Wednesday, June 02, 2010

the israeli raid: no one looks good

While both sides point fingers and assess blame for the tragedy on the Mavi Marmara this week, the reality is there is more than enough blame to go around. Each side behaved all too predictably, resulting in a tragedy that captures in microcosm all that is wrong with the Middle East and how much work remains to fix it.

The Israeli side is easiest to criticize. Faced with a cynical but subtle political challenge, Israel--as the historian Paul Johnson said of the 1980 Iran rescue mission--responded with acrobatics: a derring-do commando operation that would have been a political disaster even if it succeeded and is that much more so now that it didn't. Rather than looking brutal but determined as it did in the Sharon years, Israel now merely looks foolish, a country (or at least a Government) that invariably seeks a military solution to any political problem. It is noteworthy, in this context, that support for the operation has tended to come from outside the country: Israeli opinion has been critical, although left and right have found different reasons for their criticism.

Yet the members of the "peace flotilla" have hardly covered themselves with glory, either. Once upon a time, as part of some movement or other, I took a few hours of training in nonviolent resistance. I don't recall what it involved, but I'm pretty sure it didn't include hitting people on the head with metal bars or throwing them from one level of a ship to another, something that could easily prove fatal in different circumstance. If people specifically chosen for a nonviolent mission behaved this way, what does it say for their overall movement?

And, of course, they didn't succeed in getting a smidgeon of food or medicine to Gaza.

The whole thing convinces me, if indeed I needed convincing, of the need for a more forceful intervention by the international community in the region. People like to make fun of the French and Italian armies, but there hasn't been any shooting on the Lebanese border for the last three years. Even conservative Israelis are beginning to see that the current situation is not indefinitely sustainable. A bit of creative diplomacy--more substance and less procedure, as the lawyers say--could go a very long way. Where's Menachem Begin when you need him?

Addendum: Israeli newspapers reported Friday that there was a stark division among the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, with some peace activists apparently protecting and perhaps even saving the lives of one or more Israeli sailors. It's obviously difficult to confirm this report. But it goes to show what my dean used to say: it's never that simple.


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