The concentration camp horrors of World War II justifiably shocked civilized societies across the globe. It also sparked an enormous outpouring of empathy for the Jewish people that led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947. For more than 60 years the United States has supported Israel, supplied the nation with armaments and outsized financial aid and defended the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state. But now, in the wake of one of the most egregious and violent acts in its history, Israel has brazenly defied the laws of civilized nations in attacking a Palestinian relief mission that has shocked and angered the world. It may also bring about the long-overdue examination of the United States as the enabler of Israel's increasingly belligerent stance in the Middle East.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the area's history, the Gaza Strip is a tiny parcel of land on the Mediterranean Sea, smaller than Flathead Lake, and mostly surrounded by Israel and bordered by Egypt. After Israel exceeded its original borders following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, it annexed formerly Palestinian lands as spoils of war. The Gaza Strip is inhabited primarily by Sunni Muslims, many of whom are refugees and who still harbor strong enmity toward the Israelis.
The most recent incident, depending on who you hear it from, goes like this: A flotilla of ships carrying 700 civilians, including a Nobel peace laureate, and hundreds of tons of relief supplies left Turkey bound for the Gaza Strip. The relief convoy is in response to a two-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza's air, territorial waters and borders that followed a 22-day war in 2007 in which Israel, flying American-made F-16s, destroyed thousands of Palestinian homes, educational institutions, hospitals and government buildings, and killed an estimated 1,500 Palestinians while losing 13 Israelis in the decidedly one-sided conflict.
The blockade has left the remnant Palestinian population of about 1.5 million people in dire conditions, with no way to rebuild what was destroyed in the war, a shortage of medical supplies and generalized suffering of the populace. The relief flotilla was intended to bring much-needed supplies of cement, pre-fabricated homes, medical supplies and what is generally considered "humanitarian aid." So far, there is no indication that any automatic weapons, missiles or bombs were on board.
When the ships, including a very large Turkish-flagged ferry, were still in international waters about 70 miles off the Gaza coast, Israeli special forces troops attacked the flotilla. The smaller ships were almost immediately overcome, but when Israeli troops rappelled down from helicopters onto the decks of the large ferry, things went terribly wrong. Israel says its troops were simply "defending themselves" from the metal bars and knives with which the passengers on the boat had armed themselves. Those on the ferry, including an al-Jazeera correspondent, say the Israelis opened fire before they even set foot on the boat. Who is telling the truth may never be fully determined, but the end result left at least 9 passengers dead and dozens more wounded. Adding insult to grievous injury, the Israelis then commandeered the ship to Israel, where they incarcerated hundreds of the passengers, including European foreign nationals.
The response from most of the world has been immediate and forceful. Turkey, one of Israel's only Muslim allies in the Mediterranean area, pulled its embassy staff and has launched a formal complaint to the United Nations. That's no surprise, since it was, after all, a Turkish-flagged ship, pirated in international waters by the Israelis. European nations have likewise demanded a UN investigation into the affair and an end to the blockade.
And then there's the United States, which voiced only the mildest of concern, primarily in regret for the loss of life, but not a hint of condemnation over what, in other circumstances, we would immediately call "state-sponsored terrorism." Imagine, for a moment, what we would hear from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had Palestinians landed on a ship in international waters, full of humanitarian supplies headed for Israel, and killed and incarcerated its passengers prior to taking control of the vessel. She'd be spitting bullets, calling for heads to roll and threatening to take any actions necessary to stand by Israel.
But so far, not a peep from Hillary the Hawk. And speaking of hawks, the Israelis that took over the ferry rappelled down from American-made Blackhawk helicopters. Did Israel buy those choppers? No, it did not. The sad truth is that Israel receives the most foreign aid from the United States, in the form of military and economic assistance, of any nation in the world. At about $3 billion a year, that comes to one-fifth the entire U.S. foreign aid budget and, in daily terms, amounts to about $7 million a day to this tiny country of 7.5 million people.
Somehow, our relationship with Israel has come to resemble the mean little guy with his big buddy walking into a bar. The little guy picks the fights, counting on his big buddy to step in and save him—and pick up the tab, too. But given the current situation, seems like it's time to consider the broken knuckles and scars being friends with this mean little guy is costing us.
Of course there will be those who will say any such actions are "anti-Semitic." To them, I'd point out what many Canadians said to U.S. citizens during the Bush years: "We love Americans, but can't stand your current government."
Likewise, we can love and respect our Jewish friends. But when it comes to the actions now being perpetrated by the current Israeli government, it's long past time to take a hard look at our government's role in enabling these atrocities, to lay our international hypocrisy aside, and to hold Israel to the same standards of law as other civilized nations of the world.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.