Flotilla Violence Expected

Recent revelations from the Israeli government reveal that the Gaza flotilla raid was an act of premeditated violence, planned weeks prior to the raid, in that it was understood in advance that it would provoke a violent counter-response.  This finding, recently reported by Al Jazeera stands in marked contrast to claims from Israeli leaders at the time of the raid that the violence directed at activists was purely reactionary and in self-defense against violent attacks from the flotilla activists themselves.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, now admits that the violence related to the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists in May 2010 – was “expected” by Israeli leaders weeks ahead of the actual raid.  He granted this admission during an Israeli commission set up to determine the legitimacy of the flotilla raid and Israel’s now four year long blockade against Hamas and the people of Gaza.  Barak’s admission is consistent with on the ground reporting that there was an offensive mindset among Israeli commandos at the time the raid took place.  Eyewitness accounts found that Israeli commandos had fired upon those in the raid prior to even boarding the boats (the original claim from Israeli leaders was that they only attacked the flotilla activists after boarding and facing serious threats to their safety and lives).

Barak attempted to legitimize the raid by claiming that Israeli leaders understood “the organizations [supporting the flotilla] were preparing for armed conflict to embarrass Israel.”  Israel’s commitment to violence, however, in order to dismantle and destroy a non-violent humanitarian campaign, ensured that Israel would be deeply embarrassed, in light of an embargo widely recognized as illegal under the Geneva Conventions.  The raid itself is also a blatant violation of provisions of the San Remo Agreement, in addition to the U.N. Charter, and the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Israeli leaders have consistently maintained that they were within their rights to attack a humanitarian flotilla comprised of foreign nationals.  Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli military Chief of Staff, for example, argues that the attacks on Turkish civilians were “proportionate and correct” and that Israeli leaders “shot those who they needed to shoot” in the raid; “the commandos exhibited calm, bravery, and morality.”  These apologetics for what amounts to an illegal attack on a foreign nation (Turkey) and its citizens have been repeated for months by Israeli leaders.

In a coordinated misinformation campaign, Israeli officials fed the fiction that the violence on the part of its commandos was not premeditated, but was rather part of a spontaneous campaign to “protect Israeli lives” that only emerged when it was clear that the flotilla activists – who were supposedly the real belligerents – posed a threat to their lives.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced immediately following the raid that “this was a clear case of self defense…they [Israeli commandos] were attacked with clubs, with knives, perhaps with live gunfire, and they had to defend themselves – they were going to be killed.  Israel will not allow its soldiers to be lynched and neither would any other respecting country.”  Netanyahu referred to the incident as “regrettable,” but blamed flotilla activists, saying the deaths were “the result of an intentional provocation of forces which support Iran and its terrorist enclave, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.”  Worth noting here is that Netanyahu uses the word “provocation” to condemn the actions of Flotilla activists, although he now admits that he knew the entire operation would provoke a violent response from the beginning.

The Israeli Supreme Court publicly supported Netanyahu’s propagandistic statements.  The court’s President, Dorit Beinish, rejected legal suits on the flotilla raid, harshly attacking those petitioning the case.  She announced that the Israeli “soldiers [were] forced to respond [by killing the activists] in order to protect their lives.”  This statement was relevant on one level, at least in the sense that the commandos were no doubt attempting to preserve their lives against civilians they were in the process of killing.  That Israel was protecting the lives of belligerents engaged in criminal aggression, however, was hardly the framework in which Beinish was seeking to establish.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs – a name fitting of Orwell’s 1984 – made an equally Orwellian announcement following the raid that “the organizers of the Gaza flotilla announced in advance (May 30) their intention of using violence against Israeli forces if the latter tried to prevent the ships from reaching Gaza.”  This narrative essentially turns on its head the reality that it was Israel that pushed for violent confrontation against what was (prior to the illegal attack) a peaceful, humanitarian flotilla.

The recent admission of aggressive intent on the part of Barak is disturbing, although not surprising, for those who have long argued that Israel’s attacks on the Occupied Territories are illegal acts of collective punishment that essentially terrorize an entire nation of people.  Sadly, this understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is censored in western media that are content in uncritically repeating the propaganda of Israeli leaders (I chronicled this tendency of the U.S. press in two previous pieces: 1. “Rogue State Politics,” Counterpunch, 4 June 2010; and 2. “A Tale of Two Raids,” Z Magazine, 15 June 2010.

Recent reporting on the flotilla inquiry has again promoted a pro-Israeli narrative.  The New York Times headline on August 11th read: “Barak Says ‘Friction’ was Expected in Flotilla Raid.”  The use of the term “friction” implied that the incident was far less severe than it really was when it came to the critical international reaction.  The Times story repeated Israeli claims that “the commandos were expecting only passive resistance…An Israeli military investigation concluded last month that the anticipated level of violence used against the Israeli forces had been ‘underestimated.’”  Similarly, the Washington Post headline from August 10th read: “Netanyahu: Action Against Gaza Aid Ship was Ordered as ‘Last Resort.’”  The story created the impression of a defensive Israel, reluctantly killing foreign civilians and violating international law (although Israel’s violation of international law was recognized nowhere in either the Times or Post stories).  The Post also reported that “statements by the flotilla organizers indicated that they wanted to break Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip by ‘creating a provocation’ and instigating ‘media-covered friction at sea with the Israel Defense Forces’ that would create ‘international pressure to remove the naval blockade,’ Netanyahyu said.”  Both of these accounts, it should be pointed out, laid blame at the hands of non-violent activists seeking to violate an illegal blockade and an illegal occupation.  That the raid could be portrayed as a “provocation” on the part of humanitarian activists, through no fault of Israeli officials, is a sign of the extreme propaganda that dominates the American media and political debate on the Middle East.

That Israel routinely provokes confrontations with its neighbors and other nearby countries so that it can engage in aggressive military attacks (designed to further its military dominance of the region) is painfully understood throughout the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, although Americans are shielded from this reality by the journalistic and political establishment in Washington.  Barak’s admission that Israel expected violence from the get-go have been predictably ignored or downplayed in the U.S. media and by U.S. officials.  This is to be expected among those who see Israel as occasionally making “mistakes” in its generally necessary application of force in the name of self defense.  Israel’s commitment to regional “peace” and “stability,” rather than to militarism and domination, are considered beyond reprieve.

What’s completely erased from this narrative, however, is the fact that Israeli leaders themselves admit it’s a fraud.  They cynically attack their enemies for “planned provocation” and “violence” at the time of the flotilla raid, then quietly admit months later that provocation and violence were, in reality, endemic in their own actions and planning.  Why Americans should take further Israeli calls for “defense” and “protecting Israeli lives” seriously in light of such manipulation and propaganda is a question we should all be asking.

ANTHONY DiMAGGIO is the editor of media-ocracy (www.media-ocracy.com), a daily online magazine devoted to the study of media, public opinion, and current events.  He has taught U.S. and Global Politics at Illinois State University and North Central College, and is the author of When Media Goes to War (2010) and Mass Media, Mass Propaganda (2008). He can be reached at: mediaocracy@gmail.com



Anthony DiMaggio is Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He is the author of Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here (Routledge, 2022), in addition to Rebellion in America (Routledge, 2020), and Unequal America (Routledge, 2021). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com. A digital copy of Rebellion in America can be read for free here.