By Ron Forthofer
The U.S. corporate media have provided little coverage on some important happenings in the Middle East during the past 18 months. You might ask what’s the big deal — bad stuff happens there all the time and it doesn’t concern me. In this case, recent events have the potential to create an international crisis in the coming days. Before getting to the possible explosive situation, we first need some background information.
One key event is that Gaza has become a flash point in the relations between Turkey and Israel. In a dramatic reversal, Turkey has moved from close relations with Israel to being quite critical of Israeli policies, particularly of those against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. For example, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled Israeli actions in Gaza during its December 2008 attack a "crime against humanity".
Taking a longer-term view, Erdogan also said: "Civilians and children are dying in Gaza. Those who keep their silence over these attacks out of whatever concern or for whatever diplomatic reason, will pay the price before history." His statements offered quite a contrast to the tepid and shameful position taken by U.S. officials.
In addition, Erdogan has identified Israel as the principal threat against peace in the Middle East. He also backed the adoption of the Goldstone Report that called for an independent investigation of Israeli and Hamas war crimes. Although most of the countries around the world agreed with this position, the U.S. and a few other nations opposed an independent investigation of the war crimes charges.
To put it mildly, none of Erdogan’s comments have endeared him to Israeli officials.
In addition, the Turkish Prime Minister has said that it is a priority for him and Turkey to lift the unjust siege on Gaza. Israel has maintained this siege since 2007 and, combined with the devastation caused during the Israeli attack, Palestinians are merely surviving, not really living. Israel has not allowed materials into Gaza for rebuilding and it allows just enough food in to prevent the Palestinians from starving.
This past January Turkey strongly supported the Viva Palestina convoy’s effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. The convoy of over 500 international humanitarian activists was able to deliver more than 150 vehicles carrying medicine and other aid to the besieged Palestinians. Arriving in Gaza was a major accomplishment, but the aid that the convoy brought in was a drop in the bucket compared to the need.
In early May of this year, John Ging, Head of United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip, said: "We recommend the world send ships to the shores of Gaza, and we believe that Israel would not stop these vessels because the sea is open, and many human rights organizations have been successful in previous similar steps, and proved that breaking the siege on Gaza is possible."
Currently eight ships from several nations including Turkey are doing just that. These ships, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, have as their goal to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Israel has said that it will not allow this current flotilla to reach Gaza, and it will use military means if necessary to stop the ships.
Two key points are: 1) the Turkish ship will be flying the Turkish flag; and 2) Turkey is a member of NATO. What might happen if Israel were to attack a Turkish flagged vessel carrying humanitarian aid in international waters? The precedent has been established that an attack on one NATO member state will be viewed as an attack on NATO. How would NATO respond to an Israeli attack on a Turkish flagged vessel? Even if the Turkish ship were not flying its flag, how would the world respond to an attack on unarmed vessels carrying humanitarian aid in international waters?
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is now on its way and is scheduled to reach Gaza this week. Since the U.S. corporate-dominated mainstream media seem to be ignoring this issue, go to freegaza.org or to international media for updates on this looming crisis. There is still time for Israel to avoid an explosive situation by simply complying with international law and honoring its responsibilities to the Palestinians. Unfortunately it is doubtful that Israel will do so.
– Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.