In the end, the Israeli government acted in a very responsible fashion. It avoided a confrontation with the two small boats of the Free Gaza Movement, carrying 44 human rights advocates to Gaza. In a strategically timed message, it announced that it was not going to interfere with the passage of the boats.
One may argue that, given popular pressure and the harmless nature of the passengers and cargo, Israel had no other reasonable choice. However, this belittles the fact that Israel always has a choice, and that in this case it pursued the constructive option.
Furthermore, Israel has announced that it is likely to pursue a similar option when one or both boats leave Gaza shortly, carrying some of the same passengers and a few Palestinians who already possess European nationality. It has even affirmed that it will consider the same policy with respect to future voyages, albeit on a case-by-case basis.
This remarkable development brings hope to more than 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and potentially to millions more Israelis and Palestinians in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well. Hope is in short supply here.
During the preparation and voyages of the Free Gaza and Liberty, the project went to great lengths to protect the boats from sabotage and diplomatic obstacles. This level of security and popular pressure is probably not sustainable in the long term. If Israel chooses to use its considerable resources to undermine the project with subterfuge and other actions when the public spotlight dims, it will have the means to do so.
However, if Israel, the Palestinian authorities in Gaza, and the supporters of the Free Gaza Movement choose to act responsibly in order to make it possible for ordinary harmless Palestinians, visitors and cargo to freely come and go to Gaza by sea, it will mark an auspicious beginning to an era of cautious trust upon which the entire region can build.
Israel itself has in fact offered the means. By recognizing inspection by a neutral third party – in this case the Cypriot authorities – it has raised the possibility of an international commission to serve this function. (Perhaps UNIFIL, also based in Cyprus, could perform this service, which is similar to its mandate in Lebanon.)
Can the Israeli and Palestinian societies find common ground for a relationship that provides opportunities for a better life for all? The zero sum rule that has prevailed in the past, where the delivery of misery and death to one side is perceived as an advantage for the other, need not prevail. Let us try instead to offer prosperity and life to all who consider the geographic region known as Palestine, including Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, to be their home.
The Free Gaza Movement Steering Committee:
Dr. Evangelos Pissias
Dr. Huwaida Arraf
Dr. Paul Larudee
Tom Nelson, Esq.
Contact info (Gaza): +972 598 765370
Contact info (USA): +1 510 232 2500
405 Vista Heights Rd.
El Cerrito, CA