What was the real mistake in the Gaza flotilla fiasco? The answer depends on how far back you want to go, as I explain in my new piece at the American Prospect:
At first, reports of the number of dead fluctuated by the hour. After Israeli naval commandos landed on a Turkish ferry heading for Gaza, rumors said that Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the radical Islamic movement among Israeli Arabs, had been killed on board. The rumors turned into news items in the Arab media; the sheikh was then reported alive and well. Descriptions of what actually happened on the crowded deck of the Mavi Marmara have, predictably, been wildly at odds. Activists who were on board say the Israeli commandos fired before being attacked; the Israeli military says the soldiers were defending themselves from a mob. Both sides present film clips of the nighttime struggle to back up their case.
Out of this blurred picture, one thing seems agonizingly clear: The raid was a link in a chain of premeditated folly.
Let’s follow that chain, from the news reports backward. To deflect criticism, Israeli army sources have told the press that the commandos faced a “lynch” when they descended by ropes from helicopters onto the Mavi Marmara — the largest boat in the flotilla intended to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza. Inside Israel, the word “lynch” stirs a very loaded memory: the mob murder of two Israeli soldiers who strayed into the West Bank city of Ramallah at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000.
Yet the word emphasizes the stark difference between the two events. The commandos didn’t stray onto the ferry’s deck. They boarded it in a planned operation. If, as Israel Defense Forces footage seems to show, people on the boat’s deck greeted them with knives and clubs, it means that at least some of the activists decided in advance that nonviolence wasn’t their strategy. Nonetheless, they weren’t lynching anyone; they were attempting to stop a boarding party in international waters. The Israeli Foreign Ministry argues that interdicting a ship on the high seas to enforce a declared blockade is legal under international law. It should have been no surprise, however, that the boarding would meet resistance from the 679 people aboard the ship — a mix of pro-Palestinian activists from the international Free Gaza Movement; members of the Turkish Islamic relief group Insani Yardim Vakfi; and a handful of prominent Israeli Arabs. …
Read the rest here, and return to SoJo to comment.