Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gaza convoy attack: the West runs for cover

Two weeks ago NATO published a strategy document underscoring one of the alliance’s core tenets: an attack on any member of the alliance is an attack on all of them. Iran’s nuclear programme was identified as one of the biggest threats that the 28-nation club could face within the coming decade.

Two weeks later, a NATO country has indeed come under attack. A Turkish vessel laden with food and other essential supplies for the undernourished and traumatised people of Gaza was the target of a murderous assault by Israel. As the ship was sailing in international waters at the time, this was tantamount to a declaration of war against Ankara.

If Iran or North Korea had been behind a comparable act of piracy, Europe and America would either be retaliating with force or preparing stringent sanctions. Yet because Israel enjoys a privileged relationship with our governments, we have generally heard asinine statements of “regret” and “concern” (tellingly, the “r” word has been uttered both by Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama).

I’m certainly not advocating that Turkey should respond militarily. Rather, Israel should be ostracised diplomatically and economically until its political and military elite accepts that nobody has ever granted it a waiver from international law.

The likelihood that this will happen in the short term is not strong. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s racist foreign minister, and his bloodthirsty predecessor Tzipi Livni have made several visits to NATO’s headquarters in Brussels in recent years. Even though they represent a terrorist state, they have had considerable success in convincing NATO’s planners that Israel is an indispensable partner in the “war against terror”. The alliance’s efforts to colonise Afghanistan are being assisted in no small way by pilotless drones and other sophisticated weaponry made in Israel. And to feed its delusion that Iran is the number one threat to world peace, NATO is closely studying how missile interceptors based in Israel can be used to ratchet up the tensions with Tehran. NATO has been inviting Israel to participate in joint manoeuvres, too. Even Turkey – as well as Greece (a country that ought to have other priorities at the moment) – had been scheduled to undertake military exercises with Israel but these have now been called off.

The European Union is equally entangled in the occupation of Palestine. A few weeks ago the EU’s foreign ministers agreed to extend the mandate of the “border assistance mission” at Rafah – the crossing between Gaza and Egypt – for which they are nominally responsible. When the mission was first set up in 2005, it was hailed by EU officials as a major breakthrough for freedom of movement. Yet the reality is that Israel has always decided when the crossing can and cannot be opened (it has been closed permanently since 2007), with the result that the EU’s team has become a subcontractor for the siege of Gaza.

Europe’s commercial ties with Israel have continued to flourish – at the same time that Israel has gone out of its way to prevent Gaza and the West Bank from having functioning economies. Only last month, Israel was admitted into that officer’s mess of global capitalism: the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mossad’s abuse of British and Irish passports to carry out an extrajudicial execution in Dubai did not deter our governments from welcoming Israel into the Paris-based body.

This week’s attacks appear to chime in a most chilling fashion with a warning given during the latest Herzliya conference - an annual talkfest for Israel’s “security” experts. A presentation by the Reut Institute – a “think-tank” – identified human rights and Palestinian solidarity activists as Israel’s biggest enemies as they are determined to “delegitimize” the state. In an odd way, the institute was right. When a state attacks a boat carrying nothing more dangerous than vegetables – or when it shows no signs of relaxing its occupation of another people’s land – that state’s legitimacy must be questioned.

Just over a year ago, I travelled around Israel and Palestine. One campaigner I met in Jerusalem told me there was an idea doing the rounds that the next intifada – Palestinian uprising (literally “shaking off”) – should be an international one modelled on the campaign that helped demolish apartheid in South Africa. Boycott, divestment and sanctions would be essential elements of this struggle.

It is possible that when Israel fired its bullets at a humanitarian convoy on Monday, it also fired the starting pistol for a new intifada. My hope is that this struggle will rely on the principles of non-violence, be supported by decent people everywhere and that our governments will be forced to stop rewarding Israel for its barbarism.

•Originally published by The Samosa (

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