We at the Jewish Community Relations Council offer our condolences to the loved ones and families of the innocent people killed and wounded aboard the Mavi Marmara, off the coast of Hamas-occupied Gaza, this past weekend. It is critical, however, to acknowledge that this regrettable violence could have been avoided if the armed militants who attempted to lynch the lightly armed members of the Israeli boarding party were truly interested in pursuing peace and not endless religious conflict, and the precious gifts of life instead of the perceived glories of death.
This unfortunate incident is a painful reminder of the unenviable situation that Israel finds itself in as it protects its people while at the same time allowing food and other nonlethal supplies to flow to Gaza.
As a sovereign nation with the right to defend itself, Israel is understandably concerned about the unfettered flow of weapons into the hands of Hamas, which violently seized control of Gaza after Israel withdrew and handed over control to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization, responsible for the indiscriminate launching of over 10,000 rockets at Israel and the intentional murder through homicide bombings of scores of innocent men, women and children. Moreover, the record is clear that Hamas is deadly serious about fulfilling its own charter, which states that Israel will exist and "will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it" and that "[t]here is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad." The charter regards initiatives, proposals and international conferences as a waste of time.
For Hamas, with its cultlike fascination with martyrdom, death, not life, is an end onto itself. Because of Hamas' implacable hatred, Israel is unfortunately required to maintain an embargo of Gaza to prevent Hamas from using incoming materials to wage war against innocent Israeli civilians.
Though Hamas and its supporters are the ruthless enemies of Israel and the United States, we know that the people of Gaza are not. Accordingly, in 2009 alone, Israel facilitated the movement of more than 738,000 tons of food and supplies into Gaza. In a typical week, the Israeli Defense Forces coordinate the transfer of hundreds of trucks containing about 15,000 tons of supplies -- fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, sugar, dairy products and animal feed. Every day, Israel tries its best to thread the needle of allowing truly humanitarian supplies to reach the people of Gaza without allowing Hamas fighters to gain access to the weapons and supplies they need to rain death and destruction on Israel's own vulnerable civilians.
Consistent with its goal of allowing relief supplies to pass through to the people of Gaza, Israel repeatedly offered safe passage of the "flotilla's" humanitarian cargo after a routine inspection for weapons and other contraband. The organizers refused and forced the Israeli Navy to intercept them en route to Gaza. Notably, despite this refusal by the "flotilla" to unload its cargo for inspection in Ashdod, on five of the six ships that Israel boarded there were no violent clashes. This demonstrates that where the passengers and crew conducted themselves peacefully, Israel responded in kind.
It appears that the Mavi Marmara, however, carried a number of crew and passengers who, far from being "peaceful activists," were actually committed Jihadists intent on violent "martyrdom." For example, based upon reporting from Al-Jazeera, we know that even before the confrontation with Israeli forces, the militants aboard the Marmara were chanting Hamas-inspired slogans such as "[remember] Khaibar, Khaibar [a reference to the slaughter of Jews by Muhammad in the 7th century], oh Jews. The Army of Muhammad will return."
Other leaders on board, like their Hamas allies and enablers, demanded martyrdom or victory. Accordingly, unlike the peaceful outcome on the other five boats, when a handful of Israeli commandos rappelled onto the Marmara, armed with nonlethal paintball guns strapped to their backs, they were met not by nonviolent protesters but by an angry lynch mob intent on killing or wounding as many Israelis as it could. In fact, it was only after the Israelis had been viciously thrown overboard, beaten with metal rods, cut with knives, and shot at with guns, that Israel authorized its soldiers to return fire in self-defense.
While the facts are not all yet known, video footage before and during the incident clearly verifies the violent ideology and actions of many of the Marmara's crew and passengers.
We urge Israel's critics to be fair and allow time to carefully review the evidence and determine why this unfortunate violence occurred, and for whose benefit. In addition, we look forward to the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and the redoubling of efforts to ensure a lasting and durable peace, benefitting all people in the Middle East and throughout the world.
Steve Hunegs is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.