Note: I’ve made two small updates below to reflect new or clarified information that I’ve gotten since writing this. As quite a few people are still coming to this post, I want it to reflect the latest information (6/1/10).
As you likely know: A flotilla of activists was on its way yesterday to try to break Israel’s Gaza blockade when it was met in international waters by Israeli commandos, who boarded the boats, killed at least 10 activists, and injured more than 50. In the course of the operation, several Israeli soldiers were also wounded, two seriously.
Currently, there’s a lot of talk on Israeli radio, and on the blogs, and in the mainstream media, and on my Twitter feed about whether or not the activists were paragons of nonviolence, whether or not they were armed, whether or not is was their intention to provoke a violent confrontation, whether or not the Israeli soldiers were (as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it) under attack and acting in self-defense when they dropped out of helicopters fully armed in the dark of night onto the decks of boats that were in international waters.
But here’s the truth: IT DOESN’T MATTER.
It doesn’t matter if the activists were armed — I’m pretty sure they were, to some degree. It doesn’t matter if they were entirely pacifist in their behavior — I’m pretty sure they weren’t. It doesn’t matter if they were planning for an armed confrontation, or merely fairly certain it might happen, or even if they were naive enough to think that when Israel turned them away (I’m pretty sure they knew they wouldn’t get to their destination) that it wouldn’t involve violence.
What matters is the blockade they were symbolically trying to break.
What matters is the roughly 300,000 refugees in Gaza who live in abject poverty — a 200% increase since early 2007, according to UNRWA — because of Israeli policy. What matters is the fact that many of the 1.4 million people living in Gaza must make do with 8-12 hours a day without electricity — up from 6-8 hours before the start of the year — because of Israeli policy. What matters is the “ongoing deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health” that the World Health Organization wrote about in January (back when people were still only dealing with 6-8 hours of daily power outages) — including 27 people who died while waiting for in 2009 alone, awaiting permission to leave Gaza to receive treatment — because of Israeli policy.
What matters is the blockade — what matters is the occupation.
As long as Israel controls the borders, airspace, and shore of Gaza — it is the occupying power. As long as Israel decides what and who can and cannot go in or out of the Strip (down to and including, apparently, coriander) — it is responsible for the suffering its policies causes. The ongoing conflict, the failure of Israel to engage responsibly and reasonably in a genuine negotiation process, THE FACT OF THE OCCUPATION is what matters. Not just of Gaza, but given the rank human suffering in Gaza right now, Gaza matters the most.
Any conversation about who was armed, who attacked whom, and whether or not Israel has a right to board ships which are in violation of its security demands (though, in international waters, that last one is kind of shaky) is nothing but a distraction from what matters, and that is the occupation.
The occupation — and the ten or more people nine who were killed trying to protest it.
As Tel Aviv City Council member Tamar Zandberg tweeted on her way to a protest in Tel Aviv about an hour ago: “You don’t build democracy on the bodies of protesters. It’s very simple.”