By Uri Avnery
A riddle: Which fleet did not reach its destination but fulfilled its mission? Well, it’s this year’s Gaza solidarity flotilla.
It could be said, of course, that last year’s “little fleet” – that’s what the word means in Spanish, much as “guerrilla” means “little war” – is also a reasonable candidate . It never reached Gaza, but the commander of the Israeli navy could well repeat the words of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, whose victory over the Romans was so costly that he is said to have exclaimed: “Another such victory, and I am lost!”
Flotilla 1 did not reach Gaza. But the naval commando attack on it, which cost the lives of nine Turkish activists, aroused such an outcry that our government saw itself compelled to loosen its land blockade of the Gaza Strip significantly.
The repercussions of this action have not yet died down. The very important relations between the Israeli and Turkish militaries are still ruptured, with Turkey demanding an apology and indemnities. The victims’ families are pursuing criminal and civil proceedings in several countries. An ongoing headache.
Flotilla 2 reached its end this week, when a huge naval action led to the capture of 1 (one!) little French yacht and the detention of its sailors, journalists and activists –all 16 (sixteen) of them. Even our tame broadcasters could not help themselves from sneering: “Why didn’t they send an aircraft carrier?”
The 14 boats that were prevented from sailing, and the one that did sail, not only kept our entire navy on alert for weeks, but also helped to keep the Gaza blockade in the news. And that, after all, was the whole point of the exercise.
What happened to the 14 boats which did not sail?
Incredible as it sounds, the Greek navy and Coast Guard forcibly prevented them from leaving Greek ports. There existed no lawful grounds for this, nor was there any pretense of legality.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the Greek navy was acting under orders from the Israeli Chief of Staff. A proud sea-faring nation with a nautical history of thousands of years (“nautical” even happens to be a Greek word) degraded itself to perform illegal actions to please Israel.
It also ignored acts of sabotage carried out by naval commandos – guess whose – against the boats in Greek harbors.
At the same time, the Turkish government, the defiant sponsor of the Mavi Marmara, the ship on which the Turkish activists were killed last year, prevented the same ship from sailing this year.
Also at the same time, groups of pro-Palestinian activists who tried to reach the West Bank by air were stopped on their way. Since there is no direct access to the West Bank by land, sea or air except through Israeli territory or Israeli checkpoints, they had to travel via Ben-Gurion International Airport, Israel’s gateway to the world. Most did not make it: under instructions from our government, all international airlines blocked these passengers at check-in, using “blacklists” provided by our government.
It seems that the long arm of our diligent security service reaches everywhere, and that its orders are obeyed by countries large and small.
A hundred years ago, the secret police of the Russian Czar, the dreaded “Okhrana”, forged a document called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.
(In those times, the secret police everywhere was still called Secret Police, before being dignified as “Security Services”.)
The document reported a secret meeting of rabbis in the old Jewish cemetery of Prague, to decide upon strategy to secure Jewish rule over the world. It was a crude falsification, which lifted entire passages verbatim from a novel written decades earlier.
In its pages, the real situation of the Jews was grotesquely distorted – they actually had no power at all. In fact, when Adolf Hitler – who used the Protocols for his propaganda – set in motion the Final Solution, almost nobody in the whole world lifted a finger to help the Jews. Even US Jews were afraid to raise their voices.
But if the authors of the falsification were to return to the scene of their crime today, they would rub their eyes in disbelief: this figment of their sick imagination looks like coming true. The Jewish State – as Zionists like to call us – can order around Greek naval authorities, get Turkey to climb down, instruct half a dozen European states to stop passengers at their airports.
How do we do it? There is a simple answer, consisting of three letters: USA.
Israel has become a kind of Kafkaesque doorkeeper to the world’s sole remaining superpower.
Through its immense influence on the American political system, and especially on the Congress, Israel can levy a political tax on anyone who needs something from the US. Greece is bankrupt and desperately needs American and European help. Turkey is a partner of the US in NATO. No European country wants to quarrel with the US. Ergo: they all need to give us a little political baksheesh.
To cement this relationship, Glenn Beck, the obnoxious protégé of Rupert Murdoch, visited us and was enthusiastically received in the Knesset, where he told us “not to be afraid”, because he (and, by implication, Fox and all of America) was supporting us to the hilt.
It is because of this that a few lines, which appeared this week in the New York Times, caused near panic in Jerusalem.
The NYT is, perhaps, the most “pro-Israel” paper in the whole world, including Israel itself. Anti-Semites call it the Jew York Times. Many of its editorial writers are ardent Zionists. A news story critical of Israeli policies has almost no chance of appearing there. No mention of the Israeli peace movement. No mention of the dozens of demonstrations in Israel against Lebanon War II and the Cast Lead operation. Self-censorship is supreme.
But this week, the NYT published a blistering editorial criticizing Israel. The reason: the “Boycott Law”, passed by the right-wing Knesset majority, which forbids Israelis to call for a boycott of the settlements. The editorial practically repeats what I said in last week’s article: that the law is blatantly anti-democratic and violates basic human rights. The more so, since it comes on top of a whole series of anti-democratic laws that were enacted in the last few months. Israel is in danger of losing its title as the “Only Democracy in the Middle East”.
Suddenly, all the red lights in Jerusalem started to blink furiously. Help! We are going to lose our only political asset in the world, the pillar of our strength, the basis of our national security, the rock of our existence.
The result was immediate. On Wednesday, the right-wing clique that now controls the Knesset, under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman, brought to final vote a resolution that would appoint two Committees of Inquiry into the financial resources of human-rights NGOs. Not all NGOs, only “leftist” ones. This was another item on the long list of McCarthyist measures, many of which have already been adopted and many more of which are waiting for their turn.
The day before, Binyamin Netanyahu appeared specially in the Knesset to assure his followers that he fully approved, and indeed had sponsored, the Boycott Law. But after the NYT editorial, when the Commission of Inquiry resolution came up, Netanyahu and almost all his cabinet ministers voted against it. The religious factions disappeared from the Knesset. The resolution was voted down by a 2 to 1 majority.
But one ominous fact emerged: Apart from Netanyahu and his captive ministers, all the Likud members present voted for the resolution. This included all the young leaders of the party – the coming generation of Likud bosses.
If the Likud remains in power – this group of ultra-rightists, will be the government of Israel within ten years. And to hell with the New York Times.
Fortunately, there are signs that a new phenomenon is in the making.
It started innocently with a successful consumer strike on cottage cheese, in order to compel a cartel of fat cats to reduce prices. This has been followed by a mass action by young couples, mostly university students, against the impossibly high prices of apartments.
A group of protesters put up tents in the center of Tel Aviv and have now been living there for over a week. Soon after, such encampments sprang up all over the country, from Kiryat Shmona on the Lebanese border to Beer Sheva in the Negev.
It is much too early to tell whether this is a short-term protest or the beginning of an Israeli Tahrir Square phenomenon. But it clearly shows that the takeover of Israel by a neo-fascist grouping is not a foregone conclusion. The fight is on.
Perhaps – just perhaps! – even the New York Times could be starting to report on the reality of our country.
– Uri Avnery is an Israeli peace activist and a former Knesset member. He is the founder of Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.