The Curse of the Mavi Marmara

If we aren't sorry and don't apologize, the curse of the Mavi Marmara will keep on haunting us.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Some affairs never let go; this happens when the whole truth does not come out. The attempts at whitewashing are ineffective and the subject keeps cropping up.

Something is apparently bothering Israel regarding the Turkish flotilla incident, but three committees of inquiry and the state comptroller's report haven't helped. That's because they dealt with marginal issues and covered up the truth. That's why the curse of the Mavi Marmara will continue to disturb Israel.

The inquiry by the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit pointed to defects in the way the force operated. The committee headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland said there were no defects regarding the main issues. The Turkel committee said the commandos had acted reasonably. And the state comptroller declared last week that there were defects in the decision-making process. On the face of it, everything has been investigated, but in fact nothing has been investigated. So no one has paid the price, and the damage keeps piling up.

Worst of all, the whitewashing by the investigators ensures one thing: Israel will learn nothing. Next time, too, force will be the first method, the concept that Israel is allowed to do anything won't change, and not a soul will ask what's legal, what's moral, what's appropriate and what serves Israel's interests.

There will be no point in talking about apologizing; maybe the National Security Council will be strengthened and our PR people will be even more ambitious with their propaganda films. The investigations' reports will be thrown in the bin, where they belong - they didn't take up the challenge of the right questions. They noted that the soldiers were attacked, but they didn't ask why they were there in the first place.

There were several assumptions at the basis of the Israeli attack on the Turkish flotilla, and these were distorted and unfounded. The first was that the protesters on the Marmara were threatening Israel's security. The second was that Israel had the right to place a total maritime embargo on the Gaza Strip. The third was that Israel had the right to use force against anyone who challenged this, to board unarmed vessels in the middle of the sea, and to use live weapons against unarmed civilians. And finally there was the wisdom of taking over the vessel; the thinking that the enormous PR damage abroad was irrelevant.

The naval commandos' action followed a foolish campaign of incitement and fear, which claimed that the Marmara's passengers were "terrorists" and armed demonstrators - and an even more foolish campaign of incitement and fear against Turkey, Israel's only ally in the region. This campaign continues to this day.

It's not hard to guess what would have happened had the commandos not taken over the vessel. The Mavi Marmara would have carried on to Gaza, returned to Turkey and fallen into oblivion. No one would have paid attention to it and its passengers, and singer Elvis Costello would not have canceled his performance in Caesarea a few weeks later in protest.

I will never forget the morning of the incident. I came to the hotel where Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa - who won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few months later - was staying, to join him for breakfast. A friend of Israel, he couldn't believe what he had heard. Nor could many other friends of Israel around the world.

But let's forget the spilled milk and even the spilled blood. Even after the nine Turkish citizens were killed, Israel kept to its path. There was no chance of an apology. Why? Because. It was such a simple step, such a necessary step, such a damage-controlling step and such a correct step. But it was out of the question. It didn't fit with Israel's character or spirit. A proud country never apologizes.

On the very day of the incident, Israel should have expressed regret over the unnecessary deaths. The prime minister should have hurried to Ankara and from there to the homes of the deceased to express condolences, as Jordan's King Hussein did when he cut short a visit to Spain and went to Beit Shemesh after a Jordanian soldier had killed Israeli schoolgirls - even if it's not the same thing to attack soldiers with sticks and to shoot schoolgirls. Not one hair fell from Hussein's head nor was his kingdom's honor diminished in any way. No Israeli leader has ever acted this way. Which of them is more respected?

But the committees and the state comptroller didn't deal with the real questions, which everyone fled. If we continue to whitewash them, if we pretend to investigate and draw conclusions, if we aren't sorry and don't apologize, the curse of the Mavi Marmara will keep on haunting us.

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