May 28, 2010 | Forbes
With a flotilla of “peace activists” steaming toward the blockaded Gaza strip, Israeli authorities have been worrying about a showdown turning into a public relations disaster. That's a sorry reflection not on Israel but on the willingness of a world audience to swallow almost any amount of propaganda, if it comes with a Gaza label.
The basic narrative spun by the organizers of this “freedom flotilla” is that some 700 “activists” from dozens of countries have boarded eight or nine ships filled with tons of “humanitarian aid.” Their mission is to run the Israeli blockade, “break the siege of Gaza” and “establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world.” The umbrella website for this venture is labeled “The Free Gaza Movement,” and on it the “Free Gaza Team” of the “Freedom Flotilla Coalition” professes a dedication to nonviolence and respect for universal human rights.
All that might make sense if Gaza were a peaceful and democratic enclave, unreasonably walled up by its neighbors. But there's some important information that the flotilla crew omits. Gaza is a terrorist enclave. Gaza is controlled by an Islamist terrorist group, Hamas. And Hamas is: backed by Iran; headquarters some of its leaders in terror-sponsoring Syria; has a busy and violent history of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket and mortar attacks; and is dedicated in its charter to the destruction of Israel.
That is what the blockade is all about. It didn't happen because the neighbors decided to victimize Gaza. Rather, it is Hamas-run Gaza that threatens the neighbors, and for that matter, is hostile generally to liberal, western societies.
Recall that in 2002, trying to stop the violence of Yasser Arafat's second intifada, former President George W. Bush proposed a “roadmap” for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In the multilateral haggling that followed, Israel in pursuit of that peace withdrew in 2005 from Gaza–a move that required Israeli authorities to forcibly drag some Jewish residents from their homes. But peace did not follow. In the ensuing Gaza elections in January 2006, Palestinian voters gave a large majority to Hamas. Five months later an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped into Gaza. Today, almost four years later, he has still not been released.
In 2007 Hamas in a bloody coup ousted the remaining parliamentarians of the rival Fatah party and after a spree of murdering fellow Palestinians took complete control of Gaza. During 2008, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, terrorists in Hamas-run Gaza fired 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar bombs into southern Israel. This was a gross and deliberate provocation which the United Nations and its constituent members of the so-called international community did nothing effective to stop. In late December 2008 Israel finally launched Operation Cast Lead, sending troops into Gaza for just over three weeks to try to shut down the attacks.
Hamas has not renounced its aim of destroying Israel. On the contrary, Hamas has been receiving military training and smuggled weapons from Iran, where the nuclear-wannabe rulers have openly expressed interest in wiping Israel off the map. In February 2009 Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who operates out of Damascus, openly praised Iran for helping Hamas fight Israel.
That's the context in which the blockade on Gaza needs to be understood. For that matter, Egypt has also had miseries enough with Hamas to find it worthwhile maintaining the blockade, though this seems to be of less interest to the “freedom flotilla” crowd.
Who are these “activists,” exactly? That seems to be something of a moving target. News outlets have been giving numbers ranging from 600 to 800, aboard either eight or nine ships, coming from such places as Greece, Algeria, Ireland and Turkey. The blockade busters include the requisite Nobel Peace laureate, Irishwoman Mairead Corrigan-Maguire. From Gaza, John Ging, head of the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) has strayed outside his theoretically apolitical brief in order to applaud the flotilla. The Free Gaza website features video messages offering a bon voyage from such hoary fixtures of the lynch-Israel gang as Noam Chomsky, and one of the U.N. Human Rights Council's favorite Israel-haters, Richard Falk.
Under the heading “Donate” the Free Gaza site makes special mention of a “major donation” from Malaysia, “thanks to the passion for justice” of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir and his wife. An excited Al Jazeera reporter, in an English-language broadcast Thursday, made a point of mentioning contributions of some sort from Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen. And among the cheerleaders for this effort is former British parliamentarian George Galloway, who perhaps has more time to devote to Hamas-run Gaza now that he no longer has the option of consorting with Iraq's late dictator, Saddam Hussein.
For this coalition to describe itself as affiliated in any way with “freedom” is an abuse of the term. Likewise, the show of bringing tons of “aid” is hollow at best. Israel, in an attempt to head off a confrontation, offered to let the Gaza flotilla unload its cargo at an Israeli port and have the goods delivered (after inspection) to Gaza by land. The flotilla folks weren't interested. Nor were they willing, despite their avowed love of universal human rights, to try pressuring Hamas to let them bring letters and food to the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
This ship convoy is not about freedom and not about aid. It is patently about helping Hamas and harming Israel. What's crazy is that the free world would leave Israel to grapple alone with this latest propaganda onslaught. In saner times this “freedom flotilla” would be a public relations disaster all by itself.
Claudia Rosett, a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.