o Ahdaf Soueif
o guardian.co.uk, Monday 31 May 2010 23.00 BST
This will count. A flotilla of relief boats attacked in international waters. Armed commandos boarding a vessel carrying supplies for a besieged civilian population. More than 10 peace activists reported killed. This has to be made to count.
The dead have joined Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, James Miller and Brian Avery in giving up their lives for the Palestinians. None of these young men and women went out to die or wanted to die or was accepting of death. Each and every one of them ultimately believed that they were safe; that there was a boundary – call it a boundary of legality, a boundary of civilisation – that Israel would not cross. They were wrong. And in proving them wrong, Israel has revealed, once again, its true face to the world.
This face, of course, the Palestinians know well. They see it every day in the teenage soldiers of the occupation chewing gum as they dish out humiliations, in the settlers shooting young Palestinians with impunity, in the soldiers firing gas canisters at the heads of demonstrators. The world saw that face in January last year when Israel unleashed the might of its air force on Gaza – the only time in modern warfare that a civilian population was sealed in as it was being bombed and shelled. Now Israel is out on the high seas killing internationals.
So never mind the multimillion-dollar public relations campaign – actions speak louder than words, and the murder of these peace activists is Israel’s message to the world. It does not matter what Mark Regev or any other Israel spokesperson says. It does not matter what spin the Israeli government tries to put on this; the only link between Israeli words and Israeli deeds is this: Israel uses words as a decoy and an obfuscation and a cover for its deeds. It has done so for 62 years. These internationals, dead now, murdered, have ensured that anyone who does not see this is wilfully blind.
Western governments are fond of holding up Israel as the “only democracy in the Middle East”. So should we assume that the Israeli people are behind their government? That they approve these killings? Last month I was at al-Quds University in Abu Dis. Israel’s wall shaved the edge off the campus. On it, in tall blue letters, a Palestinian student had written: “My Israeli sisters: this is not the answer.”
A few days ago, young Jewish Israeli activists told me they saw that the only hope for their country lies with the international community. Israel is on a path to self-destruction, they said, and it will take the region with it. It will not stop, they said, until the price it pays for its actions becomes too heavy. This price has to be a moral and economic price imposed by the world.
My anger and my sadness are so great that I have to deliberately draw a deep breath from time to time to ease the bands I feel around my chest. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that millions of people in the world are feeling the same. People everywhere see and understand what is happening. Many of us feel that Palestine is nearing its South Africa moment. This latest outrage must push it closer. And it will.
Donations will, I’m sure, flood in to the other relief boats waiting in harbour. More and more people will take the boycott to heart. More civil bodies will insist on divestment from companies that do business with Israel. The time has come for the governments that represent us to stop engaging with Israeli lies and excuses. The price of Israel’s action today has to be to put the issue of sanctions squarely on the table.