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Israel was wrong–now what?

June 5, 2010

Everyone has been quick to point out what Israel has done wrong, and rightfully so. But I haven’t seen any world leaders or reporters turn their condemnations into much-needed constructive criticism. It’s tantalizingly easy to say that a government screwed things up, but harder to tell it how the mistake can be avoided in the future.

This is not an example of constructive criticism. I used to think Helen Thomas was adorable, but not so much any longer.

This article in the New York Times outlines the shortcomings of both Turkey and Israel regarding the tragedy on the Freedom Flotilla. But really, does it matter? There were terrible oversights and errors all over the place, and as usual, all those mistakes are easy to diagnose after days of analysis. The fact of the matter is this: The Israeli government will keep doing what it’s doing because, to them, it works. It may be awful in terms of the poor conditions Gazan civilians are forced to live in and the international wrath it brings upon Israel, but all that is secondary to its main goal: protecting the lives of Israelis. It may seem disproportionate and harsh, but to Israel, that’s the way things work here.

If someone could make a solid case for different methods that allow for a better quality of life for Gazans as well as no more civilian deaths from rocket fire, suicide bombs, and other attacks on Israelis, I can’t imagine anyone being against it. The government doesn’t blockade Gaza because they want Gazans to suffer; anyone who thinks that needs to take a step back and reexamine their assumptions about Israel and Israelis.

People here aren’t monsters, they aren’t coldblooded, and they aren’t unfair — they just don’t want their citizens to be killed. The country was founded by what people call שארית הפליטה (she’erit ha’pleitah, the surviving remnant), who for thousands of years were persecuted for their beliefs by countless governments, societies, regimes, and enemies. The very basis of Israeli culture is a solidarity to protect one another from persecution, no matter what — no matter if it’s only one soldier who’s in captivity, no matter if it’s only a few hundred civilians who are killed by rockets, and, perhaps especially, no matter what the rest of the world thinks. It’s extreme to you and me, perhaps, but these are the values under which the state operates.

Contrary to this vehement will to survive, anti-Israel extremists, such as a few of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara, welcome the opportunity to martyr themselves in the name of their beliefs. How can you protect yourself from that? For Israel, it has found that walls, blockades, and harsh zero-tolerance is effective. It’s ugly and unfortunate and no where close to ideal for anyone, but what other choice is there that guarantees no Israeli is killed? If there are alternatives, people need to speak up.

This article gives an excellent analysis of the legality of the blockade on Gaza, and I highly recommend reading it closely. But legal or not, who cares? The issue of legality should be secondary to how to improve the situation for everyone by providing realistic alternatives to a blockade.

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