Where is the peace train?
“Cause out on the edge of darkness,
there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
come take me home again”
Cat Stevens/Yossouf Islam
Events surrounding the “Freedom Flotilla” tragedy continue to unfold, but the world is already flooded with demonstrations, denunciations and calls for retaliation. The Israeli attempt to board six civilian ships for security reasons resulted in 9 dead and over 30 injured. It has been dubbed by most news outlets as “deadly,” “inhuman,” or a “disproportionate use of force” at best.
Condemnations have come from virtually all diplomatic circles. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the violence and demanded explanations. Russia’s Foreign Ministry dubbed it a “gross violation of international law.” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decried the use of excessive and unjustified force, and Turkey said its relations with Israel may not recover due to this “inhumane attack.”
A number of questions have only begun to hover in the air. Why, despite adequate planning, time, and advanced capabilities, did the Israeli operation resulted in such a large number of fatalities and injuries? Was the level of force justified? Was the promise of “non-violent action” kept? What was the true nature of this “humanitarian” convoy and what is the logic behind the policy of the Israeli siege? As usual, in the Middle East, simple answers do not suffice. But what is already clear is that this is not a simple story of a humanitarian civilian convoy being attacked by Israeli pirates.
The Humanitarian Relief Fund (IHH), the Turkish Islamic charity behind the relief flotilla, has been both praised for sending aid around the world and accused of supporting radical Islamic groups, including Hamas. Documents from state of Virginia’s court (U.S. vs. Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, 2003) and from the Danish Institute for International Studies reveal the less “humanitarian” nature of this charitable organization. These documents reveal that the IHH appears to have close ties with Hamas, Al Qaida, and other militant Islamic organizations based in Algeria, Libya and Turkey. In 1997, Turkish authorities launched a criminal investigation into the IHH when sources revealed a purchase of semi-automatic weapons from Islamic militant groups. Inside the IHH’s Istanbul bureau, an array of items was found including firearms, explosives, bomb-making instructions and a jihadi flag. After analyzing the seized IHH documents, the Turkish authorities concluded that IHH members were preparing to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya, and subsequently arrested the group’s leaders. A French intelligence report tied IHH leader Bülent Yildirim to the recruiting and sending of IHH members to war zones in Muslim countries for the purpose of gaining combatant experience in jihad. One of the other “humanitarian” activities of the IHH was financing suicide bombers who carried out homicidal bombing attacks in Israeli cities. This information did not go unnoticed in Turkey. In the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake, Turkey banned the IHH from providing relief since the government perceived it to be dangerous.
These same extreme views were carried onto the flotilla headed to Gaza. Prior to boarding, Bulent Yildirim, the ships’ leader, announced “We are going to resist and resistance will win.” The militants greeted the boarding crowds by chanting “Intifada, intifada, intifada!”, and Al-Jazeera documented men calling for the defeat of Jews in the upcoming battle.
This, of course, should not serve as an excuse for a forceful, and perhaps careless, Israeli action or for a disproportionate use of force. However – and while details continue to come in and accusations continue to fly – another, perhaps more important question, should be asked: in the midst of all of this turmoil, where is the voice of peace?
How does it become to be that the “voice of peace” is allegedly hiding only behind a flotilla of radicals whose aim is to provide aid to a government that actively supports terrorism and is known as a blatant violator of human rights? While the call to end the Gaza siege might be justified, why must it be a violent provocation? How did we get to a point in where peace activists are pushed to protect an initiative that seems to have little connection to any peace building efforts? Could it be that we have decided to adopt the analysis of Indian activist Arundhati Roy who claimed that for the oppressed, peace can only mean war? And should we, in the name of peace, justify violence and terror? Perhaps. A Palestinian 11th grade textbook from 2007 already notes that “If you want peace, be ready for war” and many of the peace activists were certainly prepared to battle.
The Flotilla event already appears as a watershed affair that will add to the flame of conflict in the region. Diplomatic ties might be cut. Israel might be condemned in the UN and elsewhere and violence might erupt. The casualties, some would say, might not have died in vain since this might have been the purpose of this exercise: to create an international provocation that will isolate Israel and legitimize Hamas. Violence, they will say, once again prevailed.
The Brazilian educator Paulo Freira warned that the freedom of one nation cannot come to be at the price of oppressing another. “The oppressed must not become an oppressor but rather it must restore the humanity of oppressed and oppressor alike.” Someone will have to guard that call before oppression becomes the only path forward.
The peace camp should remind itself that for the sake of peace we can not endorse those calling for war. Violence is what we should fight against and not encourage. The peace train, unfortunately, just missed another station.
Nir Boms is an Israeli journalist, a peace activist and co-founder of CyberDissidents.org