This is a guest post by Denis MacEoin.
Denis MacEoin is the editor of the Middle East Quarterly. This article was originally submitted to Brian Whitaker for publication in the Guardian and was rejected by him on the basis of there being too many articles on the subject. Given the 37 articles, editorials and cartoons published over the course of the flotilla incident, I leave it to CiF Watch readers to speculate as to the real reason behind the rejection of this piece from such an esteemed commentator in the field.
Those of you who take an interest – and, in most cases, that’s going to be a malign interest – in matters relating to Israel, Palestine, and the strangely lovable terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah – will have been greatly stirred by the troubling episode of the boat that tried to break a blockade imposed by a state acting within its legal rights, but which ended up with nine of its activists dead. What a rush to judgement this has been. Within hours of the event, half the world had decided it knew all the facts and wasn’t going to back down, regardless of any new facts that may come to light. I have some of those for you, but wait a little. What you need first is context, something in short supply in discussions of these matters.
If, like myself, you have a serious interest in Middle East affairs, you can’t be unaware of an accusation that has infected the Arab world and beyond. It’s very simple: take a war (any war will do), a revolution (ditto), a tragedy, and, lo and behold, the Jews are behind it. Here’s a string of such claims from a bog-standard white supremacist website [Warning hate site]. And here’s a representative (and much shortened) statement from Egyptian general Hasan Sweilem:
‘The Jews stood behind wars and internal strife, and that caused European rulers to expel them and kill them. For example, the Crusader armies, passing through the Rhine basin on their way east, massacred them and burned their houses as an act of repentance to their God. When the Crusaders entered Jerusalem, they collected the Jews in a synagogue and burned them live. Their kin in Russia suffered a similar fate….They were expelled from France, England, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Slovakia, Austria, Holland, and finally from Spain, after they underwent the Inquisition trials for their conspiracy to penetrate Christian society like a Trojan horse….The Jewish conspiracy to take over Europe generated civil revolutions, wars, and internal strife….The Cromwell Revolution failed in 1649 in England, following the Jewish conspiracy to drag England into several wars in Europe….Then the French Revolution broke out, which the Jews had planned, based on the first conference of their rabbis and interest-loaners that had been convened by the first Rothschild in 1773 in order to take over all the world resources….That conference adopted twenty-four protocols, including the uprooting of the belief in God from the hearts of the Gentiles, distracting people by distributing among them literature of heresy and impurity, destruction of the family and eradication of all morality….’
The Jews went on, he says, to start the First and Second world wars and to lay the foundations of both communism and Nazism.
The thing about these claims is that everything bad that has ever happened to Jews has been legitimate defence by those whom the Jews have harmed. The Holocaust, for example, was the deserved punishment for a people mired in every sort of treachery and hatred for mankind.
A lot of this is rooted in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a plagiarized fake that is still a bestseller in the Muslim world. And just as European anti-Semitism joined forces with existing Islamic tropes of evil Jews, taken from the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad, it has mutated and found expression in anti-Israel speech. Why otherwise did protesters on the streets of European cities following the 2008-09 war on Gaza chant ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’? And why did activists on board the Mavi Marmara sing ‘Khaybar, Khaybar, Ya Yahud, Jaysh Muhammad Sa-ya‘ud’? ‘Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews: the army of Muhammad will return.’ Khaybar was the last of several Jewish settlements attacked by Muhammad and his forces, after which the Jewish inhabitants were either massacred or sold into slavery or deported. Just what sort of ‘humanitarian activists’ issued this threat on board a ship carrying ‘aid’?
The Mavi Marmara is just the latest in a string of allegations that take for granted Jewish or Israeli malignity. The fabled ‘massacre’ of Deir Yassin in 1948 has remained in anti-Israeli propaganda, despite the fact that a host of Arabs, many eye-witnesses, have admitted that a wartime battle was exaggerated out of all proportion both to embolden and to frighten the native population. The other famous ‘massacre’ was at Jenin refugee camp in 2002 still lives in memory as a butchery of hundreds or even thousands of innocent Palestinian. According to one Palestinian source, it was the ‘massacre of the 21st century’. In fact, a UN enquiry established that 52 Palestinian fighters died, along with Israeli soldiers. According to the Weekly Standard, ‘That same day, you could hear breathless reports of the supposed Israeli atrocities in Jenin being spread by Palestinian sources on NPR, CNN, and elsewhere.’ The old adage holds true: ‘A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’
That’s exactly what happened last Monday. There was a rush to judgement that took the world by storm. The UN Security Council was in session almost before the boats reached Ashdod. There had been no time to hold an enquiry, to question the commandos, or to question the activists. The Jews, as usual, were responsible for everything, even the vicious attacks on their own troops. But now that a few days have gone by, the picture is changing. On Tuesday, the IDF found a cache of ceramic bulletproof vests, night-vision goggles and gas masks on board the Mavi Marmara. As well as these, the ship contained large quantities of metal and wooden batons, powerful catapults (with marbles to use as stones), many of which were used to attack Israeli soldiers. A group of fifty passengers have actually or possible terror connections, others are linked to extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly al-Qaeda. Many were carrying very large (and identical) sums of money on their persons. And some have admitted that they had been organized into cells throughout the ship and had gone in, prepared to fight and die as martyrs.
These were not humanitarian do-gooders. They used genuine (if misguided) humanitarians to launch what they knew would be an assault on the Israeli navy, and their aim was to break the blockade. The ships were generously offered the chance to berth at Ashdod and transfer their aid to lorries, which would take it to Gaza, yet they refused and set their faces hard for conflict. It was, in truth, little more than a stunt that fell under the control of extremists and ended tragically for that reason. Instead of the tens of thousands of tons of aid the activists are now boasting, they carried less than one thousand, all of it items already easily available in Gaza, some of utterly useless, like medicines that are out of date. Anyway, that’s all moot now, considering that Hamas have refused to let in any of the aid. A dangerous game is played, yet large numbers, including Guardian readers, don’t even begin to get it. Decades have passed, yet the anti-Israel crowd still doesn’t see what’s in front of their eyes. The Mavi Marmara incident should have woken them up; instead it has reinforced them in their hardline beliefs.
The Mavi Marmara lie has been running round the world and is impressing itself on people’s consciousness. It is another false stain on Israel. It is a falsehood printed on another falsehood, that the people of Gaza are in extremis, starving and dying because of the Israeli blockade. All film and photographs of contemporary Gaza show markets exactly like the ones I used to shop in when I lived in Morocco and Iran, but rather better stocked. There are expensive restaurants and clubs and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Traffic is heavy on the roads: there is no shortage of fuel. Every day, long lines of lorries bring supplies into Gaza. And every day Hamas tries to bring in rockets and explosives and other weapons. That’s why the controls are there, to stop the weapons and not the food, which is there in such abundance you can have a five-star gourmet meal in more than one place.
The organizers of the flotilla have no excuse. They know that Gaza is well supplied and that no-one is suffering unduly. They know that there are countries in Africa where people really do starve and have few resources. Why didn’t they send their supplies there, why don’t some of them stay to build some schools, some hospitals, some homes, dig some wells? But that wouldn’t be a stunt, and nobody gets to be a martyr and real welfare work is for soft-hearted do-gooders, whereas real activists get to support Hamas and make life for ordinary Palestinians unendurable.