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The impossible middle path?

The controversy surrounding the shooting on the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmaraon 31 May by Israeli soldiers is yet another proof that a balanced middle path is impossible in the Middle East. Much of the media, political leaders and even academics did not hide their preferences. As Helen Thomas episode reminded us, people are consumed by passion. Many chose to rally around the flag like loyal soldiers.

For the critics of Israel, this was yet another indication of Israeli aggression, brutality and utter disregard for international law and human rights. Those on the other side view the near universal uproar as yet another vindication of their position: the outside world is one-sided, heavily biased and loaded against Israel. With passions running so heavily, it is often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

For its part Israel cannot ignore certain obvious facts. The flotilla episode did not happen in vacuum and was a response to the prolonged siege imposed upon the Gaza Strip. Even in the best of times the impoverished Gaza Strip lives on charity. The reconstruction following the Israeli offensive in late 2008 and early 2009 would not happen without international aid and assistance. In such a situation, Israel could not use dual use arguments to withhold the flow of basic necessities. 

Going by the observations of well-informed Israeli writers, it is obvious that the commandos were inadequately prepared for the task. It was anything but a military success. The incident took place well off the Israeli coast and in international waters and resulted in the death of nine Turkish citizens and injuries to scores of other nationals. These make the whole incident an international affair.

Will the probe headed by former Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Tirkel satisfy most Israelis? The terms and conditions of the commission do not instill much confidence. Sooner or later Israel would have to pay more attention to the demands of the UN Security Council: prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards. At least to avoid such an incident in future.

The other side is no angel either. The whole idea was provocative, especially when Israel was prepared to offload the aid cargo and facilitate its transportation to the Gaza Strip by road. The organizers were more interested in conveying a ‘message’ than delivering any aid. Let us not kid ourselves about the principal player behind the flotilla: the IHH. The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, more popularly known by its Turkish abbreviation IHH is not Peace Now and has been accused of having links with extremist groups.

If the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians were the concern of the organizers, then they should have undertaken similar pressure tactics against Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak has been a party to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and enforced it from his side off the border. The blockade also enjoys the tacit support of the Arab League. Not just Israel even the Palestinian Authority is boycotting the Hamas. At the wider level, the post-flotilla rhetoric in Ankara raises doubt about the secular nature of the Turkish republic.

It is also time to redefine non-violence. Does it mean complete abandonment of violence of any form or violence to the extent possible by an individual? The violence against soldiers were captured on camera and carried in the Turkish press. If any means are justifiable in self-defense, then let us not pretend to be non-violent.

The overall human rights situation across the Middle East is dismal and Israel is no exception when it comes to the Palestinians. Its tolerance, broadmindedness and liberalism stop at the Green Line. Driven by political calculations, countries of the Middle East and elsewhere harp on some aspects of the incident while sidestepping tougher uncomfortable ones.

Parroting familiar lines and rallying around the flag may be satisfying but they only perpetuate the status quo. There are no angels in the Middle East. Both sides have a case but not a conclusive one. One has to rise above the tide and see the pros and cons of the flotilla episode. And a middle path is a must if one were to go forward.


This is our 50th publication since we formally launched MEI on 14 February. Kudos to the MEI fraternity, including those behind the scene.

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND.

Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy