“Hearts Sinking on the High Seas”

Jerusalem, June 2, 2010

It has been a very difficult past few days here.  Since making Aliyah in 2005 Wendy and I have experienced the evacuation of Gaza, two wars and numerous incidents (terrorist, military and diplomatic), but none has left me with the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and the ache that I sense in the deepest part of my heart as a result of the events of May 31st.   The facts surrounding what happened in the early morning last Monday are obscured and obfuscated by tendentious reporting and opportunistic blame-laying.  But the results are not in dispute.  Nine people are dead and dozens lay injured in hospital.  And, Israel is being singled out for condemnation for its actions in preventing the ships in the so-called “peaceful” Gaza aid flotilla from reaching port in the Strip.  Meanwhile, the leaders of Hamas are declaring “victory” in this latest round in the struggle.

Here in Israel it is personal, very personal.  While all of these events were unfolding, we got a call from one of our best friends.  They were at a convention in Turkey and wanted any information from the Israeli news that we could give them.  They were worried for their own safety, but they were also concerned because their 18 year old daughter just received her draft notice.  Also, one of the teen’s friends was a commando in the force that intercepted the flotilla and everyone was worried about the safety of our children as well as the wellbeing of all on the ships.  Luckily, our friends were able to get a flight out that night – on a Turkish Air flight with an incredibly hostile cabin crew, even in first class.  They didn’t feel safe until they landed at Ben Gurion airport.  These events are not abstractions in Israel, they touch us personally, all of us.

The tragic loss of life combined with the disastrous diplomatic and public relations repercussions have all created a heavy shadow that has blotted out whatever light of hope was emitted from the tenuous indirect peace negotiations between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian Authority of late.

And, what about the facts as they emerge?  For too many people, unfortunately, it does not matter that the flotilla itself was intended to be a provocation.  The fact that the Turkish organization IHH, one of the main organizers of this “peaceful” aid mission is a known radical movement with ties to al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic movements does not appear to faze those who condemn Israel.   Nor do statements such as those by IHH head Bülent Yildirim who on April 7, 2010, told a press conference in Istanbul that the flotilla would be a “test” for Israel.  He said that should Israel oppose the flotilla it would be considered “a declaration of war” on the countries whose activists arrived on board the ships (IHH website, April 7, 2010). In a fiery speech given at the launching of the Mavi Marmaris on May 23, he said to Israel, “Handle this crisis well. If you prevent [the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip] you will remain isolated in the world and harm yourselves” (IHH website in Turkish, May 23, 2010).   And, what about the disturbing videos of the commandos (with paintball guns slung over their shoulders) being dragged to the deck and beaten by rod-wielding activists as they repelled down to the ships from the helicopters before any weapons could be drawn.  Where are the cries of outrage and concern?

In the days leading up to the confrontation, the Israeli news media was filled with reports on the progress of the flotilla as it made its way towards the Gaza coast.  So, too, there were reports about the elaborate preparations that the authorities had undertaken to receive the activists when they were to be disembarked at Ashdod.  It all appeared to be so well-planned and efficient.  Careful planning would surely mitigate any problems and demonstrate that Israel was conducting its affairs in a responsible and legal manner.  But then the operation went into action with our sea commandos, among our best and most disciplined fighting forces.  And something went wrong, horribly wrong.  On all but one of the ships in the flotilla everything went according to plan.  Only on the Mavi Marmaris was there violent resistance (and just how violent can be seen in the videos).  Who started the violence?  What exactly happened?  Was excessive forced used?  All these questions – and many more – remain to be answered.  How they are asked and by what means is a critical answer in and of itself and will test the moral fiber of the international community.  That is part of the problem.  That is why things are so gloomy here in great measure.  Quite frankly, we do not trust the international community to be fair and impartial.  Not when it comes to judging Israel.  Already, there is condemnation without consideration, judgment before all the facts are in.

Hamas and its supporters knew this before the first ship pulled out of port.  They won this skirmish before the first blow was struck (by either side).  This was a win/win situation for them and they knew it and they will play it to the hilt (and have been doing so already).

In an honest inquiry, there will be many questions that our own leaders will have to answer, these include why approval for this operation appears to have by-passed normal channels and was given the go-ahead by the seven-member security cabinet instead of the ministerial cabinet usually charged with such decisions.  There seems to be a lot of passing-the-buck here and and a great deal of finger-pointing when looking for people to blame for what was obviously an ill-conceived operation.  What kind of internal inquiries will take place and when?  Hubris on the part of this government played a big role is this tragic drama to be sure.  But Israel is a democracy with a free press and already serious questions are being raised from diverse perspectives.

As promised, more ships are on the way, including the Rachel Corrie, due here by the end of the week.  What will the Netanyahu government decide to do?

And the tragedy is that the real victim of all this is the peace process, such as it is.  The so-called “peace activists” on board the ships in that flotilla are the enemies of peace as far as I am concerned.  Their actions have done more to setback the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians as 100 Kassam rockets fired into the heart of Ashkelon.  If their goal is to end the siege of Gaza, they could work for the release of Gilad Shalit and that would end the blockade immediately.  That would save lives, not destroy them or put them in jeopardy.  They could also work towards the peace process and yes, pressure Israel to make peace, calling upon their governments to exert whatever influence they have to move along the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  That would do more to end the blockade of Gaza than intentionally provoke confrontations.

But, unless the world listens, really listens, to the voices of those who want peace and not to the voices of those who want to make a point, I am not very optimistic.  So far the point-makers on all sides are winning, at the expense of the peace-makers.

So, that is why I have been so depressed these past few days and why I have been at a loss for words until now.  That is until another close friend told me that words may be the best way to combat the forces that have been stifling my thoughts.  And there you have it.  No time really to organize my thoughts carefully or to chose just the right phrase, but I have attempted nonetheless to express how at least one person living here feels.  I still pray for peace and believe in its possibility.  I just want to feel hopeful again.

Shalom from Jerusalem.

2 Responses to “Hearts Sinking on the High Seas”

  1. Doris L. Bachman June 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    Your account and words are very sobering, Rabbi Donnell which serve to reaffirm the very points and concerns we have been discussing since the horrendous series of events 5/31/10. The real tragedy is the fate of the peace process itself. The world is quick to react and to judge on partial, incomplete and skewed facts. So many of us have believed in the possibility of a functional and workable peace for many years now. We will continue to do so and pray that with the combined efforts of rational minds globally, G-d’s help/will and time, hope shall soon be restored. In reality your fears are heard and warranted. Hoping to find your spirits elevated during your visit this summer and looking forward to coming to visit. L’Shalom and good health to you and Wendy,

    Doris L. Bachman

  2. Marc Goodman June 5, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    While hopes for a peace process may have been dashed, to the extent that these hopes included peace with Hamas, they were always false hopes. No amount of good will, diplomacy or concessions by Israel could possibly achieve peace with an entity whose only desire is her destruction.