An Irish-owned ship called the Rachel Corrie -- named after an American peace activist killed in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer -- is expected to arrive late Friday or early Saturday off the Gaza coast. It will pose a new problem for the Israeli military, the Israel Defense Forces, just a few days after Monday's bloody raid on a Turkish-owned aid ship.
"We have not stopped and have no intention of stopping," Denis Halliday, a former assistant UN secretary-general, said from the Rachel Corrie on Friday, according to CNN. "We will only stop when Israelis force us to do so."
On Monday, the IDF boarded a flotilla of ships organized by the Free Gaza movement in an operation that killed nine people. Israel argues it was a legal raid to defend its blockade of Gaza, which it justifies because the territory's Hamas rulers haven't ended their armed threat to Israel. The government also says activists aboard the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, ignored a number of peaceful efforts to stop the vessel.
"The flotilla marketed itself publicly as motivated by humanitarian concerns, but the reality points to a different aim," reads a court statement filed this week by the Israeli government to defend the action. "A not insignificant number of hostile elements took part in the flotilla who were armed with clubs, knives, iron rods, glass, etc., and they did not hesitate to use them against IDF soldiers who tried to prevent the boat from reaching Gaza."
Both NATO and the UN have called for independent investigations. The Israeli government, so far, has rejected those calls, and Israel's defenders say the activists set out to provoke the IDF. Some critics -- including SPIEGEL's Jerusalem correspondent Christoph Schult -- argue that Israel fell into a trap.
What either side may have learned from the bloodshed remains to be seen this weekend. Passengers on board the Rachel Corrie, at least, say they won't swing iron rods at the IDF. "We will stand back and show we are harmless and unarmed -- we will put up no resistance," said Denis Halliday, the former UN official. "We're not going to make any silly mistakes."
German papers on Friday argue that Israel has isolated itself with the raid, and that the current government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has steered Israel decisively away from its role as a pillar of Western values in the Middle East.
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Israel feels more and more isolated and misunderstood in the world, not without good reason. The international community understands Israel's arguments less and less, whenever Israel tries to explain why it had to do this and not that. The fiasco of boarding the Free Gaza flotilla -- killing nine people in international waters -- is only the dramatic high-water mark. It has long been clear that few policies have been quite so counterproductive as Israel's Gaza blockade."
"Policies toward Gaza need to be redefined. The problem with the Palestinian poorhouse (the Gaza Strip), which has been described as the world's largest open-air prison, can no longer be disguised. Even the recent proximity talks mediated by Washington between Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership (in the West Bank) will have to confront the Gaza question. Quite a lot depends on whether the Obama administration considers Israel's Gaza policy to date not just 'questionable' but in dire need of overhaul."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The UN Security Council has made an unambiguous call for an independent investigation, but Israel has baldly rejected the idea of working with an international commission. Israel has gone through this before -- after the brief Gaza war a year and a half ago, when the IDF was accused of war crimes. This time the situation looks different: The opponent was not Hamas, a terrorist group, but a flotilla of political activists from various countries, even if they included some hooligans. The raid took place in international waters, and nine Turkish citizens were probably killed."
"It would therefore be absurd to leave an investigation into this incident to the very actor accused of causing the deaths and injuries. If Israel has nothing to conceal, as the government and the military have asserted for days, then it should have nothing against an international commission. If IDF soldiers were at mortal risk because they faced a lynch mob on the ship, as Israeli officials have claimed, the government can also present the evidence to this commission. A government that rejects such solutions, and calls the whole world biased, can only bring itself under suspicion."
The Financial Times Deutschland argues:
"Who else in the world would get away with it? Seizing a flotilla with humanitarian goods in international waters; killing people onboard, who were possibly defending themselves against the attackers; abducting the rest of the passengers. It's not a story about a pirate gang but about an old ally of the West. Who, though, can seriously describe the current Israel as a democracy that respects the rule of law?"
"Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has enjoyed support from the US and many European governments -- justifiably, since the young nation needed help in a dangerous neighborhood. Israel was an oasis of Western values in the Middle East. But under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, it no longer is. As observers anticipated, they have simply ignored international protests against the bloodshed in the Mediterranean. Now new negotiations will have to start. And as long as this government consistently ignores human rights, the West will have to put its preferential treatment of Israel on ice."
"Israel's right wing justifies human rights violations with the constant state of war in which the nation finds itself. If Netanyahu and Lieberman are allowed (by the international community) to proceed as before, the entire Middle East will remain in this state."