It’s official. What Israel did was completely legitimate; at least, according to the majority of US newspapers, academics, members of Congress, and the Vice President. From this point forward attacking a ship in international waters and killing civilians is now, officially, a legal act; well, kinda.
According to Vice President Biden,
“Look, you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not — but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Israel,
“rightfully invoked its right to self defense…Hamas could end the blockade at any time by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and releasing Gilad Shalit,”
Overlooking his false accusations against Hamas, apparently the thousands of prisoners Israel holds from Palestine and Lebanon are irrelevant. Also, Israel’s recognition of the democratically elected government in Gaza must be a “different matter”.
Republican whip Eric Cantor defends the blockade, saying it was designed to
“to deny Hamas the weaponry and raw materials it needs to continue its rocket attacks in Israel, killing innocent people,”
Gary Ackerman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, said he
“strongly support(s) Israel’s right to defend itself, and the right of Israel’s naval commandos, who were executing a legal mission, to defend themselves by using force when they were brutally attacked.”
This sentiment can be found among prominent academics like David Rothkopf, David Makovsky at the Christian Science Monitor, Islam scholar Robert Spencer, and even Eliot Spitzer. It seems that the general attitude towards the recent events is that the Flotilla was controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization who seeks to destroy Israel, and was carrying weapons that would be used against Israeli citizens.
First, the Hamas bashing is hurting the peace process by distorting the facts. For example, Hamas has accepted Israel and agreed to end the hostilities-on the pretext that Israel falls back to 1967 boarders. Hamas was democratically elected by the people of Gaza and provide a great deal of service to those suffering. For more on Hamas read Chris’s post here.
I would like to try an experiment. Let’s suppose that Hamas decides that US shipments of military arms, helicopters, and tanks to Israel are a threat. Hamas, therefore, decides to blockade Israel. This blockade destroys Israel’s economy, leads to mass malnutrition, and is responsible for the deaths of dozens of people. When international aid ships depart for Israel carrying European legislators, Nobel Laureates, medical supplies, and medicine, Hamas lands commandos on board and in the mess dozens of innocent people are killed.
Now, this event is only fiction. Let’s remember that Hamas has no navy; no army; no marines; no anti-air defense; no air force. But lets assume that they do. Would we accept this? Of course we wouldn’t. In fact, if this event happened we would hear of the radical nature of Muslims, the danger of “jihadi” groups and their lack of concern for human rights. This would be a clear sign that there is a “clash of civilizations”. Indeed, those fighting back against the Hamas commandos would be lauded as heros, not instigators.
This situation, however, holds some truth. US shipments to Israel do threaten the people of Gaza. US weapons are used against innocent Palestinians, Lebanese, and other groups in Israel. In fact, Hamas does claim that Israel is destroying their land and killing their people and therefore they have a right to defend themselves. Does the US accept this? Does anyone accept this? Mostly no. It is interesting that the majority of politicians and academics in the US accept Israel’s claims but not those of Hamas, Hizballah, or the PA. In fact, Israel’s case is much weaker because it is the military occupier and is bound by international law.
The most basic moral truism is that we apply the same standard of judgement on ourselves that we place on others. This was recognized by Kant centuries ago when he enunciated his Categorical Imperative; or the Law of Universality. If we accept Israel’s right to attack civilian and/or military ships in international waters because of its fears of Hamas, we must also accept Hamas’s right to attack civilian or military ships because of its fears of Israel. If Israel has the “right’ to break international law because it is “at war” then so does Hamas or Iran. And so on.
Unless one is willing to throw out international law, human rights, the UN charter, US legal code, and a whole host of other legal doctrines and precedents, there is but one conclusions; that Israel and the US stand virtually alone in the world in defending these “acts”. Further, these “acts” were illegal and part of a much larger international terror campaign by Israel, backed by the US, against the people of Gaza. I don’t use the word terror very lightly; however, these acts were politically motivated violence against a civilian population thereby fitting almost any common definition of terrorism. Furthermore, Hamas is continually ridiculed, misrepresented, and condemned for their “terrorism”; some of it deserved no doubt. Israel, or the US for that matter, should not be sheltered from the same standard we apply to those in Palestine, Lebanon, or Iran.