Beyond the Flotilla, the Crackdown Continues

From a piece I’ve just posted in the Huffington Post:

As I read the myriad of reactions to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla tragedy last Sunday, I’m struck by one recurring theme: the sense of astonishment that these activists responded to the Israeli Navy with violence.

In other words, they didn’t act according to the script. They didn’t behave like proper practitioners of civil disobedience. The implication: if they had responded like the non-violent activists they were purported to be, this whole tragedy could well have been avoided.

There’s only problem with this calculus: non-violent Palestinian protests have actually been ongoing throughout the Occupied Territories for years – and the Israeli military has been responding to them with much the same kind of brutality that was used against the passengers of the Mavi Marmara.

Click here to read the article.

23 thoughts on “Beyond the Flotilla, the Crackdown Continues

  1. Miriam

    I’m so glad you posted this. It is true that Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been practicing non violence, and it is even truer that most of these non violent peaceful demonstrations do not make it into the mainstream news media. It’s as though the media wants our impression of Palestinians to be violent, brutal, and savage. And because of the checkpoints scattered within the West Bank, Israel has made it even harder for Palestinians to mobilize their non violent efforts. Just because we might not hear about it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Thank you, Brant, again, for your courage to speak out and to model Jewish values.

    1. Shirin

      Arundati Roy said that to be effective non-violent action requires an audience. By its control over the media and the message Israel denies it an audience, and thereby renders it ineffective.

      As I am sure you know the Palestinians have a strong, if virtually completely unrecognized history of non-violent resistance going back to the ’20’s and ’30’s that continues to this day. I would not be the first person to suggest that Israel fears this far more than it fears terrorism.

  2. Shirin

    I know about Ghanda and Satyagraha and all that, but Ghandi was rather extreme, wasn’t he? After all, he literally advised the Jews of Nazi Germany to commit mass suicide rather than resist – something that frankly diminished him greatly in my eyes, and is pretty stunning in its irony under the circumstances.

    Non-violent civil disobedience requires that one’s tactics be non-violent, and that one commit to resisting without violence. It does not obligate one to carry a commitment to non-violent action to the point of suicide, and engaging in legitimate self defense when escape is not an option does not delegitimize the action undertaken or its goals.

  3. emilylhauser

    A great source on Palestinian nonviolence in the first intifada is A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance by Mary Elizabeth King.

    And thank you so much for quoting/linking to me the other day, and recommending me to The Velveteen Rabbi! It’s a real honor. This is all I know how to do regarding this insanity, and it means a lot to me that you’ve found it meaningful.

  4. Y. Ben-David

    Giving all due credit to the peaceful Palestinian protesters, do you think that it is possible that thousands of Israeli killed or wounded in the big suicide bomber campaign which was supported by Palestinian public opinion, in addition to the thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza might have something to do with the image of the Palestinians being violent?

    1. Eric Greenberg

      Y. Ben-David,

      I know engaging you is usually useless, as you defend everything Israel does and reject Palestinian human rights but your statement begs a response. Israel has killed many more innocent Palestinians than Palestinian have killed innocent Israelis. Since September 29, 2000, according to B’Tselem, 1,062 Israelis have were killed by Palestinians; while at least 4,908 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. And their estimate of the number of Palestinians killed is realistically viewed as fairly conservative.

      1. Richard Kahn

        The first half of your comment is an ad hominem attack and the second half is irrelevant. Respond to what Y. Ben-David says rather than dismissing him automatically. And regarding Israel, Israel is, in fact, perceived as violent, and you think rightfully. That’s completely irrelevant to the perception of the Palestinians as violent. Just because Israel has killed more people doesn’t mean that the Palestinians are therefore nonviolent. It’s not like only one side can have the violence trophy, and winner is he who kills more.

      2. Mick

        Wasting your time, Eric. The guy’s modus operandi is to ignore the point being made about Israel’s actions, and instead to make some broad generalisation about Palestinian/Arab/Muslim behavior, as if it were happening in isolation. He’s just one of those cheerleaders alongside Israel’s suicidal path. I wonder where he is; Israel, the occupied territories, or sitting safely in the US? I wonder why he bothers; he’d be happier posting ditto’s to the rebbetzin’s husband. Actually, maybe he IS the rebbetzin’s husband!

      3. Matt Planchak


        I’ve been taking part in discussions on Brant’s blog for a while now, and one of the things that sets it apart from most others on the internet is the tone of the dialogue and the respect shown to others. This has been a place where people are able to express divergent views in a safe environment, and I hope we can keep it that way.

        I understand people’s frustration with certain commenters, especially with emotions running high this week. But let’s keep comments on the topic at hand (anyone is free to start a new blog if they think issues are not being addressed). If you feel someone is trying to derail the conversation, simply refuse to take the bait.

        I would hate to see this site descend to the toxic name-calling that permeates the web.

  5. Miriam

    Y. Ben-David,
    Of course it is a tragedy when any person decides to go the path of violence, be they any person of any faith. But I also think it is important to recognize that our media is very quick to report when there are such violent tragedies, and not at the non violent movement that has emerged among many Palestinians. I’m also not sure that we can assume that such violent acts are supported by “Palestinian public opinion.” This seems like a huge generalization. When such things are said, I always wonder how many Palestinians one has met, how many real conversations have taken place, and why Jews, who are a complex people, look at others with one-dimensional thinking.

    1. Y. Ben-David

      I base what I say about the Palestinians on their official media and what their government says. What individual, anecdotal Palestinians in the street think is irrelevant because all Arab societies are authoritarian to one degree or another (Lebanon does have a tradition of freedom of speech and freedom of the press not found in any other Arab country, but the country itself has in effect lost its sovereignity and is no longer independent, being subordinate to Iran and Syria through their HIZBULLAH proxies). Decisions regarding the so-called “peace process” are made by the regime in power and don’t relate to public opinion. During the height of the suicide bomber war in the period 2000-2004 polls taken within the Palestinian territories by a fellow named Shqaqi showed overwhelming support for the bombings. We all sawy block parties being thrown in the Palestinian towns after 9/11 (the Palestinian Authority tried to confiscate the films taken by news photographers) and suicide bombings. His polls also show rejection of any peace agreement that does not call for implementation of the Palestinian “right of return”.

      The official media is quite open about their goals….no peaceful relations with Israel even in the event of a peace agreement, rejection of Israel’s existence, denial of the Jewish people’s historical connection to the country, etc.
      No doubt there are individual Palestinians who would be willing, whole-heartedly to accept the “2-state solution” without demanding the “right of return”, but they are not in power and have no political influence. Sari Nuseeiba tried to garner support for this, along with former Israeli politician Ami Ayalon, but it got nowhere and I believe he has withdrawn it.
      No doubt many Germans were not enthusiastic on their launching of World War II and I believe most Iraqis did not approve of the numerous bloody adventures Saddam dragged them into, but in authoritarian-autocratic states, public opinion on matters of national policy is ignored. Same with the Palestinians.

      1. Mick

        YBD, perhaps you could translate the chanting and posters in this clip. I understand it was taken outside the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv/Jaffa.

        I suspect the crowd is celebrating the firm and resolute action of Israel. It looks and sounds for all the world to me like a block party, but I dont speak or read the language.

        If it is, we all know I could post similar videos of Israelis celebrating Baruch Goldstein; Israelis celebrating Yigal Amir: Israelis sitting on the hillside applauding the bombing of Gaza. So I dont understand what you think you achieve by referencing Palestinians celebrating 9-11.

        We all know I could make the case that every single comment you’ve ever made about the actions of some Palestinians could equally well apply to the actions of some in Israeli society – even the suicide bombings,because I’m sure you could point to examples of what Israelis consider glorious personal sacrifices from Jewish history, so that one’s all a matter of perspective too.

        Anyhow, you’re not the issue. Change doesnt depend on what you or I think, because we are both immovable in our opinions. But the Gaza invasion, the flotilla attack, the laughable justifications and excuses, and the utter incompetence of the no-longer-invincible Israeli forces have seen a slight but perceptible shift in public opinion. And a slight sense of panic amongst Israeli commentators?

  6. Steve Ebstein

    There’s only one problem with your thesis that the flotilla incident was to be expected because Israel responds violently to “non-violent” protests. It is based on a false premise. Your HuffPo article says that

    “Emily Henochowicz, a 21 year American ISM activist lost her eye when she was shot in the face with a tear gas canister during a *peaceful* protest of the flotilla incident.”

    It took me 30 seconds to find an AP report that stated she

    “was struck in the face by a canister fired by a policeman during a *violent* demonstration.”

    “Footage captured by a Russian television channel posted onto YouTube” shows that “she is seen several yards (meters) away from rock-throwing youths.”

    You have this example completely backwards. Israel responded proportionately to a violent protest, in this case with tear gas. An accident happened – a tear gas canister bounced off a wall and hit Emily – but the fault lies with the *violent* protestors.

    The violence on the Mavi Marmara was also caused by the activists. Israeli commandos armed with paintball guns boarded the ship, expecting to use non-lethal means to subdue minimal resistance. But the activists viciously began a premeditated attack, forcing the commandos to pull sidearms and defend themselves.

    You can blame Israel for being unprepared for this incident. But don’t dignify violent protestors as practicing civil disobedience. That is a malicious distortion just as calling the Israeli response brutal is slander.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      Re the maiming of Emily Henochowicz: I encourage you to listen to this eyewitness testimony by activist Jonathan Pollack, who was standing immediately next to Emily when she was shot:

      At its biggest stage there were about a hundred people there, and at the stage where Emily was hit there were no more than twenty people. There were clashes, but they were definitely not out of control. There were probably five youths throwing stones at over twenty border police officers who were shooting tear gas projectiles toward them from a very short distance – a distance of of about ten to fifteen meters or thirty feet. At some point they starting shooting tear gas projectiles directly toward demonstrators…

      Is this a “violent” demonstration? It’s not a simple answer. It is typical for demonstrations that begin nonviolently to deteriorate for a variety of reasons: whether through provocation by the military or by individual demonstrators who resort to stone throwing, etc. The weekly demonstrations in Ni’lin and Bi’ilin are well known for their discipline – and this hasn’t stopped the IDF from putting them down with brutal (yes, brutal) violence.

      I take major issue with your characterization of the Mavi Marmara raid. The “paintball” scenario you cite is a long-discredited version of events that was initially promoted by the IDF. Even the NY Times has reported that the commandos used force against the ship before boarding:

      The crack of an Israeli sound grenade and a hail of rubber bullets from above were supposed to disperse activists, but instead set them in motion. And when three Israeli commandos slid down ropes out of helicopters to take over the ship, a crowd set upon them.

      Civil disobedience can take many forms: some of these protests are strictly nonviolent, while others begin nonviolently, then deteriorate into violence. In the case of the Mavi Marmara, it is becoming increasingly untenable to portray the activists as the aggressors. Their boat was forcibly boarded by Navy commandos in international waters while on a humanitarian mission. I’d say it takes a leap of Orwellian proportions to claim they perpetrated a “premeditated attack” against the Israeli military in this incident.

      1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        Two new articles from Ha’aretz have shed more light on the events that led to the maiming of Emily Henochowicz:

        From “Eyewitness Account: How Emily Lost an Eye:”

        Israeli photographer Avi Issacharoff reports:

        Last Monday at approximately 11:10 A.M., photographer Daniel Bar-On and I were heading to the Qalandiyah crossing to cover a demonstration in Ramallah’s Manara Square to protest the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla and support Turkey.

        Right after we passed the crossing, we saw a group of Border Police that arrived in a rush. Some youths threw stones at the army position at the crossing.

        Nearby were several dozen demonstrators who raised many flags; the Lebanese one sticks in my mind. Daniel got out of the car and began taking photographs and I looked on – fairly bored, to be honest – at yet another meaningless confrontation between Palestinians and police.

        The police fired a tear gas grenade, and then another and another. I remember that what surprised me was the volley of grenade-fire directly aimed directly at the demonstrators, not at the sky.

        After the fourth grenade, if I am not mistaken, a shout was heard about 100 meters away.

        All the photographers began running in that direction. Someone was moving a young woman away from the melee. Daniel captured the injury of that woman, who we realized only afterward was Emily Henochowicz. Her eye was bleeding badly. She was taken by a Red Crescent ambulance.

        We went on to Ramallah, where it was a lot calmer. On the way to Manara we learned that the young woman had lost her eye. All because she had raised a flag.

        From “Mother Says Daughter Still Loves Israel Despite Losing Eye At a Protest:”

        “Her mood ranges from optimistic to sad,” Henochowicz’s mother Shelly Kreitman told Haaretz. “We want to make clear that she has not stopped loving Israel because of what happened. She said that this should not be an excuse for people to be anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist…”

        “To say that she threw something is just a lie. The claim that the teargas canister first hit the wall is an absolute lie. I say this because I saw the video and I also had confirmation from the doctors that it was a direct hit because there are burns on her face from the canister.”

    2. Shirin

      It took me 30 seconds to find an AP report that stated she ‘was struck in the face by a canister fired by a policeman during a *violent* demonstration.’

      So, Steve, do you accept at face value everything you read in the press, or only what confirms what you want to be true?

      As for the violence on the Mavi Marmara being caused by the activists, that is interesting logic. Most logic suggests that when there is violence it is generally caused by the party that launches the attack, not the party subjected to the attack, and the law pretty much follows that logic. Those who are attacked are entitled to defend themselves, violently if necessary, without being accused of being the one who “started it”.

  7. Commentator

    I seem to be missing something. Hasn’t Israel agreed to allow ships through the Israeli port of Ashod so they can inspect for weapons, allowing food and medical supplies to pass through to Gaza?

    1. Mick

      See If you can determine a logic OTHER than the exercise of punitive power, let us know.

      Israel also held back the large amount of cement & steel girders the flotilla carried, on the grounds that Hamas might build military installations with it. Perish the thought they might rebuild the homes, factorys, schools and hospitals Israel destroyed last year.

      But to save YDB the bother of posting, note that Hamas refused to take delivery of the flotilla goods Israel DID allow through;

      1. Shirin

        Mick, have you seen the report on Israel’s latest “easing” of the blockade? They’ve decided to allow junk food in now – you know, potato crisps, soda, cookies, candy….

        How much more clear could they make that the blockade is not about preventing weapons from entereing, but about collectively punishing the population?

    2. Shirin

      1. The “weapons on board” business is a standard Israeli ruse. This was the eighth or ninth time the Free Gaza movement has attempted to break the blockade with humanitarian goods, the Israeli government knows them very well by now, and knows that they are unarmed, they do not bring weapons, and that the ships, the cargo, and the passengers undergo a rigorous government inspection at their port of departure before they are cleared to leave for Gaza. It was obvious from the beginning that they were not concerned about the possibility of weapons on board, but were using that as an excuse to prevent the relief supplies from reaching Gaza, and to punish the activists.

      2. Given past performance, the Israeli government cannot be trusted to deliver humanitarian supplies, or allow them to be delivered in a timely manner, in usable condition, or at all. They have a well-documented history of holding up food shipments until the food is no longer edible, holding up drugs until they are out of date, and storing things like clothing, shoes, blankets, and so on for lengthy periods in conditions that cause them to be covered with mold and mildew when they finally allow them to get to the Palestinians.

      3. The primary purpose of all attempts to break through the blockade are to make a political statement and to bring the attention of the world to what Israel is doing. The goal is to bring enough pressure to bear on Israel that it will stop its illegal action, and end a completely unacceptable situation. Getting relief supplies to the victims is a highly desirable, but secondary goal.

  8. Commentator

    So, just so I understand:

    “The primary purpose of all attempts to break through the blockade are to make a political statement and to bring the attention of the world to what Israel is doing… Getting relief supplies to the victims is a highly desirable, but SECONDARY goal.” (Shirin)

    “..note that Hamas refused to take delivery of the flotilla goods Israel did allow through.” (Mick)

    Got it.

    1. Shirin

      No, “Commentator”, you obviously don’t “got it”. You won’t “got it” until you show interest in and consider Hamas’ reasons for refusing what Israel “allowed through”.


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