Seven days, seven years. Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the democracy sinking

What happened in international waters in front of Israeli coasts in the night between the 30th and the 31st of May is still unclear, or rather, is still under debate and probably will be object of long discussions, accusations and generic regrets. The reality of “an act of piracy, war crime, blatant violation of international law, murder of unarmed civilians”, as defined by the Israeli intellectual and activist Michel Warschawski, assumes clearer contours, despite the IDF forces effort to present the killing of international activists as a response to a fire attack by the Freedom Flotilla.

Many words and comments were spent by journalists and analysts. The spectrum of these declarations is – as usual for what concerns Israel – wide and fragmented. If most of views agree on deploring this intervention, some voices simply attest that the military action against the seven hundred activists will reinforce the anti-Israel chorus. On 31st May, at a conference sponsored by the French Embassy and Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Bernard Henry Lévy, a French philosopher openly well-known for his conditional support to Israeli policy , declared that

I saw the IDF in action several times in my life. It is a unique army in its ideal of purity of arms. Until proven otherwise, I believe there were other ways of preventing them from entering Israeli territory, there were other ways of preventing what was clearly a provocation [1]. Henry Lévy expressed also his personal political wish: We wait for a new [Menachem] Begin, a new [Ariel] Sharon.

Last events can be considered from particular lenses. An interesting case is the Italian one. Exactly one week before the Gaza Flotilla attack, Italian public opinion was divided by the news [2] that two grocery chains – Coop and Nordiconad – decided to stop selling the products from Agrexco, the main exporter from Israel and the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. According to Coop, at the base of this decision there was a problem of “traceability, namely that the consumer is unable to verify whether or not the product in question comes from the occupied territories.” The decision arrived after lobbying efforts by the Italian Coalition against Carmel-Agrexco, as part of the global BDS (Boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign.

The reaction to this news was particularly violent, considering the general inattention by the Italian audience to what concerns foreign affairs. The Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini defined the decision a “racist measure”, while Coop and Conad – afraid of the economic and political consequences of this decision – substantially disowned this measure. In the debate the real missing point was the analysis of what the colonies in the West Bank, illegal for the international law, really are. For example: who are the settlers living in Hebron? To have an idea of that, it is maybe important to start with “settlement monitor” edited by prominent research centres (as the Institute for Palestine Studies) [3].

Seven days later, the attack against the Freedom Flotilla revealed to a large part of the public opinion the existence and harshness of the three-year siege on Gaza. For a lot of people, it was the first time that Israel openly acted against international activists calling for ending the occupation in West Bank and the blockade in the Gaza Strip. This is only partially true: although the intensity and violence of this action is unprecedented, the reality on the ground continuously shows Israeli the obsession for international delegitimization of the occupation regime, exactly one of the goals of the BDS campaign.

Seven years ago, on 16 March 2003, the American volunteer Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza Strip, where she had been living for the previous seven weeks. She was trying to stop one of the house demolitions occurring almost everyday in West Bank and Gaza. Seven years later, one ship in the Freedom Flotilla is entitled to this 23-years-old girl.

A few days after her killing, on March 30, Susan Sontag, American writer and thinker, held a moving speech at the Rothko Chapel in Houston on the occasion of the presentation of the Oscar Romero Award to Ishai Menuchin, chairman of Yesh Gvul (“There Is a Limit”), the Israeli soldiers' movement for selective refusal to serve in the Palestinian occupied territories (the refuseniks). In her words,

What haunts me at this moment is acting on principle when it isn't going to alter the obvious distribution of force, the rank injustice and murderousness of a government's policy that claims to be acting in the name not of peace but of security. The force of arms has its own logic. If you commit an aggression and others resist, it is easy to convince the home front that the fighting must continue. (…) The soldiers are there because 'we' are being attacked; or menaced. Never mind that we may have attacked them first. They are now attacking back, causing casualties. Behaving in ways that defy the 'proper' conduct of war. Behaving like 'savages,' as people in our part of the world like to call people in that part of the world. And their 'savage' or 'unlawful' actions give new justification to new aggressions. And new impetus to repress or censor or persecute citizens who oppose the aggression which the government has undertaken.

That night, approaching its coast, Israeli democracy sinks another time.


1. See Bernard-Henri Lévy, The images we saw this morning were devastating for the country I love so much, in “Haaretz”, 31 May 2010.

2. Stop ai prodotti delle colonie israeliane. I supermercati: Non è boicottaggio, in “Corriere della Sera”, 24 May 2010.

3. See the Monitor Section in “Journal of Palestine Studies”.]] or Ngo (as the Alternative Information Centre)[[See the bimonthly Settler violence report.]]. A few weeks ago, Gideon Levy, Haaretz columnist, poignantly explained why the BDS campaign represents an helpful choice also for Israelis[[Boycotting the boycotters, in “Haaretz”, 16 May 2010.