Flotilla activists had ample opportunity to defuse the situation before the IDF arrived – instead they decided on violence

The tragic events of Monday morning are, rightly, sending shockwaves around the world – but blaming the IDF alone for the carnage flies in the face of the facts. Video footage from an on-board news agency clearly shows a premeditated attack on Israeli soldiers, with activists using iron bars and other weapons to assault the troops and giving the IDF carte blanche to respond with force against them.

That there was a Nobel peace prize laureate on board is irrelevant. That there were electric-powered wheelchairs among the cargo is irrelevant. That Gazans are suffering immensely from the years’-old siege of their land is unpalatable and unfortunate – but also irrelevant in the context of this particular incident. Israel had given countless warnings to the activists not to proceed with their trip without first allowing the freight on their ships to be checked; Israel had repeatedly offered to allow the aid in as long as the activists handed it over to the army to be inspected.

At the same time, those supposedly bringing “aid” to the people of Gaza have form for using alleged acts of humanitarianism as cover for weapons smuggling – and Israel has every right to defend its own citizens from the consequences of such illicit transfer of arms. There is not a country on earth that would not take similar steps to protect its people; there is not an army on earth that would not allow its soldiers to respond with force to neutralise a life-threatening attack on their fellow troops.

The activists who launched the vicious assault on the boarding soldiers knew full well what they were doing. They had issued threat after threat against the IDF in the days building up to this morning’s clash, with convoy organiser Huwaida Arraf brashly declaring his group’s unwavering dedication to reaching Gaza: “They are going to have to forcefully stop us.” Club-wielding assailants might not fit the cute and cuddly image of stereotypical aid workers, but there can be no doubt from the evidence that those attacking the Israeli forces were not the archetype of calm and measured peace activists.

One of the first diplomatic reactions to the deadly affair came from Murat Mercan, a lawmaker from Turkey’s ruling party: “I was expecting an intervention. I was not expecting bloodshed, the use of arms and bullets.” The official Turkish line is that Israel has behaved in an “unacceptable” fashion, yet – unsurprisingly – not one Turkish politician has had the honesty or courage to lay an iota of blame at the feet of the ultra-violent activists. Without such a sustained attack on the troops, Mercan’s predictions of a blood-free intervention would have come to pass: but he, like many others in his position, prefers not to dwell on such minor details if it means having to concede even an inch of ground to the Israelis.

Reports have surfaced claiming that an activist tore a soldier’s machine gun from his grasp and used it to shoot him with: what might have seemed a far-fetched story spun to improve the IDF’s standing over the attack is given far more credence when considered in the context of quite how savagely numerous activists greeted the arrival of the troops on to the ship. Those on board the ship had ample opportunity to defuse the situation in the days and hours leading up to the commandos’ arrival: instead, they decided that violence was the best way to play their hand, and given their intransigence, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

In the wider political context, Israel’s government and army are clearly at fault over a myriad of issues, as are the leaders and politicians of Hamas – but what took place aboard the Freedom flotilla must be viewed in isolation in terms of the violence from both sides, rather than used as yet another rod with which to beat Israel simply because it suits certain parties to do so.

The immediate response of hundreds of civilians in Turkey – attacking consulates, fighting with local police – is another example of the resorting-to-violence mob’s myopic behaviour that so impedes efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine imbroglio using peaceful and diplomatic means. Violence is the stock in trade of extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian war: settlers and soldiers on one side, militants and terror leaders on the other; pretending that the violence emanates from the Israeli side only is a spurious and senseless way to paint the picture.

When Israel’s wrongs are brought to light, they deserve condemnation as much as those of the Palestinians, but that does not mean automatically that in any situation the default position ought to be Israel is guilty until proven innocent. In the case of the Freedom flotilla, Israel made repeated efforts during recent weeks to assist the activists in their mission and avoid bloodshed.

Even during the raid, troops did not fire on those on board at first, instead simply trying to go about their business of inspecting the cargo. When they were attacked with venomous force by the activists, they were left with no choice but to respond in kind. Those are the only facts that matter here, and all the kneejerk Israel-hating in the world won’t absolve the activist aggressors from their share of guilt for the horrific events that unfolded today.

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