.
Needless to say, many reasonable options open to the Obama administration were dismissed out of hand. These ranged from invoking Nato solidarity in the face of an unprovoked, lethal attack on the high seas on a ship belonging to an alliance member-state, to simply abstaining on a security council resolution condemning Israel’s action and demanding a genuine international investigation with Turkish participation. Naturally, it was unimaginable that Washington would allow the Israeli navy to be treated as it should have been: like those engaged in non-state piracy off the Somali coast.
Despite this exhibition of fealty to Israel, however, the US executive is beginning to express dissent from some Israeli policies. This was apparent over issues of nuclear non-proliferation, where the US position of effectively putting Israel on the same level as Iran has made the Israeli government quietly furious and its partisans noisily apoplectic; over public comments by the most senior officials from the president down implicitly questioning Israel’s strategic value to the US; and over a reiteration that the US considers East Jerusalem to be occupied territory.
So, given its strained relations with the Obama administration, why has the Netanyahu government chosen to spurn its sole Middle Eastern ally? One hesitates to believe that the fevered writings of Israel’s neocon boosters like Michael Rubin, who has proclaimed Turkey ‘an Islamic republic’ and announced that it long ago shifted from being an ally to an enemy, could possibly reflect the thinking of Israeli leaders. But this Israeli government may have reached rock bottom: they may actually believe their own maudlin propaganda about the entire world being against them, and may therefore think that since Israel will be condemned anyway, it should do as it pleases.
Remarkably, Israel’s leaders appear to have both misread how the Turkish government and people would respond to an attack on one of its ships, and to have decided it did not matter anyway. They may have arrogantly assumed that just as they could defy Washington over settlements in the hope that the Obama administration would lose strength in the November 2010 midterm elections and would be gone after those of 2012, they could also force the US to choose Israel over Turkey.
The latter is a grave misreading of the strategic value of both countries to the US. Israel is declining in importance for many US policy-makers, and indeed is coming to be seen as a problem. Turkey is not just a Nato ally with troops in Afghanistan, and with influence in crucial regions ranging from the Aegean, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and central Asia to the Middle East. It is also facilitating US withdrawal from Iraq, and, like all Middle Eastern states except Israel, has a sane and pragmatic understanding of how to deal with regional problems created by Iran’s clerical regime.
Not all in the Israeli hierarchy are blind to these larger realities. ‘Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden,’ the chief of the Mossad intelligence service told an Israeli Knesset committee soon after the flotilla fiasco. Two former prime ministers earlier warned that if Israel stays on its present course, it will become an international pariah. But a circle-the-wagons mentality has taken hold of the Israeli political elite. When one adds their longstanding addiction to the use of force, one understands otherwise inexplicable actions, from the assaults on Lebanon in 2006, to Gaza in 2008-2009, to that on the Mavi Marmara. As John Mearsheimer put it recently, this elite ‘remains firmly committed to the belief that what cannot be solved by force can be solved with greater force’.
Israel was established by using force to establish facts on the ground in Palestine, and by savvy control of the discourse about Palestine. But the once-formidable Israeli PR machine is no longer up to its task, for it is being asked to ‘sell’ policies – endless occupation, rank discrimination, the siege of a civilian population, savage attacks on neighbours – that are increasingly abhorrent to people the world over. Barring a rapid, radical change in these policies, this is a recipe for the total isolation of Israel. n
Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University and author of Palestinian Identity, The Iron Cage and, most recently, Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East
Red Pepper readers’ offer: 25 per cent off both the paperback and ebook editions of Midnight on the Mavi Marmara. Go to www.orbooks.com and enter the code REDPEPPER25
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out