I had hoped to move on to other topics today but several commenters have raised some questions that I will respond to today and tomorrow. One is why some of the people in the Mavi Marmara resisted when those in the other boats, such as the Rachel Corrie, did not and were taken captive without violence. Thus, it is implied, the people who tried to repel the boarders were responsible for the ugly turn of events.
One of the people on the Mavi Marmara who did offer resistance was a former US marine named Ken O’Keefe whose first-person testimony as to what happened and why he did it is worth reading in full. Here is a part of it:
I remember being asked during the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq if I was a pacifist, I responded with a quote from Gandhi by saying I am not a passive anything. To the contrary I believe in action, and I also believe in self-defence, 100 per cent, without reservation. I would be incapable of standing by while a tyrant murders my family, and the attack on the Mavi Marmara was like an attack on my Palestinian family. I am proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with those who refused to let a rogue Israeli military exert their will without a fight.
And yes, we fought.
When I was asked, in the event of an Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, would I use the camera, or would I defend the ship? I enthusiastically committed to defence of the ship. Although I am also a huge supporter of non-violence, in fact I believe non-violence must always be the first option. Nonetheless I joined the defence of the Mavi Mamara understanding that violence could be used against us and that we may very well be compelled to use violence in self defence.
I said this straight to Israeli agents, probably of Mossad or Shin Bet, and I say it again now, on the morning of the attack I was directly involved in the disarming of two Israeli Commandos. This was a forcible, non-negotiable, separation of weapons from commandos who had already murdered two brothers that I had seen that day. One brother with a bullet entering dead center in his forehead, in what appeared to be an execution.
I knew the commandos were murdering when I removed a 9mm pistol from one of them. I had that gun in my hands and as an ex-US Marine with training in the use of guns it was completely within my power to use that gun on the commando who may have been the murderer of one of my brothers. But that is not what I, nor any other defender of the ship did. I took that weapon away, removed the bullets, proper lead bullets, separated them from the weapon and hid the gun. I did this in the hopes that we would repel the attack and submit this weapon as evidence in a criminal trial against Israeli authorities for mass murder. I also helped to physically separate one commando from his assault rifle, which another brother apparently threw into the sea.
I and hundreds of others know the truth that makes a mockery of the brave and moral Israeli military. We had in our full possession, three completely disarmed and helpless commandos. These boys were at our mercy, they were out of reach of their fellow murderers, inside the ship and surrounded by 100 or more men. I looked into the eyes of all three of these boys and I can tell you they had the fear of God in them. They looked at us as if we were them, and I have no doubt they did not believe there was any way they would survive that day. They looked like frightened children in the face of an abusive father.
But they did not face an enemy as ruthless as they. Instead the woman provided basic first aid, and ultimately they were released, battered and bruised for sure, but alive. Able to live another day. Able to feel the sun over head and the embrace of loved ones. Unlike those they murdered. Despite mourning the loss of our brothers, feeling rage towards these boys, we let them go.
Unarmed resistance was undoubtedly ill-advised in the face of heavily armed commandos. As the cliché goes, you don’t take a knife to a gunfight. But to blame the people on the boat for the violence is like asking why some people resist being robbed even when confronted with an armed assailant. The strong sense of injustice felt by victims of a crime, coupled with the instinct to defend oneself and protect one’s property is strong and can overcome the desire for self-preservation. No one would accept a defense that an assailant should be exonerated from the charge of murder because he was forced to kill because the victim defended himself or herself from attack.
In response to the suggestion that Israel’s deadly reaction was justified because they were provoked by this attempt to break the siege of Gaza, I will quote Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail written in response to those white clergymen concerned that the actions of the civil rights movement were provoking violence. In it he said, “In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? … Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.”
What some seem to be arguing is that people must immediately agree to any Israeli demand, whatever it is and whenever and wherever it occurs, otherwise they are deemed responsible for any ensuing violence. Why does Israel or the US have this unique privilege of expecting immediate and unconditional surrender? Right now Iran and North Korea have every right to feel they are under threat of attack because of the relentless belligerent language emanating from Washington. They have every right to suspect that the CIA is funding and fomenting internal resistance and opposition to their governments. Does this give them the right to board any boats in international waters beyond their maritime boundary and search them simply because they have suspicions that they might contain material to be delivered to their opponents? Should the people in such boats immediately capitulate to those demands and agree to have their boats taken for search and inspection and confiscation of the goods? If the people resisted and were killed, would we claim that the Iranians and North Koreans were justified in killing them?
Robert Fisk draws another parallel, comparing Israel’s actions with those of the Somali pirates now threatening all shipping off the coast of their country, and the determined effort of Israeli propaganda to paint all the aid activists as militant jihadis.
In the next post, I will examine the issues of legality and morality.
POST SCRIPT: A song for atheists
Steve Martin composed a song for us atheists because he felt sorry that we don’t have one. (Performed with the Steep Canyon Rangers at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz Festival.)