Israel had every right to block the Gaza flotilla. Britain and the U.S. have in the past employed similar measures, argues Andrew Roberts.
In the avalanche of hypocrisy in the British and American media over the Gazarmada, nothing has been more absurd than the spouting we’ve heard over the Israeli use of the naval blockade.
Today’s New York Times leader declares the blockade is “unjust” and calls for the U.S. “to permanently lift the blockade” through United Nations action. The writer, Amos Oz, adds that Israel is trying to use power to defeat an idea, and, “No idea has ever been defeated by force—not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened by tank treads and not by marine commandos.” (Actually, those were exactly the means that defeated the idea of National Socialism, but Oz is only a novelist.)
Blockades have been used by both Britain and America for centuries—on the whole, with extremely good effect.
Meanwhile, the Guardian today calls on Israel to start “dealing with both wings of the Palestinian national movement without preconditions.” The illegality, viciousness and moral horror of the blockade itself is simply taken for granted.
Yet blockades have been used by both Britain and America for centuries—on the whole with extremely good effect. And those blockades were far tougher in every way than Israel’s blockade on Gaza.
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• Stephen Kinzer: Treat Israel Like Iran While no one in Gaza is starving, despite hysterical anti-Israeli propaganda to the contrary, the Royal Navy genuinely did starve tens of thousands of Germans to death with its blockade in the Great War of 1914-18. One of the reasons for the German collapse on the home front was the efficacy of the blockade. From the war against Napoleon onwards, Britain has employed blockades—on the open seas in international waters—to interdict the enemy’s trade, weapons supplies and food. In 1940 Britain even prevented (by diplomacy obviously) America from sending a humanitarian aid flotilla to Holland and Belgium, on the basis that the Nazis would just confiscate anything that was landed.
America, for its part, imposed a blockade on Japan during the Second World War, and the quarantine that JFK threw around Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis was effectively a weapons blockade also. The key difference was that the Russian ships had the sense to turn back, whereas such was their desire for a propaganda coup that the Gazarmada refused to, despite many explicit public warnings from Israel.
A high-placed source at the United Nations told me that several covert compromise deals were offered the leaders of the pro-Palestinian flotilla; deals that would have allowed almost everything on board to reach Gaza without Israeli border checks; deals that could have saved face on both sides, if only the boats did not continue on their course.
All were refused.
Once force was used, as it had to be in the last resort (although possibly not at night and certainly not with paint-guns,) the weasel word ‘proportionality’ started to crop up. It was first used by Nicolas Sarkozy to criticize Israel, as though the whole event would have been fine, if only the Israelis had had the decency to have 10 of their men killed in order to balance the proportionality of the losses. The fact is that to respond ‘proportionally’ in warfare is merely to ensure the continuance of the conflict.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, has also criticized the Israelis for a lack of ‘proportionality,’ yet Britain owes her very survival to the way that she has regularly upped the stakes every time she is threatened. During the Blitz of 1940-41, over 50,000 Britons were killed by the Luftwaffe; the response of the RAF and USAF was to inaugurate a Combined Bomber Offensive that killed 600,000 Germans. Anything else—such as stopping at 50,000 for the sake of ‘proportionality’—would have been wrong, absurd and counterproductive. Furthermore, does anyone suppose Hamas considers anything approaching the principle of ‘proportionality’ in its quest to destroy Israel?
Where we hypocritically fail to employ any genuine sense of proportionality is in our condemnation of Israel for actions that we ourselves would undertake tomorrow, if provoked in the way that Israel has been by Hamas since the start of the Intifada.
Consider that Israel, at a total population of 7.3 million, is under one-fortieth the size of the USA, at over 300 million. Now consider that Hamas and Hizbollah have fired over 6,000 rockets into Israel since 2007. Now multiply 6,000 by 40, and try to consider what any American President—even Barack Obama—would not have done if Canada were to have fired nearly a quarter of a million rickets at America over the past three years, killing tens of thousands of innocent American citizens and ignoring every warning to stop? Blockade? There’d have been a full-scale invasion years ago, and anybody suggesting that under those circumstances America should start dealing “with both wings of the Canadian national movement without preconditions” would be rightly written off as an appeaser or traitor.
So the next time the Western liberal media feels inclined to mount its high horse over Israel’s self-defensive blockade of Gaza—which of course goes right to the heart of Israel’s right to exist, as denied by the Hamas government of Gaza—their leader writers should multiply by 40 (in the US case) and by 8 (in Britain’s case) the number of casualties of the rocket attacks, and consider how we would have responded in those circumstances. That’s the real proportionality that we ought to be considering here.
Back in March, 46 South Korean sailors were killed by a North Korean torpedo, but the UN Security Council has yet to meet to discuss the issue. It’s been equally relaxed about the revolution in Thailand and half a dozen other international hotspots that have claimed the lives of many more than 10 Turkish terrorists or would-be terrorists. Yet yesterday, within 24 hours of the flotilla being boarded by Israel, the Council was in full session hearing 11 hours of proposals that Israel be accorded pariah status.
Let’s have some proportionality, by all means. But not the kind that Messrs Sarkozy and Hague are prescribing.
Historian Andrew Roberts' latest book, Masters and Commanders, was published in the UK in September. His previous books include Napoleon and Wellington, Hitler and Churchill, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts.