Watching the video of the Israeli Navy Commandos rappelling onto the Marmara was for me — as for many people — full of anxiety and sadness. Sadness that Israeli soldiers, in the same uniforms I once proudly wore, were put in such a terrible situation and subject to violent attack. Sadness that Israel’s failed strategy of blockading Gaza had led to this and deep anxiety about the future of the Middle East, of Israel and of the Palestinian people.
I harbor no illusions about the motives of the flotilla’s organizers. While their cargo was humanitarian in nature, their stated intent was to force the Israeli government to confront the consequences of the Gaza blockade — including exploitation of the resultant media coverage to further damage Israel’s international standing.
In the end, they not only succeeded in creating that negative publicity but also in highlighting for the world just how ineffectual Israel’s actions and policies have been in Gaza.
It would be very easy to remain entirely focused on the aftermath of the recent violence, but it’s crucial we remember the flotilla was a symptom of two much larger issues: the unproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since Hamas took power in Gaza, Israel has maintained a tight isolation of the Strip, attempting to control who and what may go in and out. The Israeli government has stated that the goals of the blockade are to ensure the security of Israel’s citizens by preventing the import of weapons and to break the back of Hamas. The thinking goes that a deeply unhappy Gazan people will turn on its government and demand change.
Reality however, shows Hamas more heavily armed in control of Gaza than ever before — and no such popular uprising has occurred.
Hamas has total control over the tunnel economy, bringing in food and medicine to meet some of the people’s needs, while using the very same tunnel system to funnel in arms and cash. Gazans see Hamas as the only force providing for their basic needs, while Israel prohibits the legal importation of such “dangerous” materials as nutmeg and clothing fabric.
Simply put, Israel is not served by the blockade —Hamas is. Israel is not served by 1.5 million increasingly hungry, dispirited and angry people — Hamas is. And the likelihood that Gazans will be open to the kind of compromise that would finally secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic home — a two-state solution — shrinks by the day.
Those who wish to see Israel thrive in safety and security should seek to lift the blockade, which has been not just “ineffective” but damaging to Israel, and instead, advocate for the establishment of genuinely effective security measures to prevent weapons from entering Gaza.
While Israel must continue to monitor the flow of goods and people entering Gaza, they don’t need to keep out food, medicines and so many of the seemingly arbitrary items that are currently prohibited.
Israel must also address the extensive damage it has suffered to its standing in the world by immediately appointing an independent commission to investigate the events that took place on the Marmara and the decisions and circumstances surrounding the tragedy.
While I’m confident Israel’s government is capable of carrying out such an investigation, as they have done so repeatedly in the past, we must now recognize that to many in America and around the globe, Israel’s credibility is sadly in doubt. Nothing but an immediate and fully independent inquiry — possibly with American support and involvement — will produce a report viewed as fair by both Israel and the international community.
But finally, even lifting the blockade, ending the smuggling of arms, and re-establishing Israel’s credibility on the world stage would only achieve so much. As Israel’s most stalwart ally, the American
government must now work diligently and with great urgency to address the issue at the very core of Israel’s security problems: President Obama must redouble his efforts toward peace and lead an all-out effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve a two-state solution — now.
This moment of crisis and tragedy might yet be turned it into a meaningful opportunity to end the violence once and for all —or it can be kicked back and forth, the dead and injured used as a political football for ideologues to make points. The choice is ours.
As President Obama himself said in Cairo a year ago: “Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear.”
Hadar Susskind is J Street’s Vice President of Policy and Strategy. This article first appeared in The Hill.