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The ironies of the Gaza flotillas

A double irony, the following article by Richard Irvine was posted on Electronic Intifada the day before Israel’s contemptuous massacre of international peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara. He wasn’t to know that the analogy of the Exodus ship would be applicable not only to isolated Gaza, but to the Freedom Flotillas themselves. The Exodus is today filled with Palestinians and left activists from around the world.


The Gaza flotilla and the ironies of history

No one can accuse history of not having a sense of irony. Sixty-three years ago in July 1947 a passenger ship destined for Palestine and named The Exodus was stopped and boarded by the British Navy. The ship was crowded with Holocaust survivors determined to make a new life for themselves in British controlled Palestine but did not have official immigration permits. Facing terrorism by Zionist organizations, waves of illegal immigration by Jews fleeing the displaced persons camps in post-war Europe, and resistance by Palestinian Arabs to the increasingly powerful and belligerent Zionist movement emboldened by its growing numbers, Britain was determined to stop the ship. Accordingly when the Royal Navy boarded the ship twenty miles out from Haifa a full scale battle ensued. Three of the immigrants were killed and dozens injured as British troops beat the passengers on to three separate prison ships. From there these Holocaust survivors were transported back to Germany and were once again placed in camps. The world was horrified; an American newspaper ran the headline, “Back to the Reich.” Delegates from the UN Special Commission on Palestine who watched what occurred were similarly shocked; the Yugoslav delegate cited that what happened to The Exodus “is the best possible evidence we have for allowing Jews into Palestine.”

Since then the fate of The Exodus has achieved legendary status: Leon Uris used it as the basis of his 1958 bestseller of the same name; an award winning film starring Paul Newman came out in 1960. Indeed, The Exodus the book and film, painted an exceedingly favorable portrayal of the Zionist movement and the fledgling state, arguably helping the US and Europe to overcome their guilt for historic anti-Semitism and inaction during the Holocaust by supporting Israel. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban drew a direct link between The Exodus story and the ending of British rule in Palestine. Tellingly a 1996 documentary celebrating the story is entitled, Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched A Nation.

Today another small flotilla of ships is making its way to Palestine. Crammed with humanitarian aid and some 600 international peace activists and human rights workers it is set for Gaza.

Synonymous with violence and poverty Gaza is home to 1.5 million dispossessed and imprisoned Palestinians. Under Israeli control since 1967 Gaza has seen it all and been through it all. Yet the events of the last two years are without precedent. Under blockade since 2007, bombarded in a three week long assault that is called a war, its people have been barely subsisting since. As Dov Weissglas, an advisor to then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explained in 2006, Palestinians were to be “put on a diet.” Today much that is essential for everyday life in Gaza is banned — for either “security reasons” or because they are “luxury items”: cement is banned, pencils banned, paper banned, toys banned, medicines and food restricted.

Of course you can agree with all this and say it is “the terrorist” organization Hamas that is to blame. You can say that even though all this is illegal under international law it is necessary for Israel’s security. Or you can ask how banning toys is fighting terror?

Like Mary Robinson after the war you can be shocked of course: “Their whole civilization has been destroyed, I’m not exaggerating … It’s almost unbelievable that the world doesn’t care while this is happening.” Or you can believe Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Despite Hamas’ war crimes against Israeli citizens … Israel continues to respond in the most humane way possible.”

Regardless of whom you choose to believe, this weekend you are likely to see another example of Israel’s humanity. Reportedly a quarter of Israel’s Navy has been mobilized to ensure the aid flotilla does not get through. The Israeli press reports that just like the British all those years ago, plans have been made to stop the aid flotilla twenty miles out to sea and transfer the passengers to holding camps or prisons inside Israel before deporting them. For Israel’s foreign minister this is not an aid convoy, but “a blatant provocation” and “violent propaganda.” Which is odd really since the convoy, if left unimpeded, will not go near Israel.

However, even if Israel does stop the convoy it should be aware that its position on blockading a whole people is not sustainable. At the time of The Exodus affair future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir declared: “To Britain we must say: it is a great illusion to believe us weak. Let Great Britain with her mighty fleet and her many guns and planes know that this people is not weak, and that its strength will stand it in good stead.” Replace Great Britain with Israel and the same applies today.

Richard Irvine teaches a course at Queen’s University Belfast entitled “The Battle for Palestine” which explores the entire history of the conflict. Irvine has also worked voluntarily in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and taken part in olive planting and harvesting in the West Bank.

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16 thoughts on “The ironies of the Gaza flotillas”

  1. Robert Williams

    I’m thankful that you have the courage to criticize this increasingly reactionary, ‘antisemitic’ state. Their actions against humanitarian assistance to Gaza is atrocious. I do not question Israel’s right to self-defense but not offense. No one who is rational can defend these kinds of actions against an entire people. Many of the soldiers who perpetuate such violence need only to remember how many of their ancestors were treated in Europe during the 1940’s. Whatever happened to Jewish ethical values like chesed and tikkun olam? They are obviously missing in the current Israeli administration. And if the future is any indication, this will only get worse not better.

  2. Well said Robert, the zionists didn’t just hi-jack the flotilla, but the whole of judaism as well. Yes they are anti the Palestinians and therefore antisemitic. Spot on!

    Here’s a bit more footage for anyone interested:
    I thought this incident would bring a few more jewdasites out in condemnation of israels actions. What do people think to the future aid convoys planned for later on this year, are we in favour or what? Lets hear it!!! End the Gaza seige now.

  3. I count myself as a left-wing libertarian. I recently spent a day investigating zionism and came to the conclusion that it is a national liberation movement. Israel is a secular parliamentary democracy sorrounded by hostile theist dictatorships. It needs defending, despite its government’s failure to satisfactorily resolve the problems of the Palestinians. However, I feel the nominally pro-Palestinian stance of Israel’s neighbours is disingenuous, and serves only to justify their anti-Israeli posture and to divert the attention of their populations from their own oppression.

  4. Great that you spent a day on this John – many of us have (unfortunately) spent much of our lives investigating Zionism and its effects. Yes it is in part a liberation movement, but it is also in part a settler-colonial one. You say Israel is a ‘parliamentary democracy’. How many other parliamentary democracies rule over millions of people (in the West Bank and Gaza) without giving them the vote? Yes, neighbouring countries, such as Syria, are also highly oppressive, but it is perfectly possible to condemn both!

  5. I usually agree with Baruch on most things but zionism is not a national liberation movement, it is simply a colonial settler movement. National liberation movements are for the liberation of the people of a country. Zionism is for a state for the world’s Jews. The Jews are not the people of a country but of many countries. Zionism historically has never been on the side of emancipation for Jews but for segregation. Of course in the segregationist system that is the State of Israel, Jews are the beneficiaries but that can hardly be described as liberation particularly given that Jews have far more liberty in many other places.

    Israel’s neighbours are indeed nasty regimes but their existence is not predicated on their human rights abuses as Israel’s is. If Syria ceased to oppress its native population it, other things being equal, it would still be Syria. If Israel ceased to oppress its native population, other things being equal, it may well cease to be Israel.

    Israel is not a parliamentary democracy not simply because it denies basic civil (and human) rights to the people occupied and/or ethnically cleansed since 1967. Before 1967, democracy was denied to the Arab victims of ethnic cleansing and within the pre-1967 borders parties can be banned from Israel’s elections for campaigning for religious and even racial equality. Such parties have slipped through the net and still do but the net is tightening and laws are being framed right now to insist on a loyalty test for all citizens.

    I don’t know how John could spend a whole day investigating zionism without mentioning any of his sources and without discovering that Israel arose as the result of the colonial settlement of Jews into Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of most of the native Palestinian Arab population and the imposition of racist laws which now have no parallel. Also, he claims that Israel has to be defended on account of neighbouring dictatorships but two of the neighbouring dictatorships (Egypt and Jordan) are allies of Israel, one (Syria) has been seeking peace for years now but Israel wants to keep the part of Syria it conquered in 1967 and Lebanon isn’t really a dictatorship. Not only that, contrary to what John must have read, most of the Arab-Israeli wars have been wars of Israel’s choosing.

    I have been studying zionism for decades now but I am sure that even a day is enough to realise that Israel is no democracy, it has been the aggressor in most of its wars and it is questionable whether Israel could continue to exist if it was to “satisfactorily resolve the problems of the Palestinians”, to quote John. I don’t know how a self-described left-libertarian could come to the conclusions that John has come to.

  6. levi9909 says:
    14/07/2010 at 3:39 am
    I usually agree with Baruch on most things but zionism is not a national liberation movement, it is simply a colonial settler movement. National liberation movements are for the liberation of the people of a country. Zionism is for a state for the world’s Jews. The Jews are not the people of a country but of many countries.

    Yes levi9909, many countries, but in some sense at least, one nation..

  7. My source was Wikipedia. I found out that Zionism has many different strands, both left and right, that it was a response to European oppression of Jews, that its purpose was to setup a homeland for Jews, that Israel was set up by the UN, that it was attacked by its neighbours from day 1, that it consists of Jews and Arabs, all of whom have the vote, that it is a multi-party democracy, that it is a secular state, that all of the wars that this embattled state has endured have been imposed upon it, that after winning its wars it usually gives back the land it gains as buffer zones and that its neighbours are not interested in helping Palestinians displaced by those wars. I looked for a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ and instead found an anti-Jewish one. I think the Left needs to reconsider its position regarding Israel and Zionism.

  8. LOL this is such a lame article. What a bunch of traitors.. A bunch of Jews, sitting in NY or whatever and commenting about a country that’s been attacked for 50 years. I wonder if you would accept with open arms a hostile ship coming from Iran/Iraq, and let them dock in NYC unchecked.. What jokers. One day you will see the real threat called “Muslims”. We, the ones who see things as they really are, will watch from the side and laugh.. I’m sure you guys are pro building a mosque in NYC as well.. Good luck with that, losers.

  9. How can one legitimately compare survivors of the Holocaust to the Palestinians? I’ve seen this done before, and every time I am dumfounded by a forced comparison that distorts reality. Beyond this, the passengers aboard the flotilla were largely not even Palestinians themselves, but Turks and other foreign nationals.

    The restrictions placed upon Israeli Arabs is done out of necessity, not out of racism. The Jews of Europe never attacked their non-Jewish neighbors, nor did they call for the destruction of whatever state they lived in. No, instead many Jews, especially in Germany, worked alongside their non-Jewish counterparts and thrived in their countries of residence. Jews worked in the government and most considered themselves patriots. That is not at all the situation we see in Israel. Conversely, Palestinian terrorists routinely kill Jews by many methods: suicide bombings, intentional car accidents, stoning, etc. The building of the security wall along the border with the West Bank was not done out of a sick need to oppress, but to protect Israeli citizens from sniper fire from Arab villages as well as to prevent suicide bombers from infiltrating Israeli sovereignty and threatening Israeli life. Indeed, the numbers do not lie as instances of terrorism since the wall’s construction have significantly dropped.

    What did the passengers on the so called “freedom flotilla” hope to accomplish by running the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip? It was not to bring aid. A new luxury mall was just built in Gaza in Gaza City. A report was aired on Al Jazeera about a month ago condemning Israel for allowing too much aid into the Gaza Strip and forcing the illegal tunnels (which are known to bring weapons into the Strip) to shut down. Furthermore, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is not as bad as the passengers of the “freedom” flotilla would have you believe. According to the CIA World Factbook, the bible for such statistics, the infant mortality rate in Gaza is 17.87 per thousand babies – a better showing than can be found in more than 100 countries. In fact, Gaza has a lower infant mortality rate than Turkey, where more than 24 babies out of every thousand die in infancy. Turkey, which organized the flotilla to bring aid packages to the Gaza Strip, has greater needs when it comes to living standards than Gaza. The statistics are similar when you look at life expectancy. Again, Gaza’s life expectancy is a respectable 73.68 years – a better showing than more than 100 countries. Turkey again lags behind Gaza with a life expectancy of 72.23 years. The passengers aboard The Exodus instead hoped to escape the mass murder of their people and finally live in a land where they could be free.

    Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is not only necessary it is the responsible thing to do when taking Israeli safety into consideration. Ever since Israel evacuated every single Jew from the Gaza Strip – in the hopes that the Palestinians would begin to organize a functioning society – which obviously has not happened – the terrorist organization Hamas has fired over 3,000 rockets on Israeli towns. Any country in this situation would do the same thing and try to protect its citizens by preventing the flow of illegal arms into the terrorist hot spot that is the Gaza Strip. Any problems that the residents of Gaza face are not Israel’s fault, but Hamas’s.

    To defend foreign nationals who hid weapons aboard their “peace” ship and immediately began to attack soldiers who wanted to non-violently redirect their ship away from Gaza as heroic stalwarts for Palestinian rights is disingenuous. The participants of the flotilla were not peaceful and their aim was not to bring aid. To compare the plight of the Palestinians to that of the Jews during the Holocaust is abhorrent. As the popular axiom goes: “When the Palestinians lay down their arms, there will be peace; When we lay down our arms we will be dead.” All that needs to be done for there to be peace in the Middle East if for the Palestinians to reject violence of any kind and then sit down to negotiate with Israeli leaders. They must give up their dream of “driving the Jews into the sea,” because frankly, we’re not going anywhere.

  10. Kol Yehudim has said it all….. wouldn’t it be nice if the ill informed idiots who write such rubbish would take a moment to read his comments.

  11. Hi Kol Yehudim, hey listen, I read your piece and immediatley thought israeli propaganda machine at work. But after a while thought maybe you’re just caught up in all the bullshit and really your piece was a cry for help, seriously. Nearly all the opinions you wrote down are the lengthened shadow of a mad man who ain’t listening to an opposing view point.
    When people make the comparison to the holocaust. they’re not saying Palestinians in Gaza are living like the jews in the Warsaw ghetto, enclosed in a CAMP with highly organised rightwing soldiers preventing anyone leaving or travelling freely. Where people are living in abject poverty, not knowing when their life will be snuffed out, dead. Where some do ok, but the majority suffer…… Think about it. The suffering is virtually identical. Try not to think of the holocaust as being the worst thing that ever happened in the world, cos it wasn’t. To think that way prevents you from being in the now, instead ALL your reasoning is based on what happened 70years ago.
    Just for me, see if you can write a piece with the opposite view to what you wrote, with evidence that you yourself researched, hey and don’t be afraid to admit you was wrong. It’s better to be humble now and realise the truth, than live a lie and have the blood of innocent people on your hands. All the best.

  12. Hi Eyal, are you a fucking troll or what? Don’t come here and write a load of crap, let’s have a debate my friend, let’s talk about your issues. Oh yeah, you missed the obligatory ”SELF HATING jews, sitting in New York….”

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