Israel had telegraphed its move for weeks. They had promised to stop the aid ships at all cost, they had promised to use force against the aid workers. Somehow, no amount of official bellicosity could prepare anyone for the carnage that unfolded.
At least 19 aid workers were killed and dozens of others wounded when Israeli commandos, backed up with helicopters, boarded the Mavi Marmara, one of the six aid ships, and opened fire on the passengers.
It was by no means the largest massacre of civilians in Israeli history, or even recent Israeli history, but unlike the others there was no way to couch the deliberate attack on a civilian aid vessel in international waters as Hamas’ fault, or an example of human shields, or even a narrow miss of the real target.
Indeed it has spawned what must be among the lamest attempts at hasbara (public explanation) in Israel’s sordid history, as one of the commandos in the region’s most heavily armed military explained opening fire on civilians by saying “they beat us up with metal sticks.”
Metal sticks notwithstanding, the aid flotilla was violating no international laws in trying to deliver medicine and food to civilian victims of an Israeli blockade. Israel on the other hand was most assuredly violating international law in attacking an unarmed aid ship on the open sea.
There has been talk in the past of Israel running afoul of international piracy laws for capturing previous aid ships. Say what you will of that, but in the previous engagements Israel didn’t massacre the crew, they just took them captive and held them on dubious charges.
Even Israel’s right-far-right coalition seems to have some sense of wrongdoing here, even if they would never admit so publicly. After making a big deal of setting up Ashdod as a “welcoming” facility to process the 700 soon-to-be-captives and loading it up with favorable media, Israel re-routed the ships to Haifa, to escape scrutiny of their handiwork.
The reaction to the massacre has already been enormous. At least five countries have already summoned Israeli ambassadors to demand explanations for the massacre, while thousands of protesters in Istanbul stormed into the Israeli consulate just after the story broke.
A top Fatah official predicted the massacre would enhance the ongoing boycott against Israel and would cause an increasing number of European states, many of whom had MPs on the aid ships, to turn against them. While it is too soon to gauge the level of international outrage it cannot but be noted that people have said the same thing about previous Israeli atrocities, only to find that international support runs far deeper than anyone had imagined.