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Contra Costa Times Readers' Forum: Defending Israel from threat of nonviolence
By Paul Larudee
ISRAEL APPEARS to have lost its grip on reality.
How else to explain the mobilization of every resource Israel can muster around the world to counter the "threat" of several hundred unarmed nonviolent human rights advocates intent on entering Gaza by sea without even passing through Israeli waters?
Divers have apparently damaged the drive shaft on one boat in Turkey and another in Greece, using the same technique in both cases. An Israeli legal team lodged an official complaint in Greece to declare the U.S. boat unsafe. The maneuver delayed the boat's departure.
Israel's diplomatic corps and support groups have also pressured governments in Europe and North America to prevent the boats from leaving their shores, and to support Israel's use of extreme measures against them.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has warned the organizers against "creating a situation in which the Israelis have a right to defend themselves."
Why the hysteria? Why should Israel care if these boats sail to Gaza? After the first successful voyage to Gaza in 2008, Israeli spokesman Aryeh Mekel explained that Israel decided not to use its navy to stop the boats because it wanted to avoid a confrontation, and because Cypriot authorities had issued assurances that there was nothing dangerous on board.
Why not follow the same protocol, for the same reasons?
Indeed, the boat organizers have always followed this inspection procedure, because the last thing they want is for weapons to be found on board. If it worked so well on the first voyage (and four more successful ones), why not now?
The flotilla has much more to lose than Israel, if weapons are found on board. Until now, the organizers have been able to recruit clergy, athletes, entertainers, peace groups and others who would never accept to be part of a plan to deliver arms. If anything dangerous is on board, this capability vanishes.
Israel clearly prefers to stop the flotilla before it sets to sea, but it is equally willing to inflict casualties if that is the only way to prevent the boats -- harmless or not -- from reaching Gaza. In fact, they may regard casualties as a good object lesson. Israel's rule seems to be: if force doesn't work, use more force.
The killing of nine passengers last year may therefore be a mere prelude to this year's count. Israel has certainly used the same logic in killing unarmed nonviolent protesters who tried and even succeeded in breaching its borders on May 15, 2011.
However, if Israel plans to escalate its use of violence, it is equally certain that international citizens will group together and escalate their use of nonviolence. One thousand people are planning to fly to Ben Gurion International Airport during the second week of July in solidarity with Palestinian rights groups, and organizers hope for 1 million participants in a peaceful November 2011 march to Jerusalem that will not respect Israel's borders and checkpoints.
The demonstrations are no threat to Israel's security, but the potential damage to its credibility is quite real. Its carefully cultivated image as a beacon of democracy, culture and enlightenment is most definitely under assault.
Israel cannot afford for the world to care about Palestinian rights, because the truth is not only that Israel is built upon Palestinian land and homes, but that it is continuing to trample upon Palestinians in its effort to remain and grow as a Jewish state with only a token non-Jewish population.
If people understand and sympathize with the price Palestinians have paid and are paying for Israel's existence, Israel's ability to continue dominating Palestinians may be threatened.
Paul Larudee is a co-founder of the movement to end the naval blockade Gaza and of the Free Palestine Movement, which has sent a delegation of U.S. citizens to be aboard the flotilla. He is a resident of El Cerrito.
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