Parshat Shelach (5770)

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B”H

Neighbourhood Bully

Well, the claws are out again, sharp and quick as opprobrium is heaped on Israel from every corner of the globe. Ranging from genuine human rights campaigners to opportunistic politicians and bandwagon terrorists, all righteously taking part in flotilla frenzy. Before any investigation has been done Israel has been roundly condemned and castigated – as a rogue state, pariah state, terrorist state etc.

Let us look at the facts as they are known to the public to date.  Israel has a military blockade around Gaza simply to deny Hamas the material needed for terror purposes: Metal for rockets, concrete for bunkers and so on. Were Hamas to accept peace with Israel the blockade would cease immediately. Food and medicine, gas and fuel are being supplied in enormous quantities on a daily basis through the crossings from Israel into Gaza. [The Egyptian blockade of Gaza gets nary a mention in the Press of course, a glaring and ongoing omission].

There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza: You can walk the streets there, shop in the well stocked markets, eat in the restaurants and enjoy surfing the beach. Of course there are poor, even destitute people, with whom we sympathise – but poverty does not constitute a humanitarian crisis.

Iran is continuously seeking to upgrade the military capabilities of the Hamas regime in Gaza. With Hamas armed to the teeth with surface to air missiles and long range rockets the balance in the neighbourhood will begin to shift. Once Israel is surrounded by well armed terror groups in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, an attack by Iran becomes all the more likely. As Israeli citizens are forced into bunkers by increasingly accurate rocket fire from all sides the army will have to deploy on many fronts at once, protecting a thin strip of land seventy one miles wide at its widest point. Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border have already rearmed to a frightening level, with massive arsenals of sophisticated and powerful weapons and rockets. To prevent this happening on the southern border it is critical to stop the flow of high grade weaponry to Hamas.

A peace flotilla entering Gaza without a cargo inspection is a highly risky proposition. What better place to hide illegal shipments of war material than in an innocent peace boat. However years of seeing ambulances carrying concealed weapons and of suicide bombers attempting to blow up the very hospitals they are being treated in has made Israelis savvy to these tricks. They will simply not allow uninspected cargo to enter Gaza. They did however offer to unload all the boats in Ashdod and transfer all safe goods to Gaza – this was ignored. An Irish registered vessel is due to break the Gaza blockade this weekend, bearing hundreds of kilos of cement – a material banned from entry into Gaza. They are well aware that this is prohibited material, and that the controllers of Gaza would not allow it to be used for needed humanitarian purposes – it would simply be commandeered for terror activities.

After ignoring repeated warnings from the Israeli Navy the decision was taken to board the flotilla. International Maritime Law is clear on this point:

Merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search, capture or diversion.*

The boats were to be diverted to Ashdod port, the cargo unloaded and delivered to Gaza and the activists deported home. Whether this was the best tactical decision to make is a subject for discussion, but what is crystal clear is that this was not seen as a combative or violent exercise. The assumption is that peace activists are peaceful, and if you watch the navy briefing you will see they were expecting some spitting, shoving and verbal abuse – “normal” demonstration activities. To deal with this low threat, these elite, highly trained troops left their weapons behind, and exchanged them for crowd dispersal equipment. When they were helicoptered in they were bare-handed, armed with paintball guns slung over their backs, a weapon just strong enough to keep back peaceful crowds. Their holstered handguns were to be used in life threatening circumstances only.

Five of the six boats complied without a hitch, but on the sixth and biggest boat (Mavi Marmara) their estimation could not have been further from the truth. Lying in wait for them, and captured on camera, was a group of violent terror supporters, armed with daggers, knives, metal poles, axes, broken glass bottles, catapults, as well as stun grenades and guns with live ammunition. The soldiers who were lowered on board were shocked to find themselves facing not a crowd of men, women and children shouting slogans, but an armed and violent group hell-bent on murder and martyrdom. The sickening footage is there for the public to view of servicemen being beaten violently with metal chains, metal bars and stabbed with knives. They can be heard over the radio in shock as they realise they are taking live fire, and asking for urgent backup.

These were not peace activists! Their families are proudly telling the media in their home countries that they wanted to be martyrs. To kill or be killed.

Only after one serviceman was hurled thirty feet to a lower deck and then stabbed in the stomach, and after seeing their comrades being clubbed and shot did they request permission to use their handguns.

While Israeli servicemen lay wounded in hospital, some in critical condition, the flotilla was diverted to Ashdod port, unloaded and the participants deported. The cargo was trucked to Gaza where it was refused entry by Hamas, and is currently lying idle awaiting a decision what to do.

Israeli politicians come under constant attack for not upping the ante in the PR war. Wars nowadays are waged not only in the air, on land and at sea, but over the airwaves, the internet and in the print media.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have revolutionised how international perceptions are formed and do so at the speed of light. Yet regardless of their acknowledged weaknesses in the PR battle, the world did not even give them a chance to explain, investigate or clarify. Like greased lightning the condemnations arrived, each one more evocative than the next and Israeli ambassadors were called in to their respective governments to be castigated or threatened with expulsion.  Constant negative media coverage denies people a balanced viewpoint and leads to a rise in international hatred for Israel and the concomitant hatred for Jews.  A French Jewish student travelling in Dublin this week was forced to remove her Star of  David necklace after suffering verbal abuse and being called a “Filthy killer Jew.”  She has never been to Israel in her life and certainly has never served in the Israeli Navy.

* * *

As we read the Torah portion this week in synagogues around the globe we refresh our memories of our rights to the Land of  Israel, of  G-d’s promises to Abraham,  Isaac and Jacob that their descendants, the Jewish People would inherit the Land as an eternal inheritance. We remember the initial reconnaissance of the land and of  its unique qualities, so fertile and nourishing that the sheer size of the fruit actually scared the people. And we remember that the Land of Milk and Honey is the homeland of the Jewish People by G-d given right.

Left for us to do is to hope and pray that our cousins and neighbours will one day agree to lay down their weapons and abandon their plans for a Middle East without Israel and without Jews. Once they do that, Israel can remove its walls and checkpoints, retire its army and return to normal civilized life where the only thing they need to defend is a theory.

We pray that day is soon in coming. Meanwhile let us have a little patience before leaping to condemn.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


*For Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality see www.vilp.de/Enpdf/e025.pdf , Section 5.1.2 (3)

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