Gideon Levy Adrift in His Alternate Reality

Ha’aretz‘s Gideon Levy habitually ignores the facts and creates his own fantasy world completely divorced from reality. This time he warns his friends who are planning a new flotilla to Gaza that Israel is “determined to attack” them by “releas[ing] the commandos. . . to go after them.” That actually sounds reasonable if you believe, as Levy does, that the Mavi Marmara’s “first two casualties were killed before IDF soldiers boarded.”

This week Gideon Levy’s column “Israel has no right to stop Gaza aid flotillas” (June 19) covers what he calls “the Swedish steering committee for the next Gaza flotilla . . . meeting late at night to plan the next flotilla adventure.”

Levy describes the “alert, diverse crowd,” painting a romantic picture of aristrocrats attending a late night meeting in a historic Stockholm building:

It’s impossible not to be impressed by this determined group. They will convey 500 tons of cement, a mobile hospital and an ambulance on their boat, one of ten planned for the flotilla. They know there are other ways of bringing these items to Gaza, but they want to remind the world of Gaza’s fate. That is their right, and perhaps even their duty.

He then adds:

Israel well understands that these people are not threats, and that no weapons will be smuggled on the boats. Nonetheless, Israel makes threats, and the IDF naval commandos train for the flotilla’s arrival.

Levy’s lionizing of the peace activists makes a nice story, but his creative narrative ignores the facts concerning the last flotilla.
A year ago, a number of ships attempted to reach the Gaza coast, among them the Mavi Marmara and the Rachel Corrie. Despite claims that these ships were carrying peace activists, there was abundant evidence that the Mavi Marmara was carrying armed mercenary terrorists who attacked the soldiers who boarded their ship and which even attempted to kidnap three naval commandos. The ship even carried activists who filmed themselves declaring that their path is martyrdom.
Is it correct to say, as Levy does, that Israel understand very well that these people are not a threat? Were the violent images and the harm suffered by the commandos really erased from Levy’s consciousness? The undermining of Israel’s legitimacy and the denial of the right to defend itself and its borders is no less dangerous than live ammunition. And this is exactly what the so-called “peace activists” attempted, and are attempting, to do as they send goods via a provocative and illegal route as opposed to the accepted land route.

‘Israel is determined to attack’

In Levy’s reality inversion, the flotilla participants are weak and Israel is belligerent and violent:

They now wonder, in a mood of naive fear, how Israel will relate to them this time. . . I told members of the group that Israel is determined to attack. One of them has already purchased a bulletproof vest. . . . How simple (and just) it would be to allow these well-intentioned people to reach their goal; in contrast, how idiotic, violent and unnecessary it would be to release the commandos once again, to go after them.

Israeli spokesman Gideon Levy informs the group that Israel is “determined to attack.” On what basis does Levy make such an assertion? From where does he glean his information? Can he point to any quote from any Israeli leader declaring that Israel intends to “attack”?

Prior to the previous flotilla, and also in light of the planned upcoming flotilla, the state of Israel officially declared that it would transfer goods to the Gaza Strip via the land route and that the ships are invited to dock in the Ashdod port. Israel never threatened to attack, but has said that it would stop every ship which does not heed the instructions of the navy.

The events of the previous flotilla demonstrate that Israel had no intention to attack any ship. With the exception of the Mavi Marmara, all of the ships were towed to the Ashdod port without any violence on the part of the passengers. The Marmara was the only ship where Israeli forces encountered life-threatening, violent opposition, and they were therefore forced to defend themselves. If Israel had wanted “to attack,” as Levy explains knowingly to his friends, why were the other ships not attacked?

By the same token, Levy claims that Israel “releases” its commandos on the “well-intentioned people.” (In Hebrew, he uses the even more loaded term, “meshaseh,” which most accurately translates to “sick,” as in sicking a dog on someone.) But far from being attack dogs released to chase down  victims, the naval commandos in reality were defending themselves in face of attack. Welcome to Gideon Levy’s world, a precise inversion of reality.

International Law on Israel’s Side

Levy concludes:

Here from Sweden, at a time when the sun does not set at night, comes a final appeal to those who would block the flotilla: Please, just once, act with prudence, and abide by international law and simple justice. These people have the right to reach Gaza; Israel lacks the right to stop them.

Does Israel really lack the right to stop them? As earlier noted, every country has the right to stop a civilian or military vessel which plans to violate a naval blockade that it has decreed. These laws were codified in the  San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, of 12 June 1994. According to clause 98:

Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.

It is important to emphasize that there is no requirement to wait until the blockade has been breached in order to capture the ship. The moment there is the intention to break the blockade, and certainly after  warning, the aforementioned law allows for the capture of the ship so long as the capture does not take place in the territorial waters of a neutral country. The Mavi Marmara did indeed defy the navy’s warnings to stop despite the fact that its passengers were assured that its cargo would be transferred to the Gaza Strip if they were to anchor in the Ashdod port. Moreover, according to international law, the navy was justified in attacking the Turkish ship even with artillery and missiles. Yet, the Israeli forces instead chose a much more restrained action of overcoming the ship — commando troops.

Gideon Levy’s choice of words influences reality. His foreign readers may very well believe that last year Israel illegally attacked peace activists, and intends to do so again. In contrast to the reality in which Israel abides by international law, using minimalist means to defend itself against armed terrorists who attempt to violate its sovereignty. Levy and Ha’aretz irresponsibly create a distorted narrative and disseminate it far and wide. There’s no room for facts in this narrative. They just interfere with a good story.

Click here to see this article in Hebrew, on CAMERA’s Israeli site, Presspectiva.

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