Now that Israel has signed a reconciliation agreement with Turkey over the Gaza flotilla incident, it must apologize to its own citizens for its lies and distortions. Five takeaways.
By Yael Marom
1. A Shayetet 13 combat soldier who was among those to raid the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 gave an interview to Ma’ariv Online on Sunday, in the run-up to the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey, in which he said the following: “We were sent to stop the terror flotilla, that was the mission. How can we pay compensation to terrorists who tried to murder us?”
“What kind of message does this send the other combat soldiers?” he asked. “Those who were wounded and thrown off deck by the terrorists who are now getting reparations? Will Shayetet soldiers also be compensated for the trauma they suffered?”
Yes, the soldiers who were sent by the state to take part in a violent action with no justification, who were exploited by cynical politicians — they need to demand compensation from the state for the senseless trauma they endured. For the lies and the fraud. Before all that, however, they must demand the state never send them on idiotic missions that have nothing to do with state security.
Perhaps now is the time for Israel to admit the truth: the Mavi Marmara was not a “terror flotilla,” and the reasons for stopping it had nothing to do with security — they were entirely political. The people on the flotilla did not sail for Gaza in order to attack Israel, but rather to break the siege on the Strip. They were not so naive as to think that they would be able to do so — they wanted to do direct action, a political act that would catch the world’s attention, and remind it that Israel is imprisoning millions of human beings in a narrow and crowded piece of land. In this sense, they succeeded immensely.
The depictions of the Mavi Marmara’s passengers as terrorists armed with guns, bombs, and missiles are entirely fabricated. No arms were found on the flotilla; the passengers used whatever they could find on the boat as weapons — from metal bars to kitchen and box cutters.
No, they did not board the flotilla out of love for Israel, and definitely not out of love for the occupation or the siege on Gaza. They certainly wanted to break the siege. No, they did not receive the Israeli soldiers who came to seize their boat with flowers. At the end of the day, Israeli soldiers sent by the state were the ones who attacked the protesters at sea.
For six years the state told its citizens that it cannot reconcile with Turkey because of the “terror flotilla” that set sail for Gaza’s shores. Now the balloon of lies has popped, and Israel is paying millions in compensation for the victims and their families. Isn’t it time that someone take responsibility and look Israel’s citizens in the eyes and admit: you were played, we exaggerated, we fabricated, we lied?
2. For years Israel has officially denied the fact that there is a siege on Gaza, while claiming that it has left the Strip entirely. By arguing that “we left Gaza and now look at what they’re doing to us” has allowed Israel to repeatedly attack the Strip — killing thousands of citizens — since the disengagement in 2005. Now Israel insists in its reconciliation agreement on maintaining the siege — the same one whose existence it so vehemently denied.
3. The conditions set out in the reconciliation agreement have been known for years; the decision to sign the agreement now is a result of finding the right timing for the domestic political interests of both Netanyahu and Erdogan to align. The timing, it seems, has never been perfect for lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.
One must also take a moment to wonder why Erdogan so easily conceded on lifting the siege as part of the agreement, after years of warnings and threats. For years Turkey, much like Egypt, cynically used Gaza as a bargaining chip or in order to curry favor in the Arab world. Now, as interests change, he has no problem throwing Gaza to the dogs. This is how we have reached a point in which Egypt supports Israel’s siege, while Erdogan forgets about Gaza and embraces Netanyahu.
In fact, the situation is such that Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the U.S. can talk with Israel about Gaza. Israel can fight, reconcile, negotiate, and work behind the scenes with all of them. The only ones who have no say about their own fate are the Palestinians. They cannot intervene. Especially if they are Palestinian citizens of Israel.
And let’s not forget Palestinian member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi, an Israeli citizen who dared to express her opposition to the occupation and the siege. After she took part in the flotilla, Zoabi was the victim of a deceitful campaign of incitement, whose goal was to turn her from a legitimate elected official to a monster, a traitor, and a terrorist. If the Mavi Marmara was not a terrorist flotilla, and Israel is now paying $21 million to the victims and their families, then the time has certainly come to apologize to Zoabi and compensate her as well.
4. It has been two years since the last attack on Gaza, and most of the infrastructure that was destroyed during Operation Protective Edge has not been rebuilt. Many residents remain uprooted from their homes. Electricity and clean water are limited, poverty has skyrocketed, and there is a dearth of food and medicine. A group of women is planning another Gaza flotilla for September.
5. And now we must wait and see exactly how much profit the gas companies — the big winners of the reconciliation agreement — will make.
Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.