03 Juni 2010

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Flotilla attack: Sovereignty vs int’l solidarity

The raid of Israeli commandos against the Gaza bound aid flotilla Monday again created diplomatic repercussions that are hurting Israel’s international credibility, reputation and support.
The number of condemnations by statesmen, recalling of ambassadors, canceling of joint military practice, statements by UN officials, as well as protests staged in many countries, indicated a level of criticism that had never been seen before against Israel’s use of force.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry emphasized Israel’s right to enforce its blockade of Gaza to ensure the further protection of its own people. The San Remo Memorandum (1994) indicates that the action of the “freedom flotillas” had made it a legitimate military objective, mostly because it was charging toward a blockaded area despite warnings, and that its humanitarian operations was not based on “agreements between the belligerent parties”.

Furthermore, Israel acts upon its right to intercept vessels suspected of being used for smuggling arms, ammunitions, drugs and other illegal material in support of Hamas. Israel needed the assurance that the 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid were not 10,000 tons of arms, ammunitions, or rockets that Hamas can later lob into Israel’s territory.
Regardless of its true intention, simple materials delivered along with humanitarian aid, such as cement or fertilizer, can and had been used as instruments in carrying out terrorist attacks in the past. The sophistication of terrorist weapons will continue to be in their simplicity, implying that Israel’s paranoia is not without grounds (Hoffman: 1999, Claridge: 1999).
As a country surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israel relies heavily on the use of its military power to bid for its existence. Measures taken by Israel usually stems from its three main considerations, which are national sovereignty, interest and security.
In contrast, activists on board the vessel had prepared a non-violent measure and were ready to physically block the entrance to the steering room using their bodies, although in the end, the tide of events seemed to have restrained such plans from transforming into action.
International solidarity for Palestine always attracts much international sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Despite the casualties, the event showcased how international solidarity can muster much better support than terrorism and that it can be employed in the future as a strategic option.
In the case of Palestine, international solidarity continuously shifted in terms of its quantity as well as form. In the mid 20th century, on the birth of Israel, international solidarity for Palestine came in the form of state sponsored military support where Palestine’s immediate neighbors combined their military might and waged war against Israel. This form of state-driven international solidarity proved itself to be counterproductive, installing further enmity and hostility in the region for decades to come.
In the 1980s, the oil boom resulted in the economic surge of Palestine’s oil producing neighbors. The benefit, however, was little enjoyed by ordinary Palestinians. The decade had seen the rise of international “solidarity” utilizing terrorist attacks to attract attention toward Palestine’s plight as well as to delegitimize Israel’s actions. This support, however, in the end proved to backfire yet again.
The use of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence had provided grounds for Israel’s legitimacy in excessive military retaliation and had in fact forced several parties to reconsider their support for Palestine. Recent developments had indicated that solidarity toward Palestine is shifting away from violent instruments toward more civilized and widespread grassroots support from civil society organizations as well as communities.
International solidarity had altered Hamas’ sovereignty. Through international solidarity, schools, hospitals, markets, and housing areas will continue to be built, but Hamas will have a limited say in determining where, when and what is to be built. Being dependent on foreign humanitarian aid, Hamas exercises less authority than what the conventional sovereignty would like to suggest, especially regarding its development options.
The constant military presence and pressure from Israel also restricts Hamas’ choice of actions in enforcing its sovereignty in order to provide security for the people of Gaza. On the other side, Israel’s military might does not justify its actions; “might” does not necessarily translate into “right”. Israel’s intentions, as well as actions, to practice absolute sovereignty in ensuring its security are fiercely contested, not only by Hamas, but also by the international community as well as civil societies throughout the world.
Israel stated that the freedom fleet humanitarian campaign was a “provocation intended to delegitimize Israel” (BBC News, May 31). Why should a country, with a military might surpassing the combined might of its immediate neighbors, be concerned about legitimacy?
In the case of the “freedom” vessels, it seemed that international solidarity had taken the moral high ground compared to its counterpart, national sovereignty. The number of civilian casualties suffered in the incident had secured more attention, sympathy, solidarity and support for the people of Gaza than can ever be possible if such casualties occurred in a war or while carrying out terrorist attacks.

The writer is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of International Relations, FISIP,
the University of Indonesia.

Opini The Jakarta Pos 4 Juni 2010