Mavi Marmara Cruise
Istico Battistoni - 07/06/2010
Mavi Marmara Cruise
by Istico Battistoni
Five hours after the assault of the Israeli bullies against the Freedom Flotilla, my Austrian friend Markus was entering the Gaza Strip at the Israeli gate of Erez. Markus is a political sciences academic, and was about to join a conference on comparative research on conflict de-escalation. It was early in the morning, and he was so happy for having obtained the Israeli permit to cross the gate, the result of a long administrative procedure he had initiated a month earlier. It was his first time in Gaza. He called me at around 8.15 am and said:
“Are we sure I will cross? There is nobody around, no crowd, nothing.”
“That’s normal. You are one of the few still visiting Gaza. Consider yourself a lucky man.”
Then I read the news on Internet.
At 9.30 am I called him. He had just put his foot on Palestinian soil. I felt he was recording every detail in his mind from the way he was talking to me.
“Did you hear what happened tonight at sea?” – I asked.
“No, what’s up?” - I replied.
I wished I had told him a saying, but I did not.
The saying goes : “For every good news you receive from the Israelis, there is a very bad one lurking behind”. It is a Palestinian saying. The first time I heard it, it was with the Ramallah based writer Suad Amiry. Suad has an amazing sense of humour, and that unique capacity of making fun of the worst criminal or the most sacred topic, including Palestinian nationalism. Another time, she told me about the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians which were held in Washington in 1992-93. She was a member of her delegation. At a certain point, the Israeli delegation suggested to deal with issues of common interest, and the issue proposed was the mosquitoes flagellating during the quite evenings of the Holy Land. She was not joking, unfortunately. It was one of many techniques for delaying any serious attempt to get close to the core issues. Yitzhak Shamir would have confessed to her later on that he would wish to keep those people tied on their chairs for ten years, if it could help to gain time.
Israelis are amazing. They are ready to do the best and the worst to feed their consciousness of being threatened victims. The Rambo’s operation on the deck of the Mavi Marmara has no legitimate justification - unless one wants to deem knives and iron bars as an existential threat for the Jewish State as Defence Minister Ehud Barak tried to do. It is out of context - the ships carrying humanitarian aid were in international waters - and is out of history: the last pirate incursions in the region I recall from my high-school reminiscences, date to the antagonism between the Ottoman Empire and the Western Powers.
My first visit to Israel ever goes back to 1995. At the Yad Vashem Memorial I was struck by the image of a female teenager escorting a school class in an educational tour, carrying an automatic rifle with the same easiness of a girl with a backpack. Amira Hass told me another story : In June 2005, on her way back to Ramallah from Tulkarem, she bumped into a flying checkpoint of Israeli policemen obstructing the Palestinian traffic. Many Palestinians were waiting for something to happen for hours. Amira made a phone call to the army spokesperson, and in a few minutes the soldiers removed the flying barrier, as there were no real security justifications behind it. She found it Kafka-like, and asked her photographer:
“How is that possible? Do they have pleasure in doing it, do they experience an orgasm?”.
“No, it is the Holocaust.” – he answered.
Israelis are victims, and they are not able to feel differently. Their establishment has built the international impunity it enjoys upon this feeling. It has carefully chosen and cultivated its regional allies, and has developed a sense of super human mission which consists in preserving their existence beyond times and nations. There are no geographical borders any more, no rules of human coexistence, nor fear of the international community. And why should they? When you give a rifle to a teen-ager who’s been educated in an environment of self-justification and mistrust toward the neighbours, which represents the best humus for the economy of colonization, with its prosperous building industry, its security high tech export benefits, an easy market of Arab besieged consumers and cheap proletariat, and long lasting partners in the military sector; and then you put that grown up teen-ager in a Commando, and you pull him in the middle of the night out of an helicopter, he would shoot at anything moving around himself without thinking it twice.
Meir Margalit, one of the founders of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (meaning: Palestinian Houses), must feel terribly disgusted right now. A couple of weeks ago, I heard this Argentinean-Israeli Jew disclosing a dilemma of his youth to Italian high-school students. Meir fought in Sinai. When he was called up for the reserve military service, he refused to go. His commandant begged him to go because in the district where he was supposed to serve, inexperienced young soldiers would have made life to Palestinians much harsher without the influence of his recognised moral authority over them. To obey or not to obey? When he asked the students what they would have done, some replied “I would go”, others “I would not”. He did not say what he personally did that time, and I never dared to ask him.
But also Arabs are amazing. While Turkish civilians and authorities were speaking out their condemnation and rage since the early hours of the morning, the Egyptian government woke up hours later, and issued a traditional note of protest and denunciation, after having noticed that international discontent was growing continuously. Al Masry al-Yaoum was reporting the request of opposition parties such as Al-Baradei’s movement and the Muslim Brothers to open the borders with the Gaza Strip at Rafah, and let the international aid in, or to suspend the gas export to Israel. There has been, however, no sign of effective political action by the Egyptian establishment or by other Arab regimes. The siege of Gaza is adequately managed by Israeli-Egyptian coordination as precise as an old Swiss watch. I say “old” because the Iron Wall along the Rafah borders is in construction, but the Egyptians are trying to advance slowly, wahda wahda , to save their face home, as an Italian diplomatic source in Cairo suggested once to me.
Many of the hundreds of Middle-East analysts who fill the media carousel would probably say: Nothing will change for Gaza, everybody will make sure that his own interests prevail. It might be true (we do not need analysts to forecast it, anyway). However, the victims of this terrorist action were not in vain. For the first time ever, I would say, the international organized civil society has proved to be more powerful, acute and effective than the so-called international community in challenging the Middle-Eastern status quo. David hit Goliath in his womb with six aged ships, carrying the most diverse commodities collected by the most different social groups: a rainbow of goodwill citizen actions uncomfortable with the concept of siege on an entire population. This Flotilla achieved curbing Israeli legitimacy more than all the diplomatic efforts and stands taken by the international community, Arab League included, after the last Gaza War. One year and a half later, the sentence expected after the investigation of the South-African judge Richard Goldstone has been finally issued with an unilateral chorus against the Israeli attack on the Flotilla. It was somehow like a contemporary “Expedition of the Thousand“, the adventurous campaign led by Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860 to free the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and prepare the emergence of the Italian Nation. Even if the Seven Hundreds of the Freedom Flotilla did not disembark on the Gaza coasts, this time, their campaign was for the cause of a much larger nation: the Nation of Men Without Justice.
Without the stand of the civil society, nothing moves, nor Obama can be what he pretends to be. There is, however, still a missing link to empower politically the international civil society and put into discussion the Oriental immobilism; it is the most difficult enterprise, but also the most challenging: connecting Israeli civil society standing for freedom, equal rights and a national home for the Palestinians with the civil society of the Arab world. Rony Segoly, a distinguished Jewish man wearing sport shoes and talking with clear words, told me in a private conversation in Jerusalem: “We would like to set dialogue in motion with the Arab street and establish civic alliances to support our non-violent action against Israeli military occupation, but we cannot because we are Israelis”. This man is one of the members of Combatants for Peace, a movement gathering former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian militants.
The fight of a movement like this one is the same fight of those young Arabs blogging for democracy and freedom of expression in their paternalistic and dogmatic communities. Opening Gaza means unveiling social and political contradictions which hide behind official propaganda.
In fact, we are not accustomed any more to hear politicians making use of the appropriate language to mean the right questions. What is the “Union for the Mediterranean” standing for? What has the European discourse for human rights became? Why has Israel been admitted on May 10 to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development despite the repeated violations of the international law? Where are our men and women of vision and courage? Which values can our children still believe in, behind those of “force against fear” and “material properties against uncertain identities”?
June 2, 2010, one day after the attack against the Flotilla, one could read headlines in the Turkish newspapers such as “National Terror” or “Hitler’s children”. We do not want to get to this point, we do not wish confrontation, we want freedom and justice. Does that still have a meaning?
Maybe, we just want hope. Hope for the besieged Gazans, hope for the lost Israeli soldiers, hope for the spied Arab activists, hope for the jobless European teenagers. Hope in clear and consequent words. Portuguese author José Saramago wrote probably the best scenario for the thirst for hope. When a few years ago I saw the forms taken by the molten rocks of Lanzarote Island, where he lives, I understood how it is possible that an infernal volcanic landscape lost in the ocean can push imagination beyond conventional frontiers, and picture life absurdity in its most real details. In “Blindness” (Essay on Blindness), an epidemic of blindness hits a whole city and makes its citizens slaves of the brutal law of survival and its instincts. At a certain point, one of them says: “Do you want to know what I think? I think that we did not become blind, I think that we are blind; blind who see, blind who though seeing do not see”.
That night, when the Israeli Rambos landed on the Mavi Marmara deck, lost in the Mediterranean ocean, they could not see so much. That’s for sure.
(English review: Jonathan Parker)