Coupled with the relief of knowing that one of your own — Abbas Al Lawati, who was reporting for Gulf News from aboard the Mavi Marmara — is safe and sound, there is anger and sorrow for the faceless humanitarians who were so brutally shot down on the high seas by the forces of evil. If there was further proof needed about the unsurpassed criminality of the regime in Tel Aviv, we had it in the wee hours of Monday, when it sent its troops on an illegal mission to kill unarmed civilians in international waters.

In no time, the Israeli spin doctors were busy providing sound bites about "terrorists" aboard who attacked their peaceful soldiers using rods, knives and "live ammunition". The commandos were, of course, just defending themselves. And the international media, ever so touchy when it comes to the Jewish state, is already using terms like "killed in the fighting" and "soldiers coming under attack". US President Barack Obama cut a sorry figure by limiting himself to just "regretting" the loss of life. In fact, the White House says it is "working to understand the circumstances surrounding the tragedy"!

Defying expectations

Few would have thought the aid mission might end in this kind of carnage. At worst, the activists, who wanted to deliver food, medicine and toys to the open-air prison that is Gaza, would have expected the Israelis to block their passage to the Strip and divert the ships to the port at Ashdod. And they would have been justified to an extent in thinking so, given that their vessel — the Mavi Marmara — was flying a Turkish flag, and Israel has diplomatic and military ties with this major Middle Eastern power and Nato member. But the Jewish state also has a history of defying expectations in the worst possible way. No other nation, perhaps with the exception of its superpower backer, could do something like this and expect to get away with it.

Of all the countries in the region, only Turkey and Iran can match Israel — to an extent — when it comes to firepower. Some would have expected Ankara to take military action against the Jewish state for the unprovoked aggression. But going by the comments of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the UN Security Council, it looks like his country has resigned itself to a diplomatic alternative. Be that as it may, Turkey and the Arab world — which could have condemned this unprecedented act in stronger words — must try to ensure that something good comes out of this affair for the long suffering people of Gaza.

Crime against humanity

But there is very little hope. Since the three-week Israeli assault in 2008-2009 on Gaza, a war crime which left more than 1,400 Palestinians — hundreds of them children — dead, Israel has only tightened the obscene siege around the territory, including a naval blockade that those aboard the Freedom Flotilla were hoping to break. By any yardstick, this medieval siege is a crime against humanity and amounts to collective punishment of a civilian population. All right thinking people should use the tragic deaths of the activists to re-focus the world's attention on the blockade of Gaza that is continuously taking its toll on innocent civilians — and send a message to Israel that it cannot continue to act like a gangster on the international stage.

But don't count on those in Tel Aviv to be listening.