Protestors murdered - Israel has behaved appallingly

IT is difficult to respond to the Israeli murder of at least 10 peace protestors – or provocateurs as Israel would have us believe – in terms that will not inflame an already very dangerous situation.

It is difficult to respond honestly without resorting to the vocabulary that would encourage many of those caught up in the awful cycle of dispossession and murder to become terrorists, but that is the challenge presented to us all by Israel’s aggression and their contempt for international law.

Just as Margaret Thatcher’s bellicose intransigence proved to be the Provos’ best recruiting tool, Israel yesterday may have pushed hundreds if not thousands of people away from political activism and peaceful protest into the arms of the terrorist organisations who would destroy the worldwide security we all depend on.

Yesterday morning’s attack, designed to sustain the isolation imposed by an illegal blockade on Gaza and discourage those who would support those unfortunate Palestinians corralled there, must force Israel’s greatest ally and benefactor – America – to reconsider its virtually unquestioning support for Israel.

Put plainly, yesterday Israel called President Barack Obama’s bluff. Either he will use his power to curb Israel’s excesses or bow to their powerful supporters and run the risk that untenable, dishonest position entails.

Israel’s indifference to international law and to the possible consequences of their actions represent something approaching a new level of threat, if that is possible, to the region’s stability.

That threat has had one early consequence.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday afternoon called off a White House visit scheduled for today to discuss the situation in Gaza. Mr Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister, who was in Canada, went home to deal with the crisis.

That is entirely plausible but so too is the conjecture that the invitation was withdrawn. The murders will have outraged President Obama whose faith in Mr Netanyahu is already strained. Mr Netanyahu’s last visit to the White House ended with a personal snub by the president, who left him alone while he went off to dine with “Michelle and the kids”.

An earlier meeting was sabotaged when a visit to Israel by US vice-president Joseph Biden was overshadowed by an announcement on building new settlements in occupied territory in March.

Mr Netanyahu will once again have to explain why yesterday’s killings were unavoidable. He also has the increasingly difficult task of convincing the rest of the world that Israel is capable of living peacefully with its neighbours, even those it expelled from their homeland.

An American president will eventually have to redefine his country’ relationship with Israel if it continues to resort to violence as freely as it did yesterday. The terrible tragedy – in international waters remember – considerably shorten the odds on President Obama being that president.

If the tone and dishonesty of yesterday’s statement from Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, is an accurate reflection of Israeli opinion then realising a lasting peace will require measures not as yet contemplated. He described the ships on their way to Gaza as “an armada of hate and violence”.

“It was a premeditated and outrageous provocation,” he suggested, and he claimed that its organisers had ties to global jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas.

One of the protestors was Mairead Corrigan Maguire, founder of the North’s Peace People and Nobel Prize peace laureate in 1976. It has been over three decades since she put her life in jeopardy by confronting the men of violence in this country so her credentials on non-violent protest are beyond reproach.

Virtually every protest in the world is infiltrated by extremists and this was probably no exception. Just as Mossad would have been represented amongst the protestors so too would the major terrorist organisations but it must be believed that the vast majority of those involved did not have any violent intentions.

One of the more odious defences advanced by Israel’s supporters was the one that any criticism of Israel is rooted in anti-semitism. This is, and always is, reprehensible and does a great dishonour to those millions of Jews who were murdered just because they were Jews. It also does a great disservice to moderate Israelis who, like more or less anyone else and despite the attacks on their communities and country, must know that peace will eventually come despite terrible days like yesterday.

The challenge is to reach that point without any more appalling atrocities. However, Israel has yet to show that it is ready for that challenge.

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