Can there be a fair Gaza Flotilla inquiry?

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The current mantra is, “Israel cannot investigate itself.” That is, an Israeli investigation will not satisfy those who sign on to one or another of what antagonists call the “Flotilla fiasco,” “State terror,” “Attack on a Turkish ship in international waters,” or “Israeli murder.”

The contrary mantra is, “The international community cannot investigate Israel.” Goldstone and all those automatic condemnations from the United Nations and NGOs have emasculated whatever confidence Israelis might have in fair judgement.

My own view is that those who are fair can assess the situation without any investigation. Perhaps only to me is it clear that enough people on the MV Mavi Marmara had evil intent. If Israeli intelligence was not good enough to make the take-over more efficient with fewer casualties, that is a failing common to military operations. 

Think of those Afghan weddings bombed by Americans with many more deaths. Oops. I guess they were not gatherings of terrorists. Or maybe there were a few terrorists among the dead. The scenario repeated itself several times without the intervention of the international community and demands for a non-American committee of investigation.

Were the deaths of nine Turkish fighters a tragedy? Not any more than that 15 year old Mexican boy recently killed by US officials on the Mexican side of the international border. But here, too, no demands for an international investigation, despite indications that there have been several of these incidents. 

Critics who focus on the failures of Israeli intelligence ridicule the use of guns capable of shooting only paintballs. The purpose behind these weapons has not be clarified. Military secret or intentional ambiguity like that Israel’s nuclear capacity?

Perhaps competing international and Israeli commissions of inquiry can break through the mystery and let us know why. One theory is that the munitions for these weapons were balls of pepper spray, meant for non-lethal crowd control. Another theory is that paintballs were meant to identify bad people for further treatment.

When viewed along with other events in the world, the attention to this is amazing. The blockade has been established for years, and is justified by the continued threat to Israel of the Hamas-Iran axis. People claiming humanitarian intentions were warned several times and provided with the option of transporting material after Israeli inspection. The rest of the ships in the first flotilla, and the Rachel Corrie were brought to an Israeli port without casualties.

The single most prominent conclusion I can make is that much of the world has signed on to the illegitimacy of Israel, and the illegitimacy of what it does to defend itself. The collection of motives includes Islamic fanaticism, anti-Semitism, and an excessive commitment to the procedures of internationalism no matter what they produce (i.e., Obama’s engagement). 

There is also a lack of information about the threat that Israel faces from Hizbollah and Hamas, the repeated rejections by Palestinians of Israeli efforts at compromise, and the opportunities of Israel’s Arabs. The latter are arguably better than any other minority in the Arab world, better than enjoyed by Arabs in most Arab countries, and better on some dimensions than minorities in the United States and other western democracies.

The explanation for Jews’ participation in the political assaults on Israel demands special consideration. For some, this may be nothing more than traditional Jewish obsession with absolute justice, an element in the culture since the Biblical Prophets. For others, it may reflect a lack of information, a wanting to participate in something fashionable and larger than themselves, along with a capacity to exploit their Jewishness or grandparents with a Holocaust experience in order to gain prominence. 

No doubt some of these Jews–as well as non-Jewish opponents of Israel–have come to their conclusions as a result of careful study and an effort to be fair. If there are many of these, it is sad that their voices have been lost in the din created by so many others.

Israel is a political entity, and its government may go along with international demands for an inquiry. 

Can an inquiry established by Israel satisfy the legions of deaf shouters? Or can an inquiry established by others claim fairness?

I await positive responses to either question.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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