In the case of the Mavi Marmara, I cannot blame Israelis for their inability to understand. The media to which they have been exposed has been so alarmingly one-sided, and they have heard such a different version of events, that their reactions are entirely predictable. At the entrance to our village, we put up a sign condemning the raid on the ship, the killing of the activists, and the necessity of lifting the siege on Gaza. The sign was stolen. We put up another sign, and that was torn down too. But who can blame those responsible when, from their point of view, based on the media, the attack on the ship was an act of self-defense against terrorists, and Gaza is not suffering from a humanitarian crisis at all? It isn’t that those who protest the incident and those who justify it are diametrically opposed from one-another. It’s just that their understanding of the same events is different, based on their sources of information.
Just as the Israeli press has been hijacked by conscious and unconscious lies, this is also true of media outside. The knife and the blood that were "disappeared" from the Reuters pictures are an extreme example. Whereas the Turkish press can be expected to maintain a bias that mirrors the Israeli media, a higher degree of objectivity is expected from a company like Reuters. Why will neither “side”, nor, it seems, the world press, allow complexity?
The Mavi Marmara is one of the few really outstanding successes of a protest action with regard to the Palestinian - Israeli conflict. It has been successful in opening the Egyptian border, and there is no doubt that it will lead to the easing of the blockade on the Israeli side. It has brought world attention to the plight of Gazans, and has caused a reassessment of Israeli policies, even among those who traditionally either favor the Israeli side, or turn a blind eye.
However, these successes came at a high price and at even greater risk. To expose the brutal violence of the Israeli side, upon which the occupation of Palestine is based, required also limited violence from the activists. Armed with iron bars, sawn, in advance of the attack, from the railings of the ship, as well as knives, and any other tools that came to hand, the protesters ferociously attacked the invading soldiers. That was certainly an act of heroism and martyrdom. You don’t attack well-armed elite soldiers with improvised weapons and hope to get away with that.
It was heroic, but also recklessly and irresponsibly stupid. The ship held hundreds of people who hadn’t come along for that kind of mission. We are fortunate that “only” nine people lost their lives in the ensuing mayhem. We are fortunate, for instance, that figures like Raed Salah and Hanin Zoabi did not lose their lives. That would have triggered an unknown quantity of further violence. As it is, the events have set Israel and Turkey on a collision course whose future is unknown. It was stupid of Israel to attack the boat. It was stupid of the activists to try to defend it. Stupidity requires the collaboration of idiots.
One of the activists, Ken O’Keefe compared the actions on the Mavi Marmara to a modern equivalent of Gandhian nonviolence. But the most famous act of nonviolence was the salt march, which terminated in waves of marchers determinedly approaching British police and being knocked senseless with lathis, without ever lifting a finger. Not only did they not attack the police, they also did not try to defend themselves. The difference may be that Gandhi, unlike O’Keefe, hadn’t been trained as a marine.
Hardcore pro-Palestinian activists, apparently, are willing to live with the consequence of a few dead activists, the hijacking of nonviolence and the distortion of truth (so different from satyagraha), in order to win a few battles towards their cause. The Occupation has been going on too long and seems immovable. Israel is strengthening its grip. The world, most of the time doesn’t seem to mind.
People who are on the side of justice and truth, who are on the side of humanity, cannot consistently be on either side of this or any conflict. Courses of action that depends upon violence - whether the violence of occupation and siege, or physical violence because a human being is cast as a soldier, might be temporarily of benefit to one side or another in this conflict, but they will ultimately feed the conditions for recurring violence. If the object is to be free of violence, and to improve the lot of human beings here and everywhere, we must challenge the status quo that perpetuates injustice, while adhering to nonviolent means. This is not a national struggle, but a struggle for creating the conditions in which human beings can live alongside one-another in dignity and in equality, regardless of their national, religious, or other identities and affiliations.