Israeli banditry on the high seas: Options for the OIC*

By Abdullah al- Ahsan** | 09 June 2010

More than a week has passed since Israeli armed forces butchered a number of peace activists in the Mediterranean who were carrying emergency supplies for victims in the Gaza concentration camp.

Israel’s actions have outraged the world community. About 700 peace activists from 32 countries were heading toward Gaza out of concern for their fellow human beings in Gaza who have been subjected to collective punishment. What is their crime? Their only crime is that they have chosen Hamas to represent them. Israel’s actions have been strongly condemned not only by Turkey, whose citizens have become the first victims of this humanitarian gesture, but by many other concerned nations. Nicaragua has severed diplomatic ties with Israel, Venezuela has called it an act of war, South Africa has condemned it as “military aggression against innocent civilians,” China has urged the UN Security Council for a quick response, Ireland has called Israel to “let a new aid ship break the Gaza blockade,” the US has expressed “deep regret at loss of life” and has called for a “credible and transparent probe,” and the EU has condemned the act and called for “immediate, full and impartial inquiry.”




A number of Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) governments also have condemned Israel for its violent act. Egypt, Israel’s partner in blockading Gaza, has called for “lifting the blockade” and has partially opened the Rafah border crossing since the incident. But significant public support has been expressed in the form of street demonstrations in favor of Turkey in many OIC countries. In fact there seems to be a discrepancy between public support and government actions in most OIC countries. Officially the OIC has described “yet another addition to the list of Israel’s violations of international law” and also said, “Israel must face the political and legal consequences of its crimes.” The OIC secretary-general has said, “Israel’s attack represented piracy, crime and state terrorism” and added that “Israel has now crossed the line because of it.” In our opinion the OIC must do more than issue statements.

Since then, the MV Rachel Corrie, an Irish-owned ship named after the American peace activist who was bulldozed while trying to stop Israeli troops demolishing Palestinian homes in 2003, which is carrying wheelchairs and other essential aid items along with Noble laureate Mairead Maguire, has been forcibly detained by Israeli forces. The Irish government’s special request for the Israeli government to allow aid to reach the victims in Gaza has been rejected. In our opinion, the OIC should and can contribute to alleviating this crisis. We shall now elaborate why and how.

The OIC owes its simple existence to Palestine: It was established with a commitment to restore Palestinian rights and to locate its head office in Jerusalem. Instead the OIC might have done more harm to the Palestinian cause. In the early 1970s the OIC adopted numerous resolutions declaring “jihad” with the aim of restoring Palestinian rights, but within a decade Palestinians were left alone to fight Israeli occupation. OIC resolutions had no impact on the actions of its member countries. The Palestinian leadership became frustrated with the treatment they received from Arab and Muslim countries. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 in a bitter statement the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, said: “It [Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)] was besieged for 88 days in Beirut while no one extended any help or support. It was then besieged in Tripoli -– a joint Arab-Israeli blockade while neither Arab nor Muslim moved a finger.” However, since then the Palestinian leader began to compromise. He agreed to accept only 22 percent of historical Palestine for Palestinians. But the Palestinian leader refused to give up when Palestinians were asked to relinquish their claim to Jerusalem and the right of refugees to return. Ultimately the Palestinian leader paid the price with his life: He became a victim of slow poisoning. During the years of Yasser Arafat’s retreat from original Palestinian demands, Hamas slowly emerged as champions of the Palestinian cause. And now the people of Gaza are paying the price for supporting Hamas. Why did the people of Gaza support Hamas? Well, a counter question may be raised: What has the PLO and the Palestinian Authority really gained by forfeiting their legitimate rights? Even in 2010 the Israelis are still building new settlements in the 22 percent of the land of original Palestine that the Palestinians are seeking. Is there an end to Israeli expansion? Don’t the Palestinians have the right to exist? Israeli behavior does not provide any reason to be optimistic. That is why the role of the world community has become so important in this issue. If the world community gets involved in securing the dignity of the Palestinian people, the situation will definitely improve. Israel must be persuaded to civility. And the OIC may be able play a role in it.

Only small segment of world community involved

So far only a small segment of the world community has been involved. The initiative for sending aid to Gaza originated with a few NGOs. A couple of Turkish and Malaysian NGOs and some international peace activists have played a prominent role in organizing the effort. However the Israeli action has forced the Turkish government to get involved. No other OIC country has been reported to have been actively involved in supporting Turkey on this issue. Why? Is this a Turkish issue? In fact, because of the non-involvement of other OIC countries some Western journalists are suggesting that Turkey is pursuing a policy of neo-Ottomanism and is aspiring to gain a leadership role in the region and in world affairs. Is this a sound thesis? Does this make sense? Will a 21st century worldview allow for an attempt at empire-building by any single entity? In fact, in our opinion, more OIC countries should get involved in the issue in order to refute this thesis. It is not an issue of Turkey versus Israel, it is not an issue of regional rivalry either, nor is it an issue of Muslim-Jewish rivalry. It is an issue of human dignity and of universal human rights; this is an issue of humanity in the 21st century.

The UN Security Council has already demanded a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” of the event. This is very important for gaining confidence in Israel’s civility. This is important because while on National Public Radio in a comment on the raid the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, admitted that “the ship that did encounter the violent incident was simply too large to stop by nonviolent means, the other ships were not, and that is one of the reasons they were towed safely to port.” Does this justify the shooting and murdering of so many unarmed peace activists at close range? An impartial investigation into the incident, therefore, is a must.

The UNSC resolution

Here one should note the language of the UNSC resolution: Why have traditional friends of Israel in the UNSC added so many qualifications such as prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent to their demands for an investigation?

This is because of the lack of trust that Israel has created. In 1949 when Israel was granted UN membership after being rejected once earlier, it was asked to assure the world body of the right of return to their homeland for Palestinian refugees. Israel accepted this condition but never fulfilled the UN demand. It has also failed to produce credible results in earlier investigations involving Palestinians and other neighboring countries. Israel’s actions have established that it not only distrusts neighboring countries, it also does not believe in stationing international troops in conflict zones. Israel has a long history of distrusting international mediators. In 1948 some of its prominent leaders were involved in the assassination of the first UNSC mediator, the Swedish Red Cross chief Count Folke Bernadotte, who saved many Jewish people from Hitler’s concentration camps. The count was assassinated only because Israel did not approve of his proposal to divide Palestine between Palestinians and Israelis. Israel has also rejected two recent reports on Gaza, one by the reputable Judge Richard Goldstone of South Africa, and the other by eminent professor of international law Richard Falk of the United States, both from a Jewish background. How can the world community trust an Israeli inquiry into the matter? Here one must also clarify a point: The issue is not related to the Jewish community, it is related to the state of Israel, and Turkish Prime Minister has rightly pointed out that the Israeli action constitutes state terrorism. An international investigation into the matter is essential for world peace. And as the second largest international organization, the OIC should take the lead in following up on the UN resolution and persuading the rest of the world to follow suit.

Why should the OIC take the initiative in achieving this goal? Because the OIC has a responsibility toward the people of Gaza which it has thus far failed to fulfill. The OIC must go beyond issuing statements of condemnation. Although it has managed to send several truck loads of humanitarian aid to Gaza in past years, they were just drops in the ocean. The OIC has so far failed to persuade its member state Egypt to stop participating in the Gaza blockade. It must not leave Turkey alone in handling this issue. It must persuade other OIC countries to come forward and shoulder this noble and compassionate cause. Leading OIC countries, such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, must take more responsibility at this critical juncture in human history. And they should do this not just for the sake of the people of Gaza, but they should do this for their own sake, and for the sake of humanity. If necessary the OIC should organize thousands and hundreds and thousands of shiploads of aid for Gaza in a single convoy. Let the whole of humanity join in this noble effort. Let this be a joint effort of governmental and nongovernmental international organizations. Let NGOs from all over the world get involved; let more Nobel peace laureates get involved in the world peace convoy. Let the whole world express solidarity with the people of Gaza.


*Published at Today’s Zaman.


**Professor Abdullah al-Ahsan is an instructor of history at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) at the International Islamic University Malaysia.


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