|The Israeli army’s raid on the Mavi Marmara shocked the world and severely dented Israel-Turkey relations [EPA]|
The world awoke on May 31 to news that the Israeli army had conducted an early morning raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
The flotilla’s aim was to break the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza in place since June 2007 by delivering six ships laiden with over 10 000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. The journey turned disastrous when the Israeli army opened fire on activists on board one of the boats, the Mavi Marmara, killing nine people, including 8 Turks and one US citizen.
The raids took place in international waters and this, combined with the fact that the violence had been waged on activists from over 40 countries, brought renewed global outrage towards Israel.
Public opinion over Israel’s aggression and brutality towards the Palestinian people has remained ambiguous over the years.
Defending Palestinian human rights, like in the Gaza war, has often found itself overshadowed by a historically weightier discourse thats sympathises with Israel’s right to defend its sovereignty in a hostile environment. In spite of the brutality and disproportionate level of violence illustrated through Operation Cast Lead – rockets fired from Gaza had given Israel a leg to stand on.
Finding reasons for the Israeli’s to justify their actions, this time around was not that easy. Though Israel remained steadfast that their soldiers had only opened fire when attacked, the unfettered violence turned public opinion on ‘Israeli victimhood’ on its head.
Only the US stuttered a non-committal response to the raid, but the world was unanimous in its outrage against the violent and unprovoked act. The most damning of condemnations came from Turkey, a traditional economic and political ally to Israel, while a host of countries suspended diplomatic ties and chastised Israel’s actions.
It helped that Al Jazeera had an entire team aboard the flotilla, providing exclusive coverage of the incident.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal confirmed that at least one person had been shot at the top of the head from helicopters above, and that passengers took apart the ship’s railings to defend themselves – against live ammunition.
Six months later, and the aftermath of the attack continues.
An international fact-finding mission conducted by the UN OHCHR on the incident concluded the IDF’s raid “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality” and violated international law “including international humanitarian and human rights law”.
Israel rejected the findings of the report, calling it “biased” and “one sided”, launching its own internal investigation into the incident. The Giora Eiland investigation concluded that “some mistakes were made” but fails to reprimand the misconduct of IDF soldiers involved in the incident. The Turkel commission, headed by former Israeli supreme court judge Yaakov Tirkel is yet to be released.
Not only did the incident usher in extraordinary condemnation, it firmly put the blockade of Gaza, its collapsed economy and the plight of the Palestinians back into the spotlight.
Israel’s raid that day was arguably the single most powerful epithet of her aggression. Viewers across the globe were shocked at the extent of the force used, especially considering that all of this was unprovoked and and because the victims of her anger were international peace activists.
The world is now a little more cynical about Israel’s ambitions to resolve the conflict.
The incident also alienated Israel’s strongest ally in the region, Turkey, shifting the balance of power and advancing Turkey’s rapidly growing reputation as a leader of the global South.
The brutal events of May 31, and the aftermath that united international opinion, firmly places the flotilla story at number two for 2010.