There’s a lot still to be learned about what happened at 4 a.m. Monday in the waters off the Gaza Strip when Israeli commandos boarded a ship that was seeking to break the long-standing Israeli blockade. Did the commandos, who were lowered onto the boat from helicopters, immediately open fire, as claimed by organizers of the six-ship flotilla? Or did the passengers attack first with knives, clubs and, ultimately, guns, as claimed by Israeli officials? Were the boats ferrying novelists and Nobel Peace Prize winners and elderly Holocaust survivors, as news accounts have suggested, or seething Israel haters, as defenders of the raid would have us believe? Was the goal to bring 10,000 tons of aid to needy Gazans in an act of peaceful civil disobedience, or to provoke Israel into just this sort of violent response, which left at least nine civilian passengers dead?
As is so often the case with events involving Israelis and Palestinians, the competing narratives allow supporters of almost any position to hear what they want to hear. This much, however, seems undeniable: Israel has done itself serious damage. The decision to deploy armed troops to obstruct what was apparently a nonviolent mission and then, even if you accept Israel’s version of events, to allow them to be drawn into a battle that left so many civilians dead, will serve as a further blow to the ailing peace process and as more fodder for those who argue that Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force is evidence of a cavalier attitude toward human life. Already, Turkey, one of Israel’s few allies in the Muslim world, has withdrawn its ambassador.
In the days ahead, we need to learn what intelligence Israeli officials relied on in planning Operation Sea Breeze, why the operation was carried out in international waters, and what preparations were made for the obvious possibility that the commandos might meet resistance. We need to understand why a military that possesses tear gas and rubber bullets and other crowd-control tools couldn’t find a way of defusing the situation short of shooting civilians dead with live ammunition.
Inevitably, the incident also will focus new attention on the blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza to isolate the Hamas government there. We agree with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the blockade “creates unacceptable suffering, hurts forces of moderation and empowers extremists.”
This page supports Israel’s right to self-defense. We support reasonable measures to stop cross-border shelling and to keep weapons from illegally entering Gaza by land or sea. We oppose the Hamas government’s consistent call for the destruction of Israel. But we also want to see an end to the blockade, which amounts to collective punishment of about 1.5 million Palestinians.