Do I trust the Israelis over Hamas and supporters of Hamas? You bet I do,” said Allyson Gall, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Area. “The fact that there were immediately different interpretations happening, it is a matter of whom you trust.”
Twenty-four hours after a deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and passengers on a “humanitarian” ship bound for Gaza, local Jewish leaders and observers were confronting the fallout of what had quickly become a diplomatic crisis for Israel.
For many leaders, it was essential to tell Israel’s side of the story, namely, that Israel was acting under its rights in diverting the ships in international waters, and that in the riot that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead, Israeli soldiers were acting in self-defense after being set upon by Hamas sympathizers and not “peace activists.”
Others were troubled by what they saw as an avoidable confrontation and bemoaned the deterioration of the conflict and Israel’s growing isolation.
Gall herself was focusing on her group’s relations with delegates to next month’s general assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, where the topic of Israel is certain to be high on the agenda. “We need to make sure we have correct information, and I am waiting a few days before I make those phone calls” to the Presbyterian leaders, she said. “I believe the Israeli response was justified, but I think the whole thing was deplorable. Some of the people on the boats may have been peace-loving activists, but some weren’t.”
AJC associate director Ferne Hassan, spoke to NJJN after joining in a conference call with Mark Regev, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “He said the naval blockade was in accordance with international law and was done to prevent introduction of advanced weaponry into Israel. He said it was a matter of life and death,” Hassan related.
“Our servicemen were supposed to act like police officers in an operation, and unfortunately the extremists on the boat I think exploited that situation and put some of our servicemen in very grave danger, ” said Regev, according to a transcript of the call.
Regev also said Israel would have permitted the flotilla to drop the humanitarian aid in Ashdod and Israeli inspectors would have examined the contents before shipping them on to Gaza. Egypt said it would allow offloading the cargo at El-Arish, a port just south of Gaza.
Neither offer was accepted.
Maplewood author Marc Aronson was also awaiting answers. “I don’t know as much as I would like to know,” said Aronson, whose book for young adults, Unsettled: The Problem of Loving Israel, often criticizes Israeli policy. “But it had very unfortunate human effects both in terms of deaths and public relations effects. It may not have been a well-chosen strategy,” said Aronson, referring to Israel’s military action.
“On the other hand, those who organized the flotilla knew they were creating a provocative challenge,” he acknowledged. “When you do that, you are defying a government to react to you. You will either have the government back down, or you will create an incident that is of publicity value. Those who organized it can’t escape the responsibility for creating an event with some possible tragic outcomes.”
Of the nine people killed, at least four of them were said to be members of IHH, a group JTA described as “a Turkish humanitarian relief fund with a radical Islamic anti-Western orientation.”
Larry Lerner of Warren, president of the left-leaning Meretz USA, agreed that “the people who planned the flotilla were intending to achieve some sort of confrontation and the Israelis fell into it.”
“The Israelis were unprepared,” said Lerner. “Considering their deteriorating relations with Turkey, they should have been more sensitive to the way they went about it. I am disappointed in the Israeli government. They don’t seem to have a plan that deals with Gaza that makes any sense. There is no indication that Hamas will go out of business because of the blockade.”
In their official statement on the affair, leaders of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ offered a list of reports in support of Israel’s official position, including an account that “demonstrators onboard one of the ships attacked the IDF naval personnel with lethal weapons including knives, crowbars, metal clubs, and sledgehammers. There were several attempts to take the Israelis hostage.” (See Related Article)
“Israel, within its rights to prevent delivery of materials that put Israeli citizens in harm’s way, was placed in an extraordinarily difficult position,” according to the UJC MetroWest statement. “All evidence to date suggests that Israel acted in a manner that sought to avoid violence. As evidenced by the lack of violence on five of the six vessels, participants on one ship clearly sought a violent confrontation in an effort to create an international incident and to discredit Israel.”