A Tale of Two Voyages- Take 2

The recently released Israeli official report of the Gaza Flotilla

Raid that occurred in May, 2010,  popularly known as the Turkel Commission

Report, once again demonstrates that the intent of the Flotilla participants

was to break through Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip using violence.

This commission, headed by Jacob Turkel, a former Supreme Court

justice, included five other Israeli members and two international observers.

It concluded that Israel’s navy acted within the bounds of international law

by intercepting and seizing the Turkish flotilla. As I had stated in a previous post, it

was well known to everyone that the intent of these demonstrators was to

challenge the Israeli blockade through the use of violence.  Prior to the seizing of

the Mavi Mamara, there were four warnings issued to it not to approach the Gaza

coastline.  Although they did not possess weapons, explosives or have a

suicide bomber onboard,  water hoses, electric saws, blinding lights, and

slingshots were some of the weapons used against the Israeli commandoes.

Israeli commanders at first ordered that paintball guns, bean bags and flash bang

grenades be used, before a decision was made to fire live ammunition. There are

conflicting  reports of how many sailors were overpowered by the activists during

the initial stages of the takeover. The operation required the use of more than

one speedboat, and three helicopters of commandoes. The end result was messy

for all concerned.

The report provided the one area of criticism of the Israeli response that is

credible. It found fault with the planning of the operation. As it stated, “ the

soliders were placed in a situation they were not completely prepared for and had

not anticipated.”  However if groups of people are determined to commit

acts of violence as these demonstrators were, I am not sure if a better planned

operation could have prevented any loss of life from occurring.

 The next step in this saga is to await a United Nations inquiry that is expected to

be released sometime in the near future.




Pacifists in the bin Laden Family

“I am nothing like my father. While he prays for war, I pray for peace. And now we go our separate ways, each believing that we are right. My father has made his choice, and I have made mine. I am, at last, my own man.” Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of Osama bin Laden, had come to this conclusion in a book he co-authored with his mother, Najwa bin Laden entitled, “Growing up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take us Into their Secret World.” Najwa is Osama’s first wife.

The book is arranged chronologically, beginning with Najwa’s early childhood in Syria. She later married Osama, her cousin from Saudi Arabia, at the age of sixteen, in 1974. Osama bin Laden was seventeen. Najwa gave birth to nine other children besides Omar.

After their marriage, the couple moved to Saudi Arabia, and lived there until 1991. A quarrel with the Saudi royal family prompted Osama to move his family to Sudan. After the Sudanese government expelled bin Laden in 1996, he moved his three wives and children to Afghanistan.

Noteworthy tidbits of information include how Osama disapproved of modern conveniences, including electricity and medicine, making everyday life difficult and dangerous. He would take his sons on long hikes in the desert without water, telling them that they must learn to be tough and patient.

Readers will learn why Osama bin Laden commands such fierce loyalty among so many in the Muslim world, particularly in Afghanistan. Yet there was one assassination attempt on his life, which is revealed in the book.

Najwa never directly condemns her husband for leading them from a life of luxury in Saudi Arabia, to a seriously impoverished life in Afghanistan, where she can never find enough food to feed her young children. However it is clear that she was very unhappy about suffering the consequences from Osama’s fanatical beliefs and actions.

Omar, on the other hand, had experienced the biggest challenge of any of Osama’s children. Instructed by this father to live with he and his fighters in Al Quaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan, Omar was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, to take over the leadership of the organization after his father’s death. As someone who felt guilty after once having to kill a poisonous snake, he was never cut out to become a jihadist. Growing up in a culture in which going against the wishes of a father is a sign of disrespect, it took a great deal of courage to stand up to his strong-willed father.

Najwa and Omar were both fortunate enough to leave Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. She moved back to Syria, where her mother’ family still lives. Omar now lives with his wife and son in Saudi Arabia.

The book was published in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.

Will the Sixty-Year Partnership between Turkey and Israel Come to an End?

During the course of more than half a century, Turkey has developed a partnership with the non-Muslim world. In particular, its relationship with Israel, as the first Islamic state to recognize the Jewish state, had begun a long period of close military and economic ties. For example, Israeli tourists have been able to travel to Turkey without visas. The two countries had agreed on a deal to sell Turkey technology from Israel’s nuclear missile defense system, the Arrow. The Israeli navy had permission to settle ships in Turkish ports in the event of a full-scale war. Israel and Turkey signed a free-trade agreement in 2000, making Turkey the first Muslim country to sign one with the Jewish state. Israel has had annual exports to Turkey totalling $1.5 billion, and imports totalling $1 billion. There has been a plan to build a massive pipeline from Turkey to supply water, electricity, gas, and oil to Israel.

Turkey’s political climate began to change in 2002, when an Islamist party won elections. The Justice and Development Party’s agenda advocated bringing back Islam into Turkish society and culture, as well as a foreign policy that broadened relations with Arab and Muslim parties that included Syria, Iran and the Palestinians.

Israel’s invasion of Gaza in December, 2008 marked a turning point for bilateral relations. According to the Turks, who were mediating talks between Israel and Syria, they were on the verge of achieving a peace agreement between the two adversaries when Israel launched their invasion. Turkey’s leaders reacted as if the Israelis had stabbed them in the back by its timing. There was a public display of vitriolic exchanges between Turkish Prime Minister Receep Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Switzerland in January, 2009. Erdogan shouted that the Israelis really know how to kill people.

The most serious issue between Turkey and Israel has become the mission of the Turkish non-profit organization, the IHH. The IHH, whose mission was to illegally break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, attacked Israeli commandos attempting to board their ship in order to enforce the blockade. Although the role of the Turkish government in the planning of the mission is unclear, what  is clear is that Turkey’s leaders did not discourage the IHH from carrying it out. Al-Jazeera TV had broadcasted the vitriolic chants of the protesters before they left Turkey, so the government knew that the motivations of the activists were not peaceful.

These rapidly deteriorating developments over the course of the last two years have alarming implications for the future of the Middle East. Since the violent flotilla incident, Turkey has put on hold many trade agreements with Israel. An Israeli defense contractor recently recalled employees from Turkey who were contracted to build drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, for Turkey’s military. Since successive Israeli governments have not fundamentally changed their views of Turkey since 2002, the blame for the current state of bilateral relations should fall on Turkey.

It should be an immediate, top foreign policy priority of the Obama Administration to reverse this trend. President Obama should personally insist that both parties soften the tone of their rhetoric. He should verify that Israel is conducting a fair and complete investigation into the Turkish flotilla incident. If the findings conclude that the Israeli commandos could have disarmed and arrested any of the militants who were killed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should offer a personal apology to their families, and pay reparations to them.

The U.S. response to Turkey should be comprised of carrots and sticks. The stick should be a personal demand from Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that he monitor the activities  of the IHH, ensuring that they do not engage in any future violence. If they do, then the State Department should place it on its list of terrorist organizations.  Sanctions against the government of Turkey should then follow.

The carrot should be an opportunity for Turkey to act as a mediator to unify Hamas and Fatah, since no real Palestinian-Israeli agreement can be achieved with a divided Palestinian government. The Turks should press Hamas to at least implicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist, by calling for a withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. Given that the current goal of Hamas to make all of Israel an Islamic state, this expectation can be set as a bare minimum standard for a starting point to begin indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

If Turkey were to help achieve this, along with ensuring that Hamas act in deeds as well as words, the U.S. could find ways to elevate Turkey’s role in NATO, as well as nudge the European Union to accept the Turks as a member.

A Tale of Two Voyages, but Only One was Humanitarian

Two of the flotillas that had recently sailed to the Gaza Strip transporting humanitarian supplies were the Marvi Marmara, and the Rachel Corrie. The latter, sailing from Ireland during the same week as the former, was comprised of activists who were protesting the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The ship was named after Rachel Corrie, a young American woman who was killed in 2003. Corrie was staging a non-violent protest, sitting in the path of an oncoming Israeli tractor, when she got caught underneath it. This was a time before Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the tractor driver had been authorized to demolish a Palestinian home.

This Irish-flagged ship, ferrying passengers from Europe, was transporting a large shipment of cement for the population in Gaza. Cement is on the list of Israeli-banned supplies.

Among the activists on the Rachel Corrie were an Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and a former U.N. Deputy Secretary General. As the Israeli Navy approached the ship, these protesters displayed no violent resistance, and even offered a ladder to the boarding soldiers. The passengers were detained by Israeli immigration officials, and later expelled out of Israel without incident. There were no weapons found on the ship.

Contrast these activists with the passengers on the Marvi Marmara. Although this flotilla was comprised of several ships, the Marvi Marmara contained the largest number of passengers, between sixty and one hundred. This ship was owned by a Turkish non-profit organization, the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. The group was formed during the war in the Balkans in the 1990’s as an Islamic charity. Although the IHH is not on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, officials have expressed concern about its contacts with Hamas officials. A world map on one wall of their office in Istanbul depicts Palestine, but not Israel.

Al-Jazeera TV had documented a militant atmosphere among the protesters prior to setting sail to break the Israeli blockade. They were quoted as chanting “Remember Khalibar, Khalibar, oh Jews! The army of Mohammed will Return.” Khalibar is the name of the last Jewish village defeated by Mohammed’s army. These militants carried weapons such as knives, firebombs, slingshots, hooks and saws.

As we now know from a number of videos, the Israeli navy commandos attempting to seize the ship and divert it from the Gaza coastline, encountered fierce resistance. One soldier had been thrown overboard, and at least another was seized and brought down into the galley of the ship. It is believed that weapons were seized from some of the commandos, as a firefight broke out, and the Israelis shot dead nine of the extremists.

There are many people, Jews and Israelis included, who oppose Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. It is an expression of dissent, a right accorded to all who live in democracies. However citizens who express such convictions understand that violence is not the means to change a policy of the ruling government, and they generally do not intend to instill harm to their government.

Even the activists on the Rachel Corrie, despite an illegal act of trying to break through the blockade, transporting supplies that were banned, did so in a non-violent manner, without intending harm to Israel’s national security, or its people. Although I do not agree with their views, I respect and admire how they used nonviolence to express their deeply held convictions. If there were such a thing as a true and lasting peace, either in the Middle East, or throughout the world, it could only be achieved through negotiations with adversaries such as the Rachel Corrie activists.

Saved by his Enemy: An American Soldier

As we pay tribute tomorrow to our men and women who serve in our armed forces, it is fitting to note that there is a book that provides a great example of the character of one of our soldiers, First Sergeant Daniel Hendrex, going beyond the expected call of duty. While serving in Iraq in 2003, Hendrex meets a young Iraqi boy named Jamil at his base near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Jamil, age 10, walked up to the soldiers and asked to be arrested. He had claimed that his father was a leader of a cell of insurgents, and that he could lead the US forces to where they were all hiding.

What follows is an incredible story of how a bond forms between Hendrex and his fellow soldiers and Jamil, despite significant cultural differences. The lives of both Hendrex and Jamil are personally transformed forever.

The book was written in 2006, published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment.

Saved by her Enemy

Saved by her Enemy: An Iraqi Woman’s Journey from the Heart of War to the Heartland of America,  is a remarkable story about a young woman, growing up under Sadaam Hussein’s reign. She experiences a rude awakening from what she was brought up to believe about her own people and the outside world.

Rafraf Barak had grown up since childhood being told that a bogeyman named Mr. John lurked in the darkened shadows of buildings, in empty streets at night, hiding under the bed, or stalking them from behind the backyard shed. Friends and family members all claimed to have had run-ins with him.  Mr. John, she later learned, was an American, or all Americans. This kind of tale was pervasive in Iraqi culture ever since the first Gulf War, which occurred at the beginning of Rafraf’s formative years.

After the fall of Sadaam in 2003, Rafraf, having learned to speak fluent English, got a job as a translator for NBC News. It was there that she met her co-author, Don Teague,  a war correspondent from Atlanta. Rafraf’s work with Don and NBC resulted in trouble for she and her family, as insurgents retaliated against Iraqi citizens who cooperated or worked for any westerner or western organization.

As time went on, Don became convinced that Rafraf was different from other Iraqis who worked for NBC, as he  took on the role of a big brother.

The book was written in 2010, published by Simon and Schuster.

Nuclear Security Summit

The Nuclear Security Summit scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday, April 12 and 13 in Washington, DC, raises a question that is frequently brought up by Arab countries. It is their contention that efforts to reduce the spread and threat of nuclear weapons should also apply to Israel. The Israeli government is not a signator to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an internationally recognized agreement that requires all signers to renounce the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and permit international inspectors to go through its facilities. However the Israelis are widely believed to possess a sizeable number of nuclear warheads, and have adopted a policy of “nuclear ambiguity”, in which the option of first use is rejected. Given the record of past hostility in the international community toward Israeli actions in general, and Israel’s need for self-defense against Iran’s intention of first use of their nuclear arsenal against Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu should not be pressured to sign such a treaty. What the Israelis should do instead is to widely promote their recent decision to develop civilian nuclear energy. They can allocate some amount from the stockpile used for military purposes and blend it down for civilian use. That would not only reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, but also send a signal that making peaceful use of a potential weapon of mass destruction, rather than threatening to wipe out another nation, is the way to promote peace in the Middle East. Instead of an international body of inspectors, other signators to that treaty enjoying diplomatic relations with Israel can send inspectors to these sites. Lastly, the Israeli government should widely publicize their cooperative agreement with the United States to detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials (www.iaec.gov.il/pages_e/dover_05-12-08.asp) into Israeli ports. This agreement is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Megaports Initiative to equip partners such as Israel with radiation detection equipment for border crossings, airports, and seaports.
Published April 10, 2010 Uncategorized Leave a Comment Edit