Blog - Will it be possible for Israel to be heard?
By Agata Peleszuk | 03/06/2010
Israeli intervention to stop a flotilla with humanitarian aid from entering Gaza Strip without a prior control in Ashdod triggered off as much international anger as the last war with Hamas. The facts arithmetic - death of nine people, arrest and deportation of hundreds of foreigners (including Europeans), announcement of resolute steps in future incidents – ended with Israel's defeat in the battle of images. Will it be possible for Israel to be heard and most of all to be listened? Is there any chance for Europe to recognize Israeli arguments? Probably not. Again.
“Brutal”, “savage”, “piracy”, “excessive force”, “activists treated as illegal immigrants”, “call for boycott and sanction”, “outrage over Israeli aggression” – these are some of headings and fragments of articles in the world press regarding what happened in international waters. The intervention of naval commando proved that protection of national security is for the Jewish state a matter of overriding importance, even in spite of the risk of angering the international community. In response to evident provocation Israeli authorities explained that marines fired in self-defense after facing active and aggressive resistance from Turkish activists. “The goal of the flotilla was to breach [the blockade of Gaza] and not to bring goods, as we would have allowed them to do” - said Beniamin Netanyahu – “If the blockade had been broken, dozens and hundreds more ships carrying weapons could have come”.
In the meantime European leaders – declared friends of Israel and adversaries of Hamas – tore Israel to pieces criticizing commando's actions against flotilla. “Friends of Israel - and I count myself a friend of Israel - should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens Hamas's grip on the economy and on Gaza” – commented British Prime Minister David Cameron. President Sarkozy condemned “the disproportionate use of force”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “urged Netanyahu to lift the blockade on humanitarian grounds”. José Zapatero, Spanish Prime Minister, asked Israel to “give a profound thought” to the incident – “We all wish a secure Israel, but we all wish that there would be no unjustified violence” – said Zapatero. A representative for international relations of the European Union Catherine Ashton declared that “the continued policy of Gaza Strip closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive”. Vatican's comments focused on a firm criticism for “unnecessary loss of human life”.
Looking back to what happened with a broader context, it seems that all actors of this incident – activists, Turkey as an organizer, Israel as a responder, international community as an observer – had a consolidated narrative and acted accordingly. Having seen an arsenal of various knives, sticks and grenades one can assume that they were not prepared for a Palestinian warm welcome on the Gaza shore. When confronted with an angry mob Israeli commando had one goal – to take control of a situation. Even a general assessment shows that opening fire was the last and unfortunate, but necessary resort. International community, especially the European one, could not react differently. The European opposition to Gaza Strip blockade and dozens of Europeans on flotilla boats (including politicians and intellectuals) determined responses of every single European leader. Lastly the international media was spoon-fed a vivid, catchy and sensational pictures that simply could not be passed over by cameras. Every lesson of the Middle East conflict shows that in the battle of images soldiers with guns are thoroughly beaten by peace activists, regardless of their kind or intention.
A phenomena of fighting a psychological warfare is based on images and easily embedded in memory slogans. Therefore conflict situations constitute extremely fertile grounds for the media. Emotionally charged information stops being a presentation of dry facts, but rather a dynamic field of sensations. Headings of the worldwide media after the Gaza flotilla crisis perfectly fell into this context. “Israel attacks Gaza flotilla” by “The Guardian”, “Israel's tough response triggered widespread condemnation across Europe” by “The Independent”, “War of images” by “El País” or “Israel build its opponents a stage” by “Der Spiegel” show how a dominant relation “strong soldier vs. weak activist” is taking shape nearly automatically. The Israeli narrative of firing guns in self-defense and Gaza blockade as a tool of preventing smuggling weapons into Hamas controlled territory was also present in the international media. Short videos by the army enabled the public to see activists attacking soldiers. Some media published commentaries in favor of Israel. One could read in Spanish “El Mundo”: “It was not an attack, it was a defense. It was not a humanitarian mission, it was a propaganda. It was not a crime, it was an incident. (…) Israel must avoid arousing sympathy, it has to survive”. The mentioned text, however, was countered with another commentary by Guillermo Toledo that was a mosaic of such statements: “The history of Zionism in Palestine is the history of imposed; dehumanized and cruel violence; philosophy of terror; state terrorism; the abuse of power, the fist on the table; Israeli soldiers trained to kill without question”.