The big lie has started. The IDF propaganda machine has got into gear and will be rolling for the next few days. The commandos who stormed the relief ship destined for Gaza were, according to Benjamin Netanyahu, ‘clubbed, beaten and stabbed’. Let’s forget for a minute that the landing force were the armed aggressors; let’s even talk up the spurious claim, already being played down in Tel Aviv, that some of the passengers were armed and, in Netanyahu world, it is perfectly acceptable to kill at least nine people for what, in a democracy, we would call an affray. This was just wrong, pure and simple. Forget the realpolitik, this was an immoral attack by what is rapidly becoming a failed state.
Anger at Israel’s action is mixed with sadness; righteous anger at this gross and murderous abuse of human rights, sadness at the further erosion of any goodwill reasonable people hold when they try to defend the two state solution. Israel has appalling form, a pattern of behaviour that would have had led to diplomatic and trade sanctions being rigorously enforced had such acts been committed by another state. Destroy the Lebanon; push the Palestinians into the sea, after pauperising and starving them of course. Attack a ship carrying essential humanitarian food, medicines and equipment and say that you were defending the homeland ‘against an armada of hate and violence’. Keep blustering and spreading the agreed line to a media compelled to provide ‘balance’ after such an unbalanced act.
Yes, we know there is a huge democratic deficit in the Middle East. Yet, by any international norms, you don’t use state authority and military might to constantly lose the moral argument. A state, particularly one claiming to be a pluralist democracy, should hold themselves to higher standards then the ‘terrorist’ organisations they have helped to engender by their actions and who now have a generation of supporters prepared to kill civilians as military targets. If we accept the Israeli analysis of a solitary democracy surrounded by a sea of hostility, they must be held accountable to the norms and conventions of international law. We have a Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention for a reason; protection of civilians from military and state assault on life and liberty.
How can the international community best react to this aggressive attack? Firstly, the US and Obama have huge leverage. This could a grisly opportunity for the Middle East; Washington can seize the moment and downgrade military and intelligence assistance to Israel immediately. The lead has to come from the US; time to cut trade and aid until Israel is compelled to make permanent and meaningful concessions at the negotiation table. It needs to be made clear that to the Netanyahu government that unless there are serious negotiations within weeks, the financial squeeze will start and ‘Bibi’ will be an international pariah. The US should use the EU as a stick; at the moment, Washington is the best friend Israel has – it’s time for Obama to use that influence. The EU should seek resignations and prosecutions from the ranks of the perpetrators as well as diplomatic and military sanctions. It’s time to say enough. We’ve had it with being a long-term friend who will put up with anything.