A friend of mine -- not as preoccupied with the history of Israel and Palestine as I am -- asked me why the Israelis soldiers opened fire with deadly force, killing nine and wounding at least 30. Why the over-reaction, even if they were being attacked? Why not fire into the air? Surrender might be a logical response to unexpected resistance -- especially given that the whole operation was illegal and they knew it.
The answer is as simple as it is disturbing. Israeli soldiers are so accustomed to killing Palestinians for the slightest provocation that pulling the trigger is not the last resort -- it is often the first resort. A child throwing a stone, a car-driver not slowing quickly enough, a grandmother and her grandchildren because they turned the wrong way coming out of their house during the invasion of Gaza.
It's not even shoot first ask questions later. It's just shoot first. They rarely have to answer any questions and the killings are investigated, if at all, by the army. This is, after all, a colonial occupying army. It is accustomed to killing unarmed civilians because that is the task it has been assigned by the Israeli political elite.
It is worth noting -- though few commentators ever do -- that the occupied territories are not policed -- they are militarized. An occupying power, even when doing so illegally, is required by international law to provide government to those it occupies. Such a government should include police -- who are not just trained to kill but who are also deployed to work with and for the community, to have an understanding of the needs of the people they are policing and to protect people. Police are part of the community.
But Israel decided early on that the Palestinians would not be policed as a normal community -- they would continue to be dealt with by soldiers. Soldiers are not trained in community relations; they are trained to kill and to do so, to dehumanize their enemy. Here are no nuances for a soldier who is facing an enemy: keeping the relationship simple makes it more efficient.
There is a terrible and disturbing logic to this for Zionism because to do otherwise would allow for sympathy on the part of Israeli Jews for the Palestinians in their midst. Police at their best do become part of the community. The army and its soldiers are denied such a perspective. For them Palestinians, civilian and otherwise, are the enemy forever (two generations and counting).
The activists on the ships were proxy Palestinians -- trying to break the blockade, defying the Israeli colonial regime, standing up for the soldiers' enemies. Shooting them was the first response just as it is on occupied Palestinian land. Most of them were Turkish Muslims.
Now what? In all the news coverage there seems to be little mention -- certainly not enough -- about the illegal imprisonment of those taken from the ships. They were seized in international waters in an act of piracy and their incarceration is also illegal. The only legal response of the Israeli government is to allow the people back on their ships -- also illegally in the hands of Israel -- and allow them to sail.
As for Canadian political party leaders -- they are all too cowardly to stand up to the Israeli government for its crimes.