The Common Good

The "Freedom Flotilla" Tragedy

On May 31, I awoke to news reports that the Israeli Navy had boarded and fired on 10 small ships in international waters approaching the coast of Gaza and bearing humanitarian supplies for Palestinians suffering an Israeli blockade of many (not all) civilian goods.

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The Flotilla refused demands they dock at an Israeli port, because their journey is in part humanitarian in the narrow sense, and in part it represents a demand that the blockade be ended and the Palestinians treated as a People worthy of respect and direct relationship, not mere mendicants hungry for a handout. That respect is what the Israeli government refused -- and has refused for years.

According to reports, as least nine people aboard these ships were killed, and hundreds were wounded. The people aboard included citizens of 50 different nations -- Ireland, the U.S., Britain, Turkey, France, and many others. Some were members of their country's parliament; others were physicians, nurses, political activists, and one Nobel Peace laureate.

The Israeli navy claims that as they boarded the ships to force them to turn toward Ashdod, an Israeli port, some of the civilians aboard grabbed at their weapons, even lifted sticks to stop them -- and they fired in response. Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, the crisis goes far deeper than what happened in those last moments.

There is much that is valuable and decent and sensible in Israeli society. But the actions of its present government are a danger to the peace of the whole world -- including the United States. That government will not change on its own. Although Hamas has in the last year shown some readiness to change, after the events of this weekend it will be much harder for Hamas to change on its own.

Only the United States government has the power and the potential for commitment both to Israel's safety and to Palestine's freedom to bring about the crucial changes.

As Gen. David Petraeus warned even before this horrifying incident, the close alliance between the U.S. and the Israeli government sparks anger throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds not only against Israel but also against the United States. In the wake of the killings of this past weekend, this rage will almost certainly increase -- perhaps explosively.

So the U.S. government's obligation to keep the American people safe from explosive violence throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds should lead it to insist on a regional peace settlement that affirms the legitimacy of Israel and frees the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to create their own state living peacefully alongside Israel; and achieves peace and full recognition for and among Israel, Palestine, and all Arab states.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, co-author of The Tent of Abraham, and author of Godwrestling--Round 2, Down-to-earth Judaism, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on U.S. public policy. The Shalom Center voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. Click here to receive the weekly online Shalom Report.

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