A Puppet on a String
How insecure, confused and panicky a country must be, to act as Israel acted!
This article is part of a special edition of Haaretz, to mark Israel's book week
No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed here, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army. Israel did not send it soldiers to kill civilians in cold blood; indeed, this is the last thing it wanted. And yet, a small Turkish organization, fanatical in its religious views and radically hostile to Israel, recruited to its cause several hundred seekers of peace and justice, and managed to lure Israel into a trap, precisely because it knew how Israel would react, knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did.
How insecure, confused and panicky a country must be, to act as Israel acted! With a combination of excessive military force, and a fatal failure to anticipate the intensity of the reaction of those aboard the ship, it killed and wounded civilians, and did so – as if it were a band of pirates – outside Israel’s territorial waters. Clearly, this assessment does not imply agreement with the motives, overt or hidden, and often malicious, of some participants in the Gaza flotilla. Not all its people are peace-loving humanitarians, and the declarations of some of them regarding the destruction of the State of Israel are criminal. But these facts are simply not relevant at the moment: such opinions, so far as we know, do not deserve the death penalty.
Israel’s actions yesterday are but the natural continuation of the shameful, ongoing closure of Gaza, which in turn is the perpetuation of the heavy-handed and condescending approach of the Israeli government, which is prepared to embitter the lives of a million and a half innocent people in the Gaza Strip, in order to obtain the release of one imprisoned soldier, precious and beloved though he may be; and this closure is the all-too-natural consequence of a clumsy and calcified policy, which again and again resorts by default to the use of massive and exaggerated force, at every decisive juncture, where wisdom and sensitivity and creative thinking are called for instead.
And somehow, all these calamities – including yesterday’s deadly events – seem to be part of a larger corruptive process afflicting Israel. One has the sense that a sullied and bloated political system, fearfully aware of the steaming mess produced over the years by its own actions and malfunctions, and despairing of the possibility to undo the endless tangle it has wrought, becomes ever more inflexible in the face of pressing and complicated challenges, losing in the process the qualities that once typified Israel and its leadership -- freshness, originality, creativity.
The closure of Gaza has failed. It has failed for four years now. What this means is that it is not merely immoral, but also impractical, and indeed worsens the entire situation, as we are reminded at this very hour, and also harms the vital interests of Israel. The crimes of the leaders of Hamas, who have held the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive for four years without once allowing the Red Cross to visit him, and who fired thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns and villages, are acts that must be firmly dealt with, utilizing the various legal means available to a sovereign state. The ongoing siege of a civilian population is not one of them.
I would like to believe that the shock of yesterday’s frantic actions will lead to a re-evaluation of the whole idea of the closure, at last freeing the Palestinians from their suffering, and cleansing Israel of its moral stain. But our experience in this tragic region teaches that the opposite will occur: the mechanisms of violent response, the cycles of vengeance and hatred, yesterday began a new round, whose magnitude cannot yet be foreseen.
Above all, this insane operation shows how far Israel has declined. There is no need to overstate this claim. Anyone with eyes to see understands and feels it. Already there are those here who seek to spin the natural and justified sense of Israeli guilt into a strident assertion that the whole world is to blame. Our shame, however, will be harder to live with.
Translated from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman