Activists of the Free Gaza Movement boarded their two boats this morning and left the port bound on a return journey to Cyprus after successfully breaking Israel’s siege of the enclave. They carried on board 7 Palestinians denied exit visas by the Israelis including a 16 year-old boy in a wheelchair awaiting an artificial leg.
Until the moment of sailing, the participants weren’t certain how the Israeli navy would react. They were prepared for forcible boarding of their boats. But thankfully, it hasn’t come to that. I note that certain elements of the IDF disagreed vociferously with this decision not to interfere as Maariv reports (Hebrew):
Sources in the security establishment expressed marked dissatisfaction with Israel’s passive reaction. A security source told Maariv: “Tzahal vociferously opposed the decision to allow the Palestinians to leave.” Elements of the military even specifically requested “overpowering the ships with whatever level of force was necessary.”
Other security sources explained it was better to allow the ships to leave without interference. “We discovered the peace activists intended to add a disabled Palestinian to their number. None of us wanted to see on international TV channels Israeli military personnel forcefully removing a disabled Palestinians in a wheel chair [from the ship].”
The implication is that Israel would’ve had no compunction using such force against able-bodied Palestinians exiting on the boats.
All I can say is that I’m pleased that cooler heads prevailed in the Israeli government and they took a restrained approach to this matter. Of course, the FGM plans to return to Gaza on the same boats this time with food and other humanitarian relief. I doubt Israel will be as restrained the next time. But one can always hope.
In Maariv’s coverage (Hebrew) it interviewed Jeff Halper, who noted his debt to Abie Nathan, the pioneer Israeli peace activist who died this week:
Abie Nathan met with Arafat and was imprisoned twice. Today the president and prime minister are eulogizing him. Then [when Nathan met Arafat] the situation was exactly as it is today. Nathan believed that the citizen must act even if he pays a personal price. Had they listened to his voice then [in 1966 when he flew to Egypt], perhaps they would have avoided the Occupation, made peace with the Egyptians and prevented thousands of Israeli dead.
Halper also noted his philosophical approach to citizen peacemaking which precisely mirrors Nathan’s:
The attempt to break the Gaza siege “could only be mounted by private citizens. Governments with political agendas are not suited to do this. Only after private citizens break down the walls can there be an opening for governments to begin negotiations.”
I’m guessing that the Nobel committee is watching this episode with interest. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Halper’s Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions nominated alongside a Palestinian peace group for a Nobel Peace Prize? Do I hear Nobel, anyone? Thanks again to Ira Glunts for providing the links.