Reports of the recent clash between the Israeli navy and six so-called peace ships en route to the Gaza Strip have, to a large degree, concentrated on the fact that nine "activists" were killed. To the lazy reader who peruses the headlines, it certainly may have looked like the "evil" Israelis were at it again — killing innocent "peacemakers" whose only crime was to want to bring some salvation and much-needed humanitarian aid to the Palestinians suffering under the yoke of Israeli occupation. This imagery is exactly what the activists wanted to evoke. The only problem is that it is far from being the truth.
Fact: There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel regularly allows the free flow of all type of humanitarian aid including food and medicines into the Gaza Strip even though we know that the Hamas terror organization then resells it to its own population, thus financing the purchase of more missiles to be launched against Israel. Over the last 18 months, Israel transferred more than 1 million tons of aid to Gaza. That's about a ton of aid for every man, woman and child in Gaza.
Fact: Israel offered the "peace activists" the possibility of unloading their cargo in an Israeli port. We offered to carry it into Gaza after screening it for weapons. The activists refused. Apparently, the supposed need of the people of Gaza was not as important as grandstanding and clashing with the Israeli army. Breaking a blockade that was legally imposed so as to stop the smuggling of weapons to Gaza was the real motivation behind this flotilla of hatred and violence.
Fact: The Israeli navy soldiers who boarded the ships came armed with paint guns, their side arms safely tucked away for emergency. Their orders were to take control of the ships peacefully and without the use of force and to guide them to an Israeli port. When they boarded the Marmara they encountered a vicious mob that tried to lynch them. Some soldiers were wounded from gunshots. Others were knifed. One was hurled 30 feet from a top deck to a lower one. When the soldiers finally reacted in self-defense it was because their lives were in danger. Up to that point, no activist's life was under any kind of threat.
Fact: The "peaceful" activists were not exactly flower-power, tree-hugging, love-fest hippies engaged in civil disobedience in support of oppressed and harmless victims. They were armed with guns, long knives, metal pipes, wooden bats, night-vision goggles, ceramic bullet-proof vests and 1-year-old babies used as human shields. They wanted a military confrontation with Israel in order to divert the world's attention away from the atrocities committed by Hamas, which regularly tortures and executes Palestinians guilty of supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Fact: The flotilla of hate and violence was led by an organization with ties to al-Qaida as well as to Hamas, whom they wanted to show support for. A group of naive Europeans and citizens of other nations were lured into violent action which in reality only strengthened those who oppose peace, those who are the true obstacle to peace. Hamas is the oppressor of the Palestinians in Gaza. When Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians could have used this territory as a seed for their future state. Sadly, in their first democratic elections, they chose Hamas, a band of terrorists whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and whose theology calls for the imposition of radical sharia law along the lines of Iran. This is the organization supported by the flotilla. Strengthening them would be contrary to supporting peace. But do not confuse them with facts.
Peace will come to the Middle East when terror organizations are no longer allowed to set the agenda and grab the media's attention. They will be weakened and their destructive influence will be diminished when foreign provocateurs stop masquerading as peace activists and when the international community supports the efforts of true peacemakers instead of savage terrorists. The world media and the United Nations would do well to keep in mind the distinction between terrorists (and their supporters) and democracies such as Israel that defend their citizens — Christians, Jews and Muslims — day after day against the forces of radical violence.
Ofer Bavly is consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.