The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, June 04, 2010

Send down the Terminator!

The Gaza situation sounds like a genuine screw-up on Israel's part. The talk of "well trained mercenaries" or "terrorists" doesn't make sense to me unless they had the kind of weapons any self-respecting "well trained mercenary" would have. You know, like automatic weapons and fragmentation grenades? There are a couple of readers of this blog with specific knowledge of these areas: you know who you are. Would you please contact me persnally and tell me if I'm off base? It sounds very much like these guys attacked the Israelis because they were pissed and thought THEY were being attacked. A mob armed with pipes and bats simply doesn't smack of "well trained."

Of course, one could take the position that they were martyrs trying to elicit a violent response...but doing that requires the assumption of guilt on the side of the Arabs, and the assumption of innocence on the side of the Israelis. My assumption is that the Israelis have the right to their home, that they have, overall, done very well to remain mostly humane considering that they are surrounded by people who do not accept their legitimacy, and have vowed to "push them into the sea." But that, being human, they make mistakes...and this feels like one of them, an overreaction based on that automatic human tendency to deny the "other" full humanity, especially when you are afraid that there are genuine, no-b.s. threats to your survival.

This simply sounds too much like a well-established pattern of police explanations, found all over the world, ALWAYS trotted out when there is a major class, ethnicity or racial difference between the police/army forces and the citizens--where the police storm into an area, are met with sticks and thrown bottles, retaliate with bullets, and claim that the citizens were "well armed terrorists." They're missing a basic fact: when you violate what people consider to be their home, community, or property, they will attack. Forgetting this leads to the belief that anyone who resists our own troops when the U.S. invades must be a "terrorist." Now I could be wrong here, of course. I just think that any group, no matter how well intended, will make mistakes...and this feels like cover-your-ass time.
When looking at the chaos in the world that, arguably, can be attributed to our hunger for energy: terrorism, a misbegotten war, financial stress, the gulf is easy to blame specific companies or political structures. But we have to remember that we, the people, were willing to pay six dollars a gallon for gas. WE drive this wave. And changing that will be harder than most people want to believe. There is an entire definition of "human being" that suggests our species is notable chiefly because, over our evolutionary history, we have steadily used higher and higher amounts of energy per capita. As opposed, say, to chimps and dolphins which (in the wild) on average probably consume the same amount they did a million years ago. Human consumption has probably increased a thousand fold during the same time.

What does this mean? Well, a recipe for disaster without very serious conscious consideration. Growing population plus growing energy demand plus shrinking petroleum resources is an invitation to violence, shortage, poverty, pollution, terrorism and economic chaos on multiple fronts. And if the tendency to make babies, try to live longer, and increase energy consumption is pretty much hard-wired into us as a species...well, I certainly think there are going to be answers, but I doubt any of them are going to be easy. And it won't be helped by partisans on either side of the political spectrum who act as if the extremes of either Right or Left are not suicidal.
I loved the rumor that James Cameron was going to be consulted about the Gulf leak, BTW. Science Fiction writers have often been consulted by governments for out-of-the-box thinking. Cameron has unique knowledge of deep-sea exploration and photography, and is said (by people I trust completely) to be a legitimate genius. It would have been fascinating to see what he came up with. How about some speculation?


Marty S said...

Steve: Here is the actual situation Israel is in. Haas uses whatever weapons it can get into Gaza to kill Israeli civilians. In the past, ships supposedly carrying humanitarian aid have been used to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Israel established a blockade to prevent Hamas from getting more weapons. This does not prevent humanitarian aid from getting to Gaza. If a ship is inspected and has only humanitarian aid, the aid is then transported to Gaza. This ship set out with the avowed purpose of breaking the blockade. If they succeed nothing will prevent unlimited weapons from reaching Gaza. Israel faced by foes who have tried to destroy her in the past and still publicly proclaim that goal. Any sane ruler of a country so threatened would do what's necessary to those with the goal of destroying them from gaining weapons. If you want to look at cruel look at the Arab enemies of Israel. Palestinian refugee camps have existed for decades because if people in them were helped to be absorbed into the normal population of the country they live in they could no longer be used as a propaganda weapon against Israel. Hamas constantly attacks from the most densely populated areas to assure more civilian casualties again to use as propaganda against Israel. Those who regard this incident as a mistake by Israel, don't understand it is just one more ploy in a propaganda war meant to isolate and weaken Israel for final military victory.

Mike Ralls said...

You know that there were six ships in the “Freedom Flotilla” right?

The five other ships, the ones not being even mentioned in most news reports as far as I can tell were boarded and escorted to Ashdod, the passengers were disembarked, and the humanitarian aid was transferred (barring some items that are banned, like cement).

>It sounds very much like these guys attacked the Israelis because they were pissed and thought THEY were being attacked. <

Who runs a blockade _without_ expecting force to be used to stop you from running it? That's what a blockade means.

Look, nobody died on the five other ships but the ship filled with people willing to use deadly force had deadly force used against it. Perfectly predictable.

"The talk of "well trained mercenaries" or "terrorists" doesn't make sense to me"

It's important to remember just how incompetent most of the enemy are. I am being completely serious with that statement. The history of the last few generations just doesn't make sense without that fact. If they were half-way competent they should have swamped Israel in shear numbers in 1947 or 1967 or 1973. They didn't.

The enemy is not dangerous because they are well trained and well organized (they are neither) they are dangerous because there are so damn many of them willing to die that despite constant fuck-ups and general incompetence, eventually some get through and spread death and chaos before they are killed.

Israel probably uses terms like "our forces successfully overcame a group of well trained mercenaries" because it makes for better copy then saying, "our forces slaughtered another group of incompetent boobs." The ideal military situation is where you kill your enemy as helplessly as sheep in a pen. This is not very glorious though and makes some people feel bad so it’s not really bragged about these days.

"one could take the position that they were martyrs trying to elicit a violent response...but doing that requires the assumption of guilt on the side of the Arabs"

Turkish, Yemenite, and possibly Indonesian, in this case, actually. And you don't have to assume guilt. You can, you know, take them at their word when they gave interviews saying they hoped to become martyrs;,7340,L-3898109,00.html

Before boarding the Marmara, Ali Khaider Benginin told his family he dreamt of becoming a shahid. Turkish press reports two other slain flotilla participants expressed similar wish.

"I am going to be a shahid; I dreamt I will become a shahid – I saw in a dream that I will be killed," Benginin told his family before leaving for the sail.

"anyone who resists our own troops when the U.S. invades must be a "terrorist.""

I have never heard even the most right-wing person say that members of the Iraqi Army who openly fought against the US in the invasion of 2003 were terrorists. Everyone I've heard has referred to them as soldiers.

But to be a soldier you have to carry weapons openly, wear a uniform that identifies you as a soldier and have a chain of command. You can hide physically but you can never, ever, pretend to be a civilian. Not even for an instant. If you don't follow those rules, you don't get to be treated like a soldier and can be lumped into whatever is the current phrase that means illegitimate-combatant (brigand, pirate, terrorist, etc).

Shady_Grady said...

Both the blockade of Gaza and the attack in international waters were illegal under international law. It doesn't much matter because Israel has made it clear that it has no intention upon following international law when it doesn't want to do so.

There is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Gaza is an open air prison. Israel has prevented Palestinian fishermen from going beyond a two mile limit. Those who do are shot at. Gaza is short of food, medicine, clothing, housing, electricity, clean water, sewer systems, etc. This has resulted in stunted growth for children, who also suffer disproportionately from PTSD and depression caused in part by sonic booms from Israeli overflights. All of this is pretty well known and documented in the relevant UN or Amnesty International reports.

Because the countries with the power to actually make Israel lift the blockade have generally turned their collective eyes away, activists have stepped into the breach to run food and supplies to Gaza and hopefully bring attention to what's going on. They are able to do this because the World (which is to say the US and Europe) places a bit more value on dead or assaulted First World citizens than it does on similarly situated Palestinians. It is really the exact same non-violent direct action tactics used by Freedom Riders and other activists in the fifties or sixties.

Israel has the most powerful military in the region and can not be confronted militarily. But it can be confronted on fields where violence is either not available or where it backfires.

The eyewitness accounts of activists who were released are starting to appear. They sound eerily familiar to those of other non-violent activists at other points in history. One thing that bears repeating is that people on other ships besides the Marmara also say they were assaulted, beaten and shocked.

Since Turkey is making noises about sending Turkish naval escorts for the next flotilla, one hopes that this doesn't spiral out of control. But whether Israel wants to do it now or be forced to do it later, the blockade on Gaza is going to end.

Shady_Grady said...

Aris Papadokostopoulos was aboard the Free Mediterranean, travelling behind the Mavi Marmara and carrying mainly Greek and Swedish activists.

"The Turkish ship [the Mavi Marmara] was in front of us... on which there was a terrible raid from the air and from the sea and from everywhere, with shooting," he said.

Mr Papadokostopoulos said aboard the other boats, commandos beat activists but nobody was gravely injured.

He said no-one put up resistance on the Free Mediterranean, which was carrying a cargo of wheelchairs, building material and medical and pharmaceutical aid.

"Some people were hit by clubs and electric shocks. During their interrogation, many of them were badly beaten in front of us," he said.

"They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used," said Greek activist Dimitris Gielalis, who had been aboard the ship Sfendoni.

Gielalis, who also returned home Tuesday, said the boat's captain was beaten for refusing to leave the wheel and a cameraman filming the raid was hit with a rifle butt in the eye by Israeli soldiers.

"Of course we weren't prepared for a situation of war," he told reporters.

The first mate on the Challenger One, Shane Dillon, called the Israeli raid "an act of piracy".

"It was an attack on a flotilla of peace boats in international waters. It was an act of piracy. The force used was excessive and unwarranted," Mr Dillon told Fairfax after arriving home in Dublin.

Mr Dillon said the mostly female activists on his boat were treated badly -- pushed and hit with rifles, shot in the face with paintball weapons at close range and beaten.

‘‘[Kate Geraghty] was leaning over the side of the boat to take a photograph down of one of the boats approaching us and they blasted her with a Taser,’’ Mr Dillon said.

Marty S said...

On the subject of the legality of the Israeli blockade see the link below. The author of the article recognizes that under international law Israel has the right to blockade Gaza if they are engaged in armed conflict. But questions the existence of the state of armed conflict between Gaza and Israel.
It would seem to me that given that Hamas, which rules Gaza has declared the destruction of Israel as their main goal and that they have used what weapons they can obtain to attack Israel that a claim by Israel that armed conflict exists is not unreasonable.

Shady_Grady said...

Foreign Policy In Focus

The very people defending Israel's right to intercept these vessels are the same ones who have been insisting that Israel no longer occupies the Gaza Strip since the withdrawal of its colonists and occupation forces from the territory in 2005. If that were really the case, however, Israel would have no legal right to prevent ships entering Gaza's waters. They can't have it both ways. They can either acknowledge that the Gaza Strip remains occupied territory since Israel has it under a sea blockade, or they can acknowledge that the ships have a right to enter Gaza's port unimpeded.


Ben Saul Explains the Law

Ilegal Gaza Siege

Israel's Rights

Marco said...

"They can either acknowledge that the Gaza Strip remains occupied territory since Israel has it under a sea blockade..."

By that logic, when the U.S, blockaded Cuba by sea during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. was occupying Cuba. This clearly wasn't the case though. A blockade isn't occupation.


Mike Ralls said...


During the Civil War the North blockaded the south. Ships that tried to run the blockade and were caught were either fired upon an sunk or forcefully boarded resulting in deaths and injuries. The blockade also caused much suffering among Southern civilians. Do you object to the North's blockade of the South because of the violence that inevitably resulted from it? I'm guessing not.

Most of the people objecting to the blockade and the inevitable violence that results from imposing one don't really have a problem with blockade in and of itself. They have a problem with Israel is using _any_ methods of coercive violence (war, essentially) against Gaza, a people whom they sympathize with for some reason.

Me, I don't have much sympathy. They elected Hamas, Hamas is evil (it has the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in their charter for Pete's sake, seriously, it's right there ) so when Israel uses blockade (or other forms of violence) I accept it. Those that don't accept the right of Israel to use violence don't. That's the heart of the matter and everything else is essentially spin.

Mike Ralls said...


I also don't think "International Law" exists in anything like the reality you seem to think it exists. Breaking "international law" isn't like driving 120 MPH in a school zone or selling heroin in front of a police station. There is no overarching power that has sovereignty (ability to enforce a law) over sovereign states. Hence it's not really a law. It's more like "international custom." And all countries break it pretty much anytime they think it is in there interests to do so.

Anonymous said...

By the Marco,

The US wasn't occupying Cuba in 1962 when it blockaded it, but a blockade is definitly an act of war and always has been considered to be so in every culture throughout history that I'm aware of.

It wasn't called an act or war, and no war was declared, because in 1945 "international law" basically outlawed declaring war. Seriously, since 1945 no one has actually decalred war. This did not result in universal peace of course, it just resulted in people calling acts of war or declerations of war by another name. (Thus showing that international law is not an actuall law. If I steal from a jewlery store but tell the cop I wasn't stealing I was "borrowing" I'm still going to get arrested. But under "international law" that trick works just fine)

So in 1962 we imposed a "quaranteen" around Cuba instead of blockading and in 2002 Congress authorized the use of force rather than declare war on Iraq.

It's all rather childish and silly to me, but that's the way the world system works now. It doesn't actually change anything of course, war and acts of war are still performed just as they would be if the declaring of them hadn't been effectivly outlawed. As Lincoln said,

"If you have a cat with four legs and you call the tail a leg, how many legs does the cat have?"
"No four. The cat still only has four legs because if you call the tail a leg, it still remains a tail."

- Mike Ralls

Steven Barnes said...

I don't think the situation is binary. "Not accepting Israel's right to use violence" would imply any acts of force at all. I don't believe that. I believe some are warrented, some not. Forcing a confrontation is a tactic, yes--one used in the Civil Rights era, and under Apartheid. I believe Israel has more right to exist than white South Africa had to maintain their rule, or white Southerners had to maintain segregation. But actions must still be questioned. The last thing in the world this situation is is cut and dried.

Mike Ralls said...

>"Not accepting Israel's right to use violence" would imply any acts of force at all. I don't believe that.<

Didn't claim you do. Just that most complaining about the blockade do.

I mean really, in terms of types of violence used to compel your enemies to bend to your will, a blockade is really low down on the list.
If missiles were being fired upon the US regularly, I doubt we'd "only" blockade the offending party. In WWII we burned our enemies women and children in the hundreds of thousands. And that was mainly in response to Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a purely military target.

So if you don't support Israel right to blockade (which means using violence to stop ships which try to break a blockade because otherwise there is no blockade), then what would you support it doing?

>The last thing in the world this situation is is cut and dried.<

Saying something isn't cut and dried is a bit mealy-mouthed. It doesn't actually mean anything. It's an informational null set. The fight between the US Federal government and their black allies against the Klu Klux Klan duirng Reconstruction wasn't "cut and dried." No conflict between two groups is. So what? The KKK and Hamas are still as damned close as you can get to being flat out _evil_ as mere humans can get. It would have been a great goodness if the US would have used harsher methods to punish and destroy the KKK (and it's white southern supporters) then was the case. Same-same with Hamas and their supporters in the present day.

Shady_Grady said...

"Mike wrote, Most of the people objecting to the blockade and the inevitable violence that results from imposing one don't really have a problem with blockade in and of itself. They have a problem with Israel is using _any_ methods of coercive violence (war, essentially) against Gaza, a people whom they sympathize with for some reason. "

Mike, no one is perfect and plenty of people do the "right" things for the "wrong" reasons or vice versa.
But the reason that there is increasing world sympathy for the Palestinians in general and for
the Gazans in particular is that Israel is behaving bestially towards them. The blockade on Gaza has caused a rise in what is euphemistically referred to as "food insecurity". It has also caused a rise in anemia, low birthweight and low weight among children. That is what has attracted and will continue to attract world attention.

Those who seek to confront the Israeli blockade seek to confront Israel on a field of battle where Israel's superior capacity for violence either can't be used or backfires strategically. This is the beauty of non-violent direct action and why it can be a powerful tool in _certain_ situations.

Mike Ralls said...

>The blockade on Gaza has caused a rise in what is euphemistically referred to as "food insecurity". <

The blockade of Japan in WWII caused what is referred to as "starvation."

And if you read the letters of the Rebel home-front in 1964/1865 you'll see that the union policy of blockade and burning farms was having a similar effect and convincing many Rebel soldiers to quit.

War is essentially a contest of in seeing who can inflict the most pain and who can withstand the most pain.