State Dept. Issues Statement on Israeli Attack on Freedom Flotilla
Today, most of the world condemned the actions of the Israelis with respect to the night-time raid of the Freedom Flotilla by Israeli special operations commandos. Only one nation did not join in that condemnation.
This statement has just been released by the State Dept. It is disappointing (in my opinion) but not surprising, given the U.S. statements at the U.N. earlier today:
STATEMENT BY PHILIP J. CROWLEY,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Free Gaza Flotilla
The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident today aboard the Gaza-bound ships. We are working to ascertain the facts, and expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation.
The United States remains deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians in Gaza. We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs. We will continue to work closely with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with international NGOs and the UN, to provide adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction materials, through the border crossings, while bearing in mind the Government of Israel’s legitimate security concerns. However, Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and work of nongovernmental organizations, and its use and endorsement of violence, complicates efforts in Gaza. Mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by governments and groups that wish to do so. These mechanisms should be used for the benefit of all those in Gaza.
Ultimately, this incident underscores the need to move ahead quickly with negotiations that can lead to a comprehensive peace in the region.
Throughout the day, Israel has come out and linked the activists, which allegedly include a Nobel laureate, Americans, Holocaust survivors, a former American ambassador and doctors and nurses, to Al Queda and Hamas in an effort to paint the flotilla as a threat to national security. Despite this, the U.S is calling on Israel to investigate their own possibly illegal actions? That makes little sense.
Let me make something clear- I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened. But I have been following this story for the last 24 hours and something just doesn’t seem right. I am having a hard time accepting the argument that Israel did not use excessive force under the circumstances. Again, I wasn’t there, but once again we have a situation where Israel is claiming it is the one that is the victim (not the activists) and yet only the other side has sustained heavy injuries and even casualties- and it’s not the Israelis (the number of dead is unknown but it is estimated to be between 9 and 16).
I’ve noticed that both the U.S. and Israel have been subtly trying to conflate the actions of the activists in the last 24 hours with the past actions of Hamas. I am quite sure this is a very conscious tactic, if a bit of a misleading one. Taken on it’s own, the events of the last 24 hours really have nothing to do with Hamas. What is at issue right at THIS moment (ie. not last week, not last month, not last year) is what happened aboard the ships that caused (ie. justified) Israel to order a military special operations strike in the middle of the night in international waters, against the civilian vessels.
Unless Israel can offer up clear evidence that the human rights activists were involved with Hamas in some way, to bring the terror group into these official U.S. statements seems nothing more than an attempt to confuse people, malign the activists and help Israel create the impression that their [Israel’s] actions were somehow justified as self defense, which is unclear and a bit of a stretch. Keep in mind that while Hamas certainly is a poisonous influence on any peace prospects, the ongoing Gaza blockade is considered illegal under international law. Also, the UN has repeatedly found that Israel is not allowing enough food, medical supplies, construction equipment etc. into Gaza, which has resulted in an ongoing deterioration of the already deplorable humanitarian crisis there.
Make no mistake, if the humanitarian flotilla was filled with arms and if they are somehow found to be linked to terror groups or if they smuggled guns onto the ships for the purpose of attacking Israeli soldiers (something Israel has also claimed), then they should be held accountable for that. I have seen video of activists fighting back the IDF with what appear to be rods or furniture or I don’t know what- once the IDF boarded the ships it would have been advisable for all the people to stand down even if that meant they would all be arrested. But again, for commandos to board the ship by dropping in from the air in the dead of night with weapons drawn while in international waters (legally, this is key), is in itself an extremely provocative act. Much is made of Israel’s right to self defense and rightly so as Israel certainly is surrounded by hostile countries and has every right as a sovereign nation to defend itself. However, they are not the only ones with that legal right. The Palestinians also have the right to self defense, as did the men, women and children on board the flotillas. And yet, that simple fact has yet to be acknowledged in the American media.
Getting accurate information will be very difficult at this stage however, given Israel has detained the activists, instituted a media black-out and refused to allow other humanitarian/watch-dog groups to have access to the activists. As a result, we can only speculate on some of what happened but more concerning, is that Israel is now telling its side of the story without having to be rebutted by those actually involved- because those involved are either in the hospital or in prison. Or dead.
I totally understand the difficult position that the Obama administration (including of course, Secretary Clinton) is currently in. Given that when the administration has criticized Israel, it has faced a furious and totally unfair backlash from members of the Presidents own party, it is hardly surprising that the WH and State Dept. are being so cautious. That said, ask yourself this: if ships filled with Israeli human rights activists were attacked by Arab commandos in international waters, killing and wounding some of them, what do you think the U.S. reaction would be?
Just for comparison, here is the British response:
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he ‘deplored’ the loss of life, and said the British embassy was in ‘urgent contact’ with the Israeli government, asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.
He added: ‘We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It would be important to establish the facts about this incident and especially whether enough was done to prevent death and injuries.
‘This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza in line with UNSCR (UN Security Council Resolution) 1860.’[emphasis added]
Big difference, huh? I think Hague’s statement is appropriate in that it calls for more information, it denounces dangerous attempts [by activists] to get through the blockade but also makes clear that they don’t believe Israel showed restraint. Most importantly, they acknowledge Israel’s ongoing violation of UNSCR 1860.
There is much more information about what transpired with the flotilla and the international response in the post below– I have been blogging and tweeting about this all day and thanks to everyone who has been chiming in, your comments and opinions are much appreciated.