Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Israel's blockade of Gaza is still here (UPDATED!)

Almost half a year has passed since the historical events surrounding the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara in international waters off the coast of Gaza. This crazed Israeli act of high-water piracy, the vicious violence, the cold blooded execution of wounded peace activists outraged the entire world community and many very impressive statements were made in reaction. Turkey would sever all its diplomatic relations, huge armadas of volunteers would be formed to break the blockade and even planes would be used.

What has actually happened since?

Well, a couple of ships did attempt to break the blockade. They were seized by the Israeli stormtroopers and that's it. There is something wrong with that picture, is there not?

This reminds me of another colossal success against the Israeli which was also followed by, well, by nothing at all: in 2008 Hamas blew up big sections of the infamous wall separating Gaza from Egypt and tens of thousands of Gazans crossed into Egypt. At that moment, which reminded me of the fall of the equally infamous wall in Berlin, it appeared that this was the end of the attempts to turn Gaza into the biggest concentration camp on the planet. And yet, the wall was rebuilt and all of this was practically forgotten.

In the case of the Gaza Wall debacle, the fault for it falls totally on the rather clueless Hamas leadership which allowed the wall to be rebuilt. All it would have taken to keep the wall down would have been a couple of thousands of Gaza sitting on it back by a couple of hundred Hamas sharpshooters to cover them and Mubarak would never had the political means to put the wall up again. In fact, any open confrontation between Mubarak's police and the Palestinians at this point would have threatened the Mubarak regime with an insurrection. But Hamas did nothing and so the wall went right back up.

The question now is who is to blame for the almost lack of "political capitalization" for the truly heroic sacrifices of the people who were killed, maimed and wounded in the Mavi Marmara expedition. Even more importantly, it is time to ask what should be done to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The answer, as it turns out, is rather simple.

Let's look again at what exactly the Mavi Marmara "flotilla" (wrong term, really, as a flotilla is presumed to be an armed, military, naval expeditionary force) did right. Simply put, it did two things:

a) it resisted with non-lethal but determined *force*
b) it documented its resistance

That's it. And this exactly what the ships which tried to break the blockade of Gaza have failed to do so far. First, non of the ships have attempted any serious resistance, at least as far as I know, and second the attempts to break the blockade were poorly documented. In, I don't even know how many real attempts there have been. First, there was the "Rachel Corrie" attempt, then one from Egypt I think, then another one from Beirut with only women and then one organized by European Jews, that's all I can recall (am I missing any?).

Frankly, the sole purpose of any such expedition can only be political. Gaza is not Berlin and it would take a major naval power to actually re-supply Gaza in any significant amount by sea or, even more so, by air. So what is the political purpose of these expedition? To tell the Israelis that the world does not agree with their policies? The Israelis already know that. To show the Gazans that the world supports them? They already know that too.

Look back at the Mavi Marmara is ask yourself, why was this expedition such a stunning defeat for Israel and the answer will become obvious to you: what the peace flotilla did is show the true face of the Israeli regime. That is its only real political success, but it was a stunning success and a comprehensive disaster for Israel. And such a victory over the last racist state on the planet can be achieved over and over again if two basic condition are met. The resistance must be violent (though not necessarily lethal) and it must be documented.

Contrast this with the way the the other expeditions to break the blockade where organized: all of them were absolutely and totally non-violent (that was openly declared) and they were individual affairs, involving one ship and no solid media coverage. What needs to be done is just exactly the opposite:

First, the next peace flotilla needs to be large, in particular in terms of number of vessels. Second, it needs to be escorted while it is in international waters. Third, the participants should immediately declare that they will violently resist any attempt to board their ships. In international waters this violence defense could even involve the use of firearms (perfectly legal in case of defense) while inside Gazan waters it probably should not include lethal weapons. The last leg of the journey to Gaza should ONLY be undertaken during the day and during clear weather conditions. Every single ship should have redundant communications systems including satellite phones, radios in different frequencies. Some ships should remain in international waters as 're-brodcasters' of all the communications of the flotilla. Airplanes in international airspace could serve the same function. "Outdated" methods of communications, including the use of Morse code and light signals, should be implemented (Morse is hard to jam) alongside modern means such as laser (also very hard to jam). The ships need to deliberately support each other in case of an attempt to seize them.

Remember how the Israelis used speedboats to come close to the Mavi Marmara?  Such speedboats are easy to target and flip. If the Israelis use helicopter, evasive maneuvers can make it impossible to drop commandos on deck. If such measures are implemented the Israelis will have to open fire with 30mm or 50mm guns the ship engines, so the rear section of the ships should be evacuated as soon as this risk becomes real. If a ship is so disabled, smoke grenades can be used to make a landing of commandos difficult. Other basic means would be to cover the deck with tarp making it hard for the Israelis to see what is going on on the ships. Protecting the ship can be done with either barbed or concertina wire and by dropping rubber speed-boats in the water to create chaos and complicated the planning and execution of Israeli operations.

There are literally hundreds of ways to defend a ship and the organizers of such an expedition would have to take a long look at the highly effective operations of the Greenpeace organization in disrupting whaling and other naval operations.

There is, by the way, also a good chance that Israeli communications could be disrupted. I don't want to go into details here, but suffice it to say that basic principle of jamming radio communications is that if your signal is more powerful than their signal, then you jam them. How hard would it be to put sufficiently powerful transmitters on the boats if all that is required from them is to have more power than the portable radios used by the Israeli commandos?

A basic rule of warfare is that you have to maximize your advantages and make use of the enemy's weaknesses. The Israelis are phenomenal cowards. While their propaganda says otherwise, all those who have actually fought them will unanimously confirm to you that they are truly terrified of "the Arabs" and that they loathe to actually take a real risk. Beating Palestinian kids, shooting unarmed civilians is just fine by them, but God forbid that  an "Arab" has something to shoot back with, and then the call in the Golani Brigade (also formed of cowards, but at least they have lots of firepower). My point here is that even if the Israelis bring in lots of commando units, they will be scared to death and very infective in their operations. This is the real reason why the Israelis always resort to absolutely grotesque amounts of violence: to hide their own cowardice and try to scare their opponents.

And this brings me to the most controversial part of my idea. Yes, resisting the Israelis with violence will inevitably elicit the usual "mad dog" response from them. But this is where the importance of documenting that reaction come into play. As soon as the Israelis go berserk, it becomes imperative to show their reaction to the rest of the planet.

Of course, one could very legitimately report that is is all fine and well for me to speak about how others must risk their lives while I sit at home and make grand statements about what others should do. And that would be a perfectly valid criticism. No, for a long list of reasons, I personally cannot take part in any such expedition, but my personal circumstances are hardly the point. The point is that the risks taken, and courage shown, by those who ARE willing to confront the Israelis must be focused on tactics which work rather than on "feel good" symbolical operations which are only a very minor nuisance to Israel. Innocent people are killed by the Israelis every day anyway. Many these lives are, I say, wasted (throwing stones at a Merkava tank is not my idea of a sound tactic).

Mind you, I am not advocating suicide operations. I would recommend that every person on these ships should wear tactical body armor, a Kevlar helmet, a first aid pack and, of course, a high-quality life jacket. Medics and nurses must be on-board ready to immediately put an IV line into any injured person and to do whatever is possible to stabilize him/her. As I mentioned earlier, the rear area of the ship needs to be evacuated before the Israelis open up with high-caliber guns. Ideally, an makeshift hospital ship should be part of the flotilla, clearly marked by signs; that is the only ship which should not have any means of defense at all.  But yes, this approach does involve a serious risk of injury or death.  I am not denying that.  But has we have seen with the Mavi Marmara, that risk is always present when dealing with racist thugs, and Palestinians suffer that throughout their lives.  What matters here is not to make any useless sacrifices and to make Israel pay, dearly, for every murder it commits.

The fact is that the Israeli Navy is neither trained nor equipped to deal with such a situation. Furthermore, good tactics can make things even harder for them. Imagine such a feet of vessels sailing towards Gaza and fully stopping in international waters without making any move towards Gaza. How easy it would be to force the Israelis into a costly cycle of false alarms which would frustrate them and frazzle their nerves? What if some ships decided to quietly leave and then come back? The Israelis would have a hell of a time trying to track all that activity. Mixing big ships with small but very fast speedboats is another way of driving the Israelis crazy; using ultra-light aircraft is yet another one. Even jet skis are an option. The possibilities are infinite, really.

The key to all of the above is training, training and more training. Each participant should have his/her own role and mission clearly defined and he/she would need to practice this mission until it becomes as automated as possible. For most participants, such a level of proficiency could be achieved in 5 days or less, as long as the tasks are simple and clear. More specialized participants, such as medics or radio operators, would, of course, already bring the skills set needed to their specific area of responsibility.

No less important is to explain to each participants the one and only purpose of the expedition: to totally end the blockade of Gaza by creating the circumstances which would force the racist regime of Israel to show its true face.  Not to express some nebulous "disapproval" of the blockade of Gaza, not to "show" our "solidarity" and most definitely not to re-supply Gaza.  The total end of the blockade of Gaza should be the only goal.  Without such a clarity of purpose these naval expeditions will meet the same end as the blowing up of the Wall in 2008.

One of the main problems in the past expeditions is that they are organized by civilians who never had to think tactically. Its folks like Ken O'Keefe which should be put in charge of the organization of future actions. Being a former Marine, he knows exactly the kind of tactics which can truly disorganize or even cripple a seemingly all-powerful military force and Ken clearly has the courage, determination and charisma to explain them to all the well-meaning but mostly clueless civilians who would inevitably form the bulk of the participants. 

The Gazans themselves also can play an important role in ending the blockade but for that the seemingly clueless Hamas leadership would need to seriously listen at Norman Finkelstein and his idea that Palestinians act on the World Court decision that the Wall is illegal and simply begin dismantling it.  

Israel is not the kind of foe which can be defeated with only good intentions and personal courage.  Keeping in mind that Fatah is little more than a corrupt subsidiary of the Israeli Shit Bet and that Hamas has a record of totally lacking any kind of strategic vision it becomes painfully obvious that an external force needs to trigger a change in the current situation.

The martyrs on the Mavi Marmara showed the world that this can be done.  Now it is incumbent upon the international civil society (forget governments, they are useless) to make their sacrifice worthwhile.

The Saker

PS: I just did a little google search to see who picked up this piece and guess what?  It is posted on, I am not kidding you, the Jewish-American Heritage month website!  Well, I am not surprised one bit that these folks would mistake my unambiguous anti-racism with a form of anti-Semitism.  As I always say - there ain't such thing as an intelligent racist, and that is also very true about Zionists.  But I am grateful for the free advertisement of my blog :-)