As the heated debate (including on this blog) over Israel’s interdiction of the Gaza aid convoy has shown, there are two sides to every story. (Or in some cases about 38).
With claim and counter-claim over the nature of Israel’s military on 31 May we have, though, got two basic “narratives“ (as everyone likes to say these days).
Narrative no.1: Israeli commandos were viciously attacked by iron bar-wielding terrorisst on board the Mavi Marmara and, forced into desperate self-preservation mode, opened fire with automatic weapons. Moreover, the raid itself was justified as the aid convoy could easily have been carrying weapons bound for armed groups in Gaza.
Narrative no.2: Israeli commandos began firing at people on board the Mavi Marmara in a way that was wholly disproportionate to any threat posed by the flotilla’s protestors. Faced with a hostile raid by armed soldiers some of the ship’s occupants fought back with improvised weapons, including irons bars and sticks. And meanwhile, the ship was carrying desperately-needed humanitarian aid for Gaza’s blockaded population
In support of both versions we’ve had forceful accounts – first from Israel; then, on the other side, accounts from Turkish people and others (including Ingmar Bergman's son-in-law!) aboard the ships.
The gulf between the two narratives is startling. How are you supposed to form any kind of independent view? Not easy. Read around, watch several TV reports and you’re still unlikely to be any clearer. Which is why the push for an independent, international investigation makes sense.
This was an Israeli military action in international waters. Citizens of dozens of nations were involved. An investigation with an international component is surely the way to defuse the endless back-and-forth over what actually happened out there in the flotilla. Please support Amnesty’s call here (it’s already had several thousand people backing it: please add your voice).
Meanwhile, the poignantly-named Rachel Corrie vessel is sailing toward Gaza even as I write. As Amnesty’s Northern Ireland Director Patrick Corrigan notes in the Belfast Telegraph, this boat’s passengers includes indefatigable human rights activist Mairead Maguire and there’s no escaping the fact that the Rachel Corrie’s entire high-profile passage is now freighted with an ominous sense that some form of confrontation may be in the offing.
Let’s hope not. The world is presently watching the Rachel Corrie’s voyage to Gaza like no other ship on earth and surely Israel could win itself some credit simply by saying the boat can dock in Gaza and all humanitarian goods – subject to standard security checks – can be distributed to the Gazans who need it.
After all, as Patrick says in his article, this is still about an unfair blockade that for three years has been suffocating all of Gaza’s population. As many have said, Israel’s absolutely legitimate right to defend its citizens does not justify impoverishing an entire people.
Political figures from around the world are now calling for the blockade to be lifted. Will Israel listen? If it does it will not only provide relief to Gaza’s weary people and undercut the extremists who use it to exhort violence against the state of Israel. It will also, at a stroke, provide the world with a new Middle East narrative. Surely it’s worth a try.
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