By Daniella Peled
September 1, 2008
So who won in the "Free Gaza" boat affair?
This band of activists was determined to sail to Gaza to break the siege with balloons and hearing aids – and they did. Israel wanted to avoid a media frenzy featuring scenes of nuns arrested by Israeli sailors and crying Palestinian children seeing their hearing aids consigned to the briny depths. They also succeeded.
But it is interesting to note just how seriously the Israelis, who tend to underplay such supposedly well-meaning, do-gooder efforts, took the whole Free Gaza saga. Hasbara bodies were briefing like crazy. Groups like Bicom were mobilised to inform foreign journalists just why this siege-busting attempt was not only illegal and dangerous but also equivalent to a denial of Israel’s right to exist.
From the Free Gaza point of view, it was an object lesson in non-violent resistance – build a coalition of activists, work up some media attention, find a chink in the Israeli argument. They did this very effectively. After all, if Israel ended the occupation of Gaza three years ago, then why do they still control all access in and out of the Strip by air, land and sea? It would have been a hard question to answer if Israel had muscled in and prevented the boats from landing or arrested the sailors.
Rather pathetically, Israel detained one participant, Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – a nice, cheerful, vociferously anti-Zionist professor - for breaking the ban on Israeli citizens entering Gaza. He accepted this with good grace and little surprise, announcing that their long-term aim was to set up regular voyages to the Strip.
Both sides claimed it as a victory. And it was one of those nice victories where no-one was killed, or even injured. Perhaps we could do with a few more like that in the Middle East.