The attack by Israeli forces on a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza might have left more than 10 activists dead. The survivors, mostly Turkish, have been taken to Ahshod, where dozens have been hospitalized.
As Christians, we tend to naturally sympathize with the Jewish people because of the connection of Christian origins with Judaism, and because of the suffering the Jewish people endured with the Holocaust. Post September 11, we also tend to view terrorist organizations will little sympathy and therefore can identify with Israel, feeling it is justified in its actions of blockading Gaza. So perhaps some important clarifications are needed to gain some perspective on what is happening.
It is true that innocents, including children, have been killed on and by both sides in the conflict that has raged between Palestinians and Israelis, and both sides have violated international law in doing so. But the violence by Israelis and Palestinians does not have the same roots, nor are the 2 sides culpable in the same way.
Palestine has been under military occupation for some time, and this in itself is illegal. All Israeli violence in the occupied territories stands in violation of international law – specifically the Geneva Conventions that identify the obligations of an occupying power to protect the occupied population.
The blockade is a de facto occupation of the territory, asserting control over the land and halting vital aid. The amount of material and food provided is inadequate, precipitating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Building materials such as cement are disallowed. Occasionally, Israel will dispense with strictness and show a tempered quality of mercy, but given the destruction of homes in Gaza and the need for building materials, that quality is thin.
Palestinian violence is the violence of resistance, and has escalated as conditions of life and loss of hope breed greater desperation. It is carried out primarily by individual Palestinians and those linked to armed factions, and is aimed mostly at soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories. The rocket attacks in recent years have targeted civilians and are themselves a violation of international law. But the overall right of an occupied population to resist a foreign military occupation, including through use of arms against military targets, is recognized as lawful under international law.
Israel has every right to arrest and try anyone attempting to attack civilians inside the country. But it does not have the right to occupy a neighboring country, nor block aid to the civilian population. And, if it is serious about ending attacks on its own civilians, it must be serious about ending that occupation.
It is an important fact to remember that Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1948 was conditioned on its willingness to abide by General Assembly resolution 194, which states, “Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return,” something Israel has never complied with.
Also, Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 war, identifies “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” That is understood to mean that the territory Israel captured by war must be returned; that to keep it is inadmissible.
Unfortunately the combination of the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” and the vast superiority of Israel’s power in the region, with the 5th most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world and one of the most powerful conventional militaries anywhere, means that other countries in the region and around the world will tend to limit their diplomatic imagination to what they think Israel will accept. That means acquiescence to continued U.S. control of any negotiations. And here in lies the danger, for the U.S. position has never placed international law and U.N. resolutions at its centre.
Branding activists as terrorists and denying the human situation in Gaza will not help an Israeli cause that is proving more alienating the longer it persists. If there is an inquiry into this incident, it will have to be wide ranging and international.