A diplomatic storm has erupted in the Middle East overnight, after the Israeli navy boarded a Turkish ship trying to break the Gaza blockade. At least 10 people have died in the clashes – Israel government claims 10, Israeli television claims 19 – with Israel commandos claiming they were defending themselves after they were attacked by the ship’s passengers.
In a statement released overnight, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu (flying home from the US, skipping his scheduled meeting with Obama tonight) defended the Israeli operation, saying troops were attacked when they landed on the largest of the six ships in the flotilla. “They were mobbed. They were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed,” he said.
The organisers of the flotilla have denied any threatening behaviour, claiming that the convoy was a peaceful operation aimed at providing aid to the ravaged region. “I don’t know anything about the knives and axes or anything,” said Audrey Bomse, Free Gaza Movement’s legal coordinator. “There is absolutely no evidence of live fire. You see this live streaming on the Turkish ship, you see the Israeli helicopters shooting. There’s no evidence of fire passing them.”
The big Australian angle – which of course all Australian media jumped on board – is that Fairfax journo Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty were on board one of the flotilla boats. After setting the Aussie journo twittersphere abuzz yesterday afternoon with worry, it’s understood they have both been taken into an Israeli detention centre.
Twitter was quick to react, although there was concern that the #flotilla hashtag was being censored, since it started to trend then disappeared due to a glitch. The Guardian explains the Twitter hashtag freakout: “Many users began the morning by tagging their comments about it with “#flotilla” — a ‘hashtag’ which gives a structure to a discussion or emerging event, as you can filter searches in applications such as Tweetdeck so that you only see those with that tag. But at around 11am, as #flotilla began ‘trending’ — rising to the topmost-used hashtags on the service — it seemed to vanish. Was this censorship by Twitter?”
Not so much… “Sean Garrett, who handles communications for Twitter, tweeted this morning to say that ‘We are investigating a technical issue that caused search errors for a short period of time this morning. Twitter facilitates the open exchange of info & opinions — when that is hampered by a bug, we take it very seriously’. The bug has now been fixed, Twitter says.”
And The Guardian points out “it doesn’t, of course, help anyone on the convoy that was attacked. But getting information into public hands is a public good. Twitter is coming closer and closer to being viewed as a utility…”
The issue of censorship and getting information into public hands is also interesting in the context of the footage of the attack on the flotilla doing the rounds on YouTube (and appearing on the networks last night). It’s an interesting exercise in compare and contrast. Here’s some of the raw footage on YouTube (with the title taking a certain slant):
And here’s a video from the Israel Defence Force:
The international media is providing extensive of coverage of the incident. Turkey is infuriated:
And so the next chapter in this saga is how the clash will impact on Israel’s diplomatic ties and how it handles it from here.
Cynthia Johnston: Israel flotilla action criticized by friends and foes
“Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla set off a diplomatic furor, drawing criticism from friends and foes alike and straining ties with regional ally Turkey, which called off planned joint military exercises.”
Edith M. Lederer: Arabs demand independent probe of Israeli raid
“The Palestinians and Arabs, backed by a number of council members, also called for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, immediately release the ships and humanitarian activists, and allow them to deliver their goods.”
Karin Laub and Matthew Lee: Analysis: High-seas raid deepens Israeli isolation
“And while Israel had hoped to defend its tight blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza with Monday’s high-seas raid, it instead appeared to be hastening the embargo’s demise, judging by initial international condemnation.”
Shlomo Shamir: UN Security Council members urge Israel to lift Gaza siege
“Members of the United Nations Security Council on Monday urged Israel to lift its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, in an emergency session to discuss the deadly Israel Navy raid on a convoy of international activists sailing to the coastal territory.”
New York Times:
Sabrina Tavernise: Raid Jeopardizes Turkey Relations
“The situation is difficult for the United States, which has close relations with both countries [Israel and Turkey] and is now in the awkward position of crafting a reaction that avoids alienating either side.”
The Times (UK):
“The shockwaves from the Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara passenger ferry were still reverberating around the world last night, as Israel scrambled to defend its battered reputation.”
“The worldwide condemnation of the deadly Israeli assault on the Gaza aid flotilla will complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to improve its tense relations with Jerusalem and likely will distract from the push to sanction Iran over its nuclear program.”
Joe Klein: The Israeli Attack
“First reaction: This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government… And it will further isolate Israel from the rest of the world.”