The Death of Common Sense

The actions of the Israelis might be wrong, but that doesn’t mean no one else´s are

Opinion | Justin McCauley | July / August 2010

Let me preface this: The Israeli actions that resulted in the deaths of activists on May 31 were wrong. However, so are the judgments and actions of many others, including well-intentioned activists who seem to act without any common sense.

At the moment of truth, the Israelis messed up – maybe they just didn’t care; but the blame for creating such a dangerous and volatile situation does not rest solely on their shoulders. Those intellectuals who like to say that you should never simplify an issue, that everything is complex, usually break their own rule when it involves Israel. The evil Israelis are at it again, an open-and-shut case.

But when you peel back the onion, you’ll find that, although the Israelis are out of control, so are some of the activists. The Free Gaza Movement, while noble, isn’t exactly Amnesty International; they’ve got a focused and very pronounced goal, and are not striving for universal human rights, but only those of the Palestinians.

Consider the request from the family of Gilad Shalit – the Israeli conscript currently in his fourth year of captivity – that Free Gaza also bring aid to Shalit, who is in Hamas’ hands. This was refused, and although Free Gaza denies the refusal, I doubt the Shalit family would publicly alienate anyone who might help their son.

It is not so surprising, at this point, for the Israelis to overreact, respond disproportionately, and give little regard to how they will look afterward. In short, we can expect the Israelis to be the Israelis. But just because the Israelis are acting dastardly doesn’t give other people the right to check common sense at the door. Trying to hit a guy holding a gun with a lead pipe or stab him with a knife? Stupid…really stupid. Israelis and the activists often have conflicting stories, and it’s sometimes hard to take the Israelis’ word on anything. But the evidence speaks:  video footage clearly shows soldiers getting attacked with metal bars, and one doubts that Israelis would have intentionally wounded nine of their people for PR purposes.

But a trained soldier versus an academic with a knife? Surely the soldier should respond with professional restraint and subdue the attacker non-lethally. Another misconception. Many people (most who have no experience with the military) assume you can train a man to the point of robotic perfection, where they shouldn’t, ever, make mistakes. This is a Hollywood fabrication. Not that this justifies any of these killings, but an 18 or 19 year-old conscript – even a dreaded Israeli commando – only has maybe a year or so of training under his belt, and in unclear situations like this, the training is likely to break down.

Tragically, when it was over, nine activists lay dead. None of these people deserved to die, and they shouldn’t have. It is, to a great extent, the Israeli leadership’s fault for employing naval special forces against an ambiguous target; these soldiers are trained in counter-terrorist operations, not police-style operations such as this. The Israeli police have other units specially trained for these kinds of pacifying, crowd control situations – it should have been these on that boat.

These actions were paranoid and heavy-handed. And in the midst of the paralysis of the peace process, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s blatant defiance in the face of international demands and the perpetual hell that Palestinians endure every day, it is easy to disregard any real evaluation of the situation in favor of simply blaming Israel. Tension has been building up since Free Gaza started their excursions in 2008 – and given Israel’s military’s modus operandi for the last six decades, this tragic climax is not surprising.

But they should have known better. You don’t walk into the lion’s den expecting not to get mauled. What’s the old saying? Once shame on you, twice shame on me…

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