Self-inflicted wounds


THE KILLING of activists on the Gaza flotilla was a tragedy waiting to happen, the brutal culmination of a series of profound misjudgments by the Israeli government, from its initial wrong-headed decision to block the ships’ access to Gaza, to its incompetent operational conduct of the interception.

It is to be hoped, at the very least, that the justified international outrage, from friends as well as traditional foes, is a message heard clearly in Israel: your interests, your cause, and your diplomacy have been disastrously served by the military handling of these events. Israel’s government insists once again on its right to defend itself against the threat that Hamas in Gaza does indeed represent.

But in international law, and in morality, such a right is necessarily circumscribed by both the principle of proportionality and adherence to the rules of war, specifically the requirements to avoid injury to civilians and to defend humanitarian work.

In Gaza a year ago it showed no apparent understanding of either principle, and once again it has reflected a similar blindness in over-reacting to no more than a potential PR embarrassment, the breach of its maritime blockade by a humanitarian mission.

Israel’s spurious insistence that there is no humanitarian crisis and that it is letting in adequate supplies is belied by foreign observers and relief agencies who point particularly to the denial of access for concrete and building materials for desperately needed reconstruction. John Ging, the Irish head in Gaza of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the body responsible for the care of Palestinians, has spoken repeatedly of the need to “break the siege”.

There is little doubt that the diplomatic backlash against Israel will be severe, compounding the reality that it has been playing on the back foot for some time. The fallout from its invasion of Gaza last year, notably the highly critical UN Goldstone Report; the announcements of new permits for settlements in the Occupied Territories during US Vice-President Joe Biden’s recent visit; the assassination of a Hamas militant in Dubai by a team using false passports from a number of friendly countries; new disclosures about its nuclear weapons programme, have served further to chill Israel’s relations even with its long-time friends in the international community.

Not least will be the inevitable severing of the country’s relationship with until-recently friendly Turkey. And within Israel and the Palestinian territories there will be serious concern that anger at the bloodshed could prompt another intifada and jeopardise proximity talks on the peace process currently under way.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has rightly called in Israel’s ambassador Zion Evrony to demand an explanation, not least because Irish citizens may also have been injured in the incident. Ireland has supported EU and UN calls for a full independent inquiry into the deaths. Israel’s obsession with its “security” will contribute more in the long run to its own downfall than the force of arms against it.