Israelis Cannot Make the Gaza Reality Disappear

I admit I overestimated the strength of Greece’s democracy. Or let me put it this way: I didn’t see how thin the varnish of what we call Israeli democracy really is.

Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell
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Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell

I will try to summarize this year's Gaza flotilla. Everyone knows that the goal this time was to return with more unarmed ships and a more representative selection of people and organizations. Last but not least, we would return with more MPs. We succeeded in organizing this.

But suddenly this peaceful protest against the illegal Israeli blockade turned into a Greek tragedy, as if a modern-day Euripides had conceived it. Obviously we had predicted that the Israeli army might use a tactic that prevented the flotilla from leaving foreign ports. We assumed that Israel, as always, would claim that it could do whatever it wanted. And it can, as long as it is protected and financed by the United States.

Turks greeting the return of the Mavi Marmara last month. Credit: AP

But the U.S. is not the power it used to be; one day that protection will cease - shall we say in five years? In this context it might be wise to mention that, as I write this, NASA's huge funding will be reduced to a minimum. And the reason for the dismantling of this prestigious project is the deteriorating U.S. economy. What other reason is there?

But we weren't prepared that Greece would so easily sell its national soul to Israel, disguised as threats and harassment. I criticize myself for not foreseeing this. Greece's economic crisis weakens the nation. But it came as a surprise that Greece, when faced with Israel's threats (supported by the United States ), would roll over so completely. Moreover, I fully admit that I overestimated the strength of Greece's democracy. Or let me put it this way: I didn't see how thin the varnish of what we call Israeli democracy really is. Israel's actions remind me more of a military dictatorship's methods.

I'll come back to why Greece has been brought to its knees, and why a relatively small solidarity movement like our flotilla manages to create turmoil in international politics and frightens Israel into challenging its neighbors and the EU.

First, this needs to be said: Because Greece prevented our ships from leaving its ports and our ships were sabotaged by unidentified hostile divers, no flotilla will sail for Gaza right now. But some ships might act on their own. Since this would break our common cause, I deeply disagree with it. Most likely, however, the Greek coast guard will stop the ships, because the Israelis don't want bad publicity like last year, when Israeli commandos fired at will from helicopters. Hence, it's better to make Greece responsible. Israel and those opposing our cause will regard this as a failure for our side, and Prime Minister George Papandreou will get a pat on the back from his Israeli friends (but the protests in Greece will increase).

But this is not a failure. We will return with broader support and a bigger flotilla, and I promise that the Israeli regime won't have a quiet moment until this illegal blockade is broken. Our action has had more impact this year - unlike last year when the media didn't pay attention until the commandos started killing people.

Even though our ships didn't move an inch, this is yet another failure for Israel. The regime's desperate fear increases the opposition against human rights violations in Gaza. According to basic international law, it's illegal to collectively punish people as is done in Gaza.

In the same way I always claim that Gilad Shalit should have been released long ago and that Hamas' rocket attacks against Israel must stop, I claim that we must look at this situation from this perspective: What comes first, oppression or rebellion? Not even Israel's intellectuals can wave their magic wand and make reality disappear - the reality that the Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens in their own country. The Gaza blockade is not mainly about concrete, diapers or medicine. It's about the human dignity that Israel deprives its own citizens of. Thus, it provokes desperate actions.

But for me the biggest mystery is that the Israeli regime doesn't realize that it's digging holes for itself, and that the situation in the end will be unbearable. Why are they blindfolding themselves?

Why is Israel moving the blockade - or ironically one could call it "outsourcing" the blockade - to Europe this year? What's the difference from last year? Naturally, it's about the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The Israelis find this development most worrying. But they also understand that they can profit from the concerns in governing circles in Europe and the United States. Last year, significantly more international institutions openly supported our flotilla. But now when the MENA region is unstable, it's very convenient to forget about the Palestinians again and ensure that Israel can maintain some sort of order in the region.

Who cares about some ill-treated Palestinians when the stability of the oil-producing countries is an issue?

Once MENA's situation becomes clearer, the support for our cause will increase. And my guess is that it will be bigger than ever.

That's how cynical our world is. But I don't think Israel should make too much of a triumph of this. In Europe - and in Greece not least - the indignation over Israel's brutal meddling in Greece's internal affairs is growing.

Through its actions the blindfolded Israeli regime is becoming a global outcast. Why don't they consider what's best for them? With what arguments do they defend the Gaza blockade if the next election ends in Hamas' defeat? How do they justify the building of new and bigger illegal settlements and the violations they constitute?

Therefore, it should be regarded as something positive when Yedioth Ahronoth's Roni Shaked says "it would be better to get rid of the blockade than to chase protesters." That is, if my sources are right about that quote.

Undoubtedly, it would have been a good first step on the road that needs to be taken; that Israelis and Palestinians together, on equal terms, create a common future.

How it should look is not for me to say. Nor did I ever intend to.

The writer, a best-selling Swedish author, is part of the Gaza flotilla movement.



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