Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Tragedy opens doors to solving Palestinian crisis

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Egypt's collusion in the Israeli blockade of Gaza ended this week.

Israel's policy is morally in tatters and it has now no choice but to follow.

The world was appalled by the armed assault on the Free Gaza flotilla that ended with the killing of at least nine people and the shooting in the legs of many others. Murder isn't too harsh a term for what happened.

The boarding of the flotilla trying to break the siege of Gaza changes the playbook for everyone. It's a tragedy but it's also an opportunity for the sane players on both sides.

The ultra-right-wing Israeli Government is on the back foot and those who want a solution for the Palestinian tragedy have the first real opportunity in a long while.

No amount of propaganda by the Israeli Government's spin machine can cover up that they carried out an act of piracy in international waters and murdered those who resisted.

The Israeli Defence Force's attempts to show themselves as victims with film footage of them being attacked with sticks, marbles and other homemade weaponry is pathetic.

Deleting the parts showing their soldiers shooting people should make even the most hardened cynics cringe. Given the Israelis electronically blocked the transmissions from the passengers' phones and filming equipment and presumably confiscated any evidence from their prisoners, I'm inclined to believe the passengers who claimed the soldiers fired on them before they boarded.

The extent of the atrocity is self-evident.

Imagine, instead of the French saboteurs inadvertently killing Fernando Pereira when they blew up the Rainbow Warrior protest ship in 1985, they had instead boarded our nuclear-free peace flotilla approaching Mururoa and shot the crew for resisting.

The flotilla organisers' intention was to bring to world attention the barbarism of walling up one-and-a-half million Palestinians as a collective punishment for electing a Hamas Government.

Israel's hope that somehow the populace would rise up against Hamas has only entrenched their leadership.

This week's clumsy piracy shows Israel has learned nothing from its botch-ups over its cruel blanket bombing Gaza and the invasion of Lebanon. The effect of the flotilla has exceeded all expectations.

Neither side would have wanted anyone killed but their deaths will turn world opinion against Israel.

Interestingly, European Jews in 1947 tried to break a British blockade of Palestine with a boatload of war refugees. When the ship was boarded by British soldiers, the occupants fought back and three were killed.

The world was outraged and international opinion swung in behind the Jewish cause.

The following year the State of Israel was recognised. The deep irony of this history lesson is obviously lost on those who approved the shootings aboard the flotilla.

The people who run Israel clearly don't get the fact the world has changed.

Their posturing - that they will use more force in future - only resulted in their newly estranged ally Turkey announcing it would provide future flotillas with Navy escorts. Fundraising and volunteers for more Free Gaza ships will skyrocket.

Israel's rulers find comfort in being backed by the world's only superpower, and in being the biggest military power in the region.

But the world has changed. The US is in deep debt and can't ignore the rest of the world. It is trading interests that matter now, not armies.

Hamas was legitimately elected and will have to be part of any solution. But in turn, Hamas leaders must use their influence to tell the extremists that a successful outcome lies not in rocket attacks or suicide bombings.

The strategy, whether to win a separate state or full democratic rights in a single state, must be peaceful moral resistance. As the rulers of apartheid South Africa discovered, military power and state oppression ultimately cannot win over a just cause.

- Herald on Sunday

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