Hijacking boats in international waters and killing passengers is, of course, a serious crime. The editors of the London Guardian are quite right to say that “If an armed group of Somali pirates had yesterday boarded six vessels on the high seas, killing at least 10 passengers and injuring many more, a Nato taskforce would today be heading for the Somali coast.” It is worth bearing in mind that the crime is nothing new. For decades, Israel has been hijacking boats in international waters between Cyprus and Lebanon, killing or kidnapping passengers, sometimes bringing them to prisons in Israel including secret prison/torture chambers, sometimes holding them as hostages for many years. Israel assumes that it can carry out such crimes with impunity because the US tolerates them and Europe generally follows the US lead.
Much the same is true of Israel’s pretext for its latest crime: that the Freedom Flotilla was bringing materials that could be used for bunkers for rockets. Putting aside the absurdity, if Israel were interested in stopping Hamas rockets it knows exactly how to proceed: accept Hamas offers for a cease-fire. In June 2008, Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement. The Israeli government formally acknowledges that until Israel broke the agreeement on November 4, invading Gaza and killing half a dozen Hamas activists, Hamas did not fire a single rocket. Hamas offered to renew the cease-fire. The Israeli cabinet considered the offer and rejected it, preferring to launch its murderous and destructive Operation Cast Lead on December 27. Evidently, there is no justification for the use of force “in self-defense” unless peaceful means have been exhausted. In this case they were not even tried, althoughÑor perhaps becauseÑthere was every reason to suppose that they would succeed. Operation Cast Lead is therefore sheer criminal aggression, with no credible pretext, and the same is true of Israel’s current resort to force.
The siege of Gaza itself does not have the slightest credible pretext. It was imposed by the US and Israel in January 2006 to punish Palestinians because they voted “the wrong way” in a free election, and it was sharply intensified in July 2007 when Hamas blocked a US-Israeli attempt to overthrow the elected government in a military coup, installing Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan. The siege is savage and cruel, designed to keep the caged animals barely alive so as to fend off international protest, but hardly more than that. It is the latest stage of long-standing Israeli plans, backed by the US, to separate Gaza from the West Bank.
These are only the bare outlines of very ugly policies, in which Egypt is complicit as well.