Sinking the Mavi Marmara

Israel will neither apologise nor take responsibility for its commandos killing unarmed activists.

pro-palestine demonstration

The release of the findings of the UN panel of inquiry into the May 2010 Israeli attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara, part of the Freedom Flotilla endeavoring to deliver aid to besieged Gaza, was recently delayed for the fourth time since the originally scheduled release date over three months ago.

Israel initially claimed the delay occurred at the behest of Turkey; Turkey claimed it happened at the behest of Israel. The latter version of events would seem to be validated by a Sunday report on Israel’s Channel 2, according to which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked the US to delay the release another six months. According to Haaretz, the UN panel’s findings will nonetheless be published this Friday.

Either way, the latest delay follows Netanyahu’s unsurprising affirmation that Israel will not apologise for the deaths of eight Turkish activists and one 19-year-old Turkish-American activist shot – most of them execution-style – by Israeli commandos (IDF) who intercepted the ship.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a Turkish “Plan B” in the event that an Israeli apology does not indeed materialise.

Inverting cause and effect

From the point of view of the Israeli regime, an apology is not required given that the IDF commandos, and not the slaughtered activists, were the victims of the encounter at sea.

This innovative approach to logic was presented by IDF spokeswoman Avital Liebovitch at a post-attack press briefing, during which she announced that the passengers of the Mavi Marmara had engaged in “severe violence against our soldiers”. Liebovitch’s alarming summary of premeditated passenger violence involving weapons “grabbed” from commandos did not address the issue of why the IDF had not thus thrown a wrench in the works by simply refraining from raiding the ship.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed the violent intentions of the seafarers by adding the category, “Weapons found on Mavi Marmara” to its Flickr photostream and uploading images of marbles, kitchen knives, keffiyehs, and a metal pail. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s detection of ties between the Gaza flotilla and global Jihad was additionally upheld by a Flickr photograph featuring a slingshot colourfully decorated with stars and the label “Hizbullah”.

The Foreign Ministry has yet to explain whether “Hizbullah” always labels its Gaza-bound slingshots in English, or why the photograph is specified as having been taken on February 7, 2006, i.e., over four years prior to the flotilla attack.

As for the Israeli proclivity for inverting cause-and-effect relationships – such that commandos who shoot guns while descending from helicopters onto boats become the victims of the unarmed humanitarian activists onto whom they are descending – an application of this formula to other phenomena in the physical world results in the unexpected discovery that slabs of meat impale themselves on butcher knives and that armadillos attack the wheels of cars.

‘Delegitimising’ Israel

Quite fortunately for Israel, its acrobatics in defiance of truth are sanctioned by regrettably influential media figures like New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, who obediently assigned quotation marks to the “flotilla of ‘humanitarian’ activists” in his analysis of the maritime confrontation.

Along with his decree that “[t]here is no question that this flotilla was a setup”, Friedman’s reference to the “violent confrontation that the blockade-busters wanted” echoed the assessment by Israeli government spokesman extraordinaire Mark Regev that the flotilla passengers were intent on accruing “headlines for their cause” by “initiat[ing] violence”.

Resurrecting his Operation Cast Lead-era philosophy that persons wanting to critique Israel’s actions in Gaza should recall that Islamist suicide bombers were also blowing up people in Iraq, Friedman updated the prerequisites for post-flotilla criticism of Israel to include more examples of unsavory behavior by regional Arabs and Muslims, such as that Syria was a suspect in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He subsequently warned of a “trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimise Israel”, resulting in a situation in which, “[i]f you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war”.

Leaving aside the minor detail that Israel was not at war with the Mavi Marmara, hypothetical Martian visitors might also be confused by other formulaic discrepancies such as the complete lack of suicide terrorism in Iraq prior to the US invasion and the fact that Islamist suicide bombers are not the primary recipients of military aid from the global superpower. Some Martians might even be inclined to assign blame for encouraging “violent confrontation” not to humanitarian aid flotillas but rather to foreign affairs columnists for the US newspaper of record who champion the mass killing of civilians in Gaza and Lebanon and advocate for civil war in Iraq.

As for the project to delegitimise Israel, I was able to witness this firsthand last year when I attended the funeral ceremony at Istanbul’s Beyazit mosque for Cevdet Kiliclar, one of Friedman’s “‘humanitarian’ activists”.

For non-Martians trained in the strategic proliferation of quotation marks, the scene might have been described as consisting of thousands of “mourners”, including “women”, “children”, and “students”, who had gathered to celebrate the “killing” of their “compatriot” and the opportunities it provided to sell headbands declaring “Hepimiz Filistinliyiz – We are all Palestinian”.

From Colombia to Gaza

Other popular Turkish slogans from this time period emerged from Erdogan’s post-massacre assessment that Israel had committed “inhumane state terrorism”.

Accurate as this depiction may be, it would have carried more ethical weight had, say, the Turkish military not proceeded with its acquisition of Israeli-manufactured Heron drones to aid in domestic “counterterrorism efforts” against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As for state terrorism on other continents, the appointment last year of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to the post of vice-chairman of the four-person UN panel of inquiry into the Mavi Marmara incident was curious, given the intimate association of his name with the military and paramilitary practice of killing civilians. To his credit, however, Uribe has never argued that Colombian soldiers who – in potentially thousands of instances – murdered civilians and dressed the corpses in guerrilla attire in order to receive bonus pay and extra vacation time, were in fact the victims of said corpses.

Despite the repeated delay of the release of the UN panel’s findings – referred to as the “Palmer report” in honour of its chairman, former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer – Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid cites “a political source in Jerusalem” as revealing that:

“According to the final draft of the probe, Israel is not asked to apologise to Turkey, but the report does recommend it expresses regret over the casualties. The Palmer Report also doesn’t ask Israel to pay compensation, but proposes Israel transfer money to a specially-created humanitarian fund.”

The source also reports the panel’s conclusion that “the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza is legal and is in accordance with international law”, in which case the UN panel would be contradicting the UN on the issue of the legality of the Gaza siege.

As for the “Plan B” that Erdogan has threatened to pursue if Israel fails to issue an apology, compensate fatalities, and cease blockading Gaza, the Turkish newspaper HaberTurk lists the components of this plan, which are said to include a visit to Gaza next month by Erdogan, a suit against the Israeli government and relevant soldiers, and a reduction in defense cooperation and economic ties.

Turkey will additionally refrain from reinstalling an ambassador in Tel Aviv, a post that has been vacant since the Mavi Marmara incident, and will refuse to accept a replacement Israeli ambassador to Turkey when the current one terminates his stint in September.

Diplomatic antagonisms

The position of the Turkish ambassador to Israel is one that has been traditionally characterised by ups and downs, both figurative and literal. At a January 2010 meeting in Jerusalem, for example, then-ambassador Oguz Celikkol was deliberately seated at a lower altitude than his Israeli interlocutors, who were displeased with the portrayal of Mossad in the popular Turkish television series Kurtlar Vadisi or Valley of the Wolves.

The Israeli government eventually apologised for the treatment of Celikkol, setting the dangerous precedent that is perhaps to thank for Erdogan’s current conviction that Israel can indeed be made to apologise for things.

Given that the Mavi Marmara attack was made the focus of the plot of the 2011 film “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine“, based on the TV series, it is possible that any renewed Turkish ambassadorial presence in Israel will be greeted with seating arrangements even more proximate to the floor.

For more information on other sorts of diplomatic posts, one may meanwhile refer to a website devoted to cultivating “Novice Ambassadors” for Israel. Established by the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, the site purports to “make it possible for each one of us to arm ourselves with information and pride in Israel’s global contributions and history and to present a more realistic image of Israel to the world”.

Rather than focus on realistic Israeli global historical contributions such as the elimination of approximately 1,400 persons, primarily civilians, in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, prospective ambassadors are instead called upon to dispel such alleged myths as that camels are the primary mode of transport in Israel and that cooking methods are primitive.

An arsenal of rotating factoids is provided on the right side of the screen for use in countering “barbs of criticism” leveled against the Jewish state. Bits of trivia include that “An Israeli invention for an electric hair removal device makes women happy all over the world” and that “Each month Israelis consume close to 15 million bags of [the snack food] Bamba; every fourth snack sold in Israel is Bamba, and 1,000 bags of Bamba are manufactured every month”.

As for the utility of Bamba snacks and global-female-happiness-inducing razor components in obscuring the significance of human principles and human suffering, this may only be further reinforced by a gradual sinking of the Mavi Marmara beneath an eternal debate over whether Israel is sorry for killing civilians or whether it merely regrets that they caused their own deaths.

Belen Fernandez is an editor at PULSE Media. Her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Workwill be released by Verso on November 1, 2011.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.