Image Credit: Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

Israel's horrific attack on an international flotilla bringing much-needed aid to the besieged people of Gaza has achieved more than billions of Arab dollars spent on PR could ever hope to purchase. Newspapers and television screens the world over are dominated by images and first-hand testimonies exposing the true nature of the rogue Israeli state.

The independent media — in particular Al Jazeera — and alternative news sources on the internet ensured that the uncensored facts began to reach the world's citizens within minutes of the atrocity.

Israel's ludicrous claims that the flotilla was carrying armed militants and weapons of mass destruction had no currency in a world awash with evidence of what really happened from those who were there. (The only exception was the BBC, which continued to broadcast the Israeli version of events and signally failed to interview any Palestinian commentators even though there are many in London.)

These, then, are the facts: the flotilla consisted of six ships determined to symbolically break Israel's illegal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip; they were bearing thousands of tons of supplies, including concrete for re-building homes devastated more than a year ago when Israel bombarded Gaza (killing more than 1,000 civilians) and wheelchairs for those disabled during the same onslaught. On board were more than 700 passengers — peace activists of all ages and nationalities, several politicians, diplomats, journalists and film-makers.

In the dead of night on May 31, in international waters 74 nautical miles off the coast of Palestine, the ships were attacked by Israeli helicopters which started firing on them before depositing machine-gun toting commandos on the deck of the leading Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. At least nine unarmed people died in a hail of bullets and hundreds more were wounded. Some valiant passengers had the presence of mind to break up chairs or grab knives to defend themselves and others, but the ships were all taken over by Israelis and sailed to Ashdod, where the passengers were incarcerated and refused access to lawyers.


Boarding and then commandeering a ship in international waters is technically piracy; taking people against their will to another country and imprisoning them is technically kidnap; refusing prisoners the right to consult a lawyer is a breach of human-rights legislation, and murder is simply murder.

By committing these atrocious acts of state terrorism and brazenly disregarding the international laws which bind civilised nations, Israel demonstrates an arrogant assumption that it is somehow above these norms. Its reckless confidence that it will evade punishment is due to the unconditional support from Washington and London it has grown used to.

US President Barack Obama has yet to comment — although the Nobel Peace laureate is very keen to "bring BP to justice" over the deaths of nine workers and the ecological devastation of the Mexican Gulf; despite the fact that 27 Britons were on board the Mavi Marmara, it took Prime Minister David Cameron until Wednesday to allow that the attacks — and the blockade — were "unacceptable". But elsewhere the diplomatic and political fallout is disastrous for the Israeli regime.

Turkey, hitherto Israel's only Muslim ally, broke its diplomatic ties with the rogue state within hours as 10,000 took to the streets of Istanbul intent on storming the Israeli embassy. The 70 million-strong Turkish people stood united behind Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who vowed to send a warship with the next flotilla bound for Gaza.

International indignation

Israel's ambassadors in Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Greece were summoned and countries around the globe from Somalia to Iceland lined up to condemn Israel's criminal violence. The UN Security Council, the Arab League and Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries universally denounced the attacks and demanded an independent enquiry. Large demonstrations have taken place round the world, with a global day of protest planned for today.

The massacre has also had the effect of unifying the Arabs and Muslims in a new wave of grassroots activism, not only against Israel but against the regimes that have been colluding with it. Reclaiming the entire Palestinian cause, not just the siege of Gaza, these popular movements are forcing change. Jordan and Egypt, who both have treaties with Israel, loudly expressed their condemnation and the latter opened the Rafah crossing "indefinitely". Only weeks ago, Cairo was busy building a steel wall under the same crossing — at the behest of Israel and America — to prevent desperate Palestinians tunnelling beneath it.

For the first time in years, Palestinian reconciliation seems possible as the nation experiences collective grief and anger. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in Ramallah declared three days of mourning for the victims, and PNA President Mahmoud Abbas demanded emergency meetings of the Arab League and UN Security Council. Resistance is more likely to result in reconciliation than the bargaining and fruitless "peace talks" the PNA has long been engaged in.

The attack also impacts on the current stand-off with Iran, as Israel is revealed to be more of a regional threat to international security, world peace and universal human rights. Imagine how the US would react if Iran boarded one of its own or an ally's ship in international waters, killed or imprisoned the passengers, and then sailed her to an Iranian port. A declaration of war would surely follow. Yet it seems the Israeli raiders expected to be greeted by passengers garlanding them with flowers, dancing and singing for joy, and slaughtering sheep in their honour.

At least two more ships are still en route to Gaza, having been delayed by suspected sabotage. One, named the Rachel Corrie (after the 23-year-old American who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent it flattening a Palestinian home in 2003), is carrying 66-year-old Northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguirs and Dennis Halliday, a former senior UN diplomat who won the Gaandhi International Peace Prize in 2003 for drawing world attention to the plight of the Iraqi people. The Jerusalem Post quotes an unnamed Israeli military official promising that these champions of the peace movement will be met with "even more force ... as if it were a war".

The world is losing patience with this pariah state run by racist war criminals, and the tired excuses of history, the Holocaust and persecution, no longer weave their magic. If the blood of the martyrs and heroes of the flotilla marks the countdown to the end of the apartheid Israeli regime then it has not been spilt in vain.

Abdel Bari Atwan is editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.