There should be no doubt, now, about the outcome of the most
serious waterborne challenge to Israel's counterproductive
blockade of the Gaza, despite the swamp of propaganda and
"spin" from all sides.
People died, many were injured, Israel's global reputation
suffered another public relations defeat, and the people of
Gaza continued to be pawns in a hostile diplomatic and
For many in New Zealand, it will have come as something of a
surprise that, first, the blockade existed; second, that
Israel would use armed force to prevent what appears in
essence a delivery of humanitarian aid; and third, that
Israel under an earlier government allowed such deliveries
while under the present it has forbidden and intercepted
Hundreds of people were reportedly on board the nine-ship
flotilla, the biggest so far, and many were prominent
activists or representatives of various peace and Palestinian
They also included a Nobel peace laureate, authors,
film-makers, politicians and journalists from countries
around the world.
They were a part of the Free Gaza Movement's campaign to
break Israel's two-year blockage, imposed after Hamas took
political control of the Gaza in 2006.
Muslim Turkey, Israel's former closest regional "friend", had
informed the Israel Government that the flotilla was carrying
medical supplies, housing material and other humanitarian
aid, not arms.
It had been organised by, among others, the Turkish human
rights organisation, the Istanbul-based Foundation for Human
Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief.
Turkey had urged Israel to allow it safe passage.
Instead, after issuing warnings not to proceed - which were
provocatively ignored - Israeli commandos stormed the ships
in the darkness of night in international waters.
The resulting violent confrontation saw the killing and
injuring of many passengers, and the actual taking of the
ships into custody along with their cargo, passengers and
By any measure, this was a one-sided encounter.
Did Israel seriously believe the opposite likelihood?The UN
Security Council's emergency meeting - an early indication of
the seriousness with which world opinion views the incident -
predictably followed, with Palestinians and the Arab nations
demanding condemnation and an independent investigation, the
lifting of the blockade and the freeing of those in Israeli
custody, together with the delivery of the humanitarian aid.
In some countries, however, the call was for much more severe
penalties against Israel.
Israel defended its action, saying some of the activists were
known terrorists using the guise of humanitarianism to foment
violence against it.
It claims its blockade is legal, and that the various
organisations providing the aid had refused the offer of
sending the cargo through Israel to the Gaza rather than to a
Given recent history, it is unlikely Israel will be punished
with meaningful sanctions, especially while the United States
remains its chief protector.
Might is right where nuclear powers are concerned, no matter
how high the decibel level of condemnation.
An investigation, even at United Nations level, is unlikely
to trouble Israel.
Our own Government's response typifies this impotence, being
confined to a statement of disapproval and calling for
restraint from all parties.
The Government did make the point, however, that the
"situation in Gaza is not sustainable".
Indeed it is not.
It is deeply regrettable that Israel and Hamas refuse to
recognise that reality.
A rational description of Israel's high seas assault is that
it was a severe over-reaction to a situation that could - and
should - have been managed in a far more moderate, less
The commandos "slid from helicopters into a violent crowd,
which attacked them with sticks.
It's no wonder the troops opened fire in self-defence," as
one Israeli commentator put it, with more than a trace of
By so doing, he added, "Israel walked straight into the trap
that the flotilla organisers set . . ."
If this was really a planned effort to meet and contain the
flotilla, it must be counted a tactical and military failure;
an opportunity for Israel to earn praise ended in fiasco.
The nature of the confrontation and the ensuing tragedy of
death and injury will greatly complicate efforts to find an
enduring peaceful solution to the problem of accommodating a
Palestinian state in the Middle East.
It is to be wondered just how much prior knowledge of the
action was known to the Israeli prime minister and the United
States president, who had been due to meet this week in an
effort to improve relations.
To all outward appearances, the timing could not have been
worse - if Israel and the US are indeed intent on improving
opportunities for a peaceful resolution.