The Flotilla Fiasco

Three Jews in Tel Aviv talked for hours. One leaves. Another says to the remaining Jew: “God, that man was stupid. He must be a general.”

After Israeli commandos murdered nine people and wounded scores of others in international waters, I concluded that Israel continues to give Jews a bad name. The US government and media, in their effort to kiss the Israeli lobby’s ass, contributed to what Margaret Atwood called “a shadow hanging over Israel.” She referred to its continued inhumane treatment of the Palestinians in occupied territories, including its control over access to Gaza.

The military responsible for the flotilla fiasco receive tens of billions of dollars in US military aid annually.  They have periodically invaded Lebanon and committed documented human rights crimes against Palestinians whose territory they occupy.

Even more soiling to Jewish repute for uncountable centuries, the fiasco at sea has called into question the issue of Jewish intelligence.  Jews survived, the myth goes, because they possessed both a sense of humor and keen intelligence.

Except for a few occasions in biblical times, however, Jews did not make their reputation as astute military men. The creation of Israel changed this. The 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars showed Jewish intellectual prowess on the battlefield. The military commanders, not right wing orthodox Jew — many were atheists or non-practicing – outwitted their hostile neighbors. Since then, however, Israel has illegally, according to the UN and international law, occupied Palestinian territory and Syria’s Golan Heights, and failed in repeated invasions of Lebanon and Gaza to achieve its “security” goal.

“How did the latest fiasco happen?” ask incredulous Jews. I present my inside-the-brain-of-the-beast explanation.

I detect the methods of the fabled wise men of Chelm in contemporary Israeli policy. The Rabbis of Chelm followed obvious logic before making decisions. When a fire broke out in the village barn, the rabbi ordered his flock to collect all the readily available straw in the area to throw over the flames. His scientific education taught him that any object thrown on fire (except flammable liquid of course) would deprive the fire of needed oxygen.

The milkman suggested the rabbi secure the rest of the town and secure the other town buildings. He compared extinguishing such a hearty blaze to putting spilled milk back in the bottle, an experience he personally had agonized over. The rabbi scoffed. “Not positive thinking,” he commented, and directed the flock to put straw atop the fire.

The flames abated. The rabbi smiled and turned to go home and thank God. But the flames re-asserted themselves in spades. The townspeople shrieked in fear. The rabbi turned around, horrified, and ordered: “More straw.”

Similarly, in Chelmite tradition, the wise military and civilian commanders of the raid at sea had accumulated information about the flotilla and its passengers. Some aboard the captured Mavi Marmara reported the commandos had a list of “terrorists and troublemakers” to execute during the raid on the ship, according to passengers who seized a booklet during their altercations with the boarding Israelis. The passengers claimed the booklet contained names and photos of passengers the Israeli military intended to kill. (The Independent, June 5)

The Israeli military denied such a list existed. A Turkish autopsy report showed the nine slain victims were shot a total of thirty times, many at close range. The Guardian (June 4) reported five victims received bullets in the back of the head.

Prime Minister Bubi Notinmyard authorized the commando attack against humanitarian aid ships after reading massive amounts of public data about the intent of the mission. Aid mission organizers made their break-Israel’s blockade motive clear. He studied the 1947 experience of the British ship, Exodus, by reading Leon Uris’ novel by that name, in which Jewish refugees attempt to travel to Palestine from a British detention camp in Cyprus.

The novel and film made the British look bad because the ship got too close to the Promised Land. Israelis appeared as noble and brave; Arabs as slimy brutes with Nazi bosses.

Rabbi Bubi then applied his University of Chelm wisdom. Allowing ships carrying non-military goods to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza could have won him world approval.

But what was an abstract gain to win world approval compared to showing the world who is boss? So he discarded his own foreign ministry warning of the “illegality” of the planned seizure of boats in international waters. (Barak Ravid, Haaretz June 10) Bibi instead applied the moral of a story about the importance of control – as a principle.

The woman boasted to her female friends how she dominated her husband. “Crawl under that table,” she demanded.

The Chelm man obeyed.

“Now, come out!” she ordered.

“No, I refuse,” he challenged. “I’ll show you who is boss here!”

SAUL LANDAU is the author of A Bush and Botox World.





SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.