Gaza Freedom Flotilla Shows Awesome Power of Nonviolent Resistance
Sometimes the Israeli occupation authorities and their allies try to project a "mad dog" image to their opponents: don't bother trying to resist our power, because we are ready to crush you by any means necessary, and no-one who matters to us will care what means we use.
But as the Israeli government reaction to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla shows, it ain't necessarily so.
Al Jazeera reports:
Some Israeli officials see the situation as potentially disastrous in terms of public relations.
"We can't win on this one in terms of PR," Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.
"If we let them throw egg at us, we appear stupid with egg on our face. If we try to prevent them by force, we appear as brutes."
You can read every word ever penned or spoken by Gandhi, King, or Thoreau, and you will never find such an eloquent expression of the power of nonviolence as the statement of the spokesman of the Israeli foreign ministry.
In the face of an effective act of nonviolent resistance, the oppressor faces two unappetizing choices: concede ground, thereby undermining the image of absolute power the oppressor wants to project, and therefore encouraging further resistance; or resist with force, thereby projecting the image of "brutes," and therefore encouraging further resistance.
You can see why the Israeli government spokesman would be irritated.
Another great power of an effective mass nonviolent resistance action is when it gives "bystanders" a choice of taking sides - whether they want the opportunity provided by that choice or not.
The government of Cyprus had the opportunity to take a side, and it decided to try to obstruct the flotilla.
This video documents how government of Cyprus told one of the flotilla boats it wasn't welcome in the territorial waters of Cyprus. Shane Dillon, an Irishman on the Challenger 1, reports of the boat's contact with a police helicopter: "He asked us the nature of our trip, and I told him that it was part of humanitarian aid for Gaza, and he said because of this we are precluded from entering Cypriot waters...refusing us entry to the 12-mile limit of Cypriot waters is kind of strange for a European skipper ... with European parliamentarians and a lot of European people on board. It's not normal."
While the video shows how the Cyprus government kept flotilla boats from entering territorial waters, this AP story documents that the Cyprus government kept would-be flotilla passengers from reaching the boats:
In Cyprus, organizers were trying to find a way to have two dozen would-be passengers, including 19 European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor, join the ships anchored in international waters off the island. The Cypriot government did not allow smaller boats to carry the group to the flotilla, [organizer Greta] Berlin said.
Authorities in Cyprus said the decision was made to protect the island's "vital interests" - including economic ties with Israel.
Organizers then appealed to the Turkish government to get the group out via a Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus port. Turkish Cypriot officials have said they want to help the group as much as they can.
Given the modern political history of Cyprus, the forgoing passage is breathtakingly and bitterly ironic. Cyprus, while maintaining good relations with the Israeli government, has historically also maintained good and supportive relations with the Palestinian national independence movement. Many Greek Cypriots - the majority community on the island - have seen a parallel between the US-backed Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the US-backed Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, which resulted in the establishment of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," recognized only by Turkey.
It's a bitter irony for these Greek Cypriots if the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" is helpful to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla while the Republic of Cyprus government bows to pressure from the Israeli government and obstructs the Flotilla. I would expect the government of Cyprus to pay some political price among Greek Cypriots for this betrayal of the Palestinians.
And that's an indication of the power of effective nonviolent resistance. Not only the oppressor, but also the "bystanders," are confronted with a choice: whether to help or allow the resisters to prevail, at least in the short-run, or whether to stand publicly on the side of brutality.
All this - and the main confrontation between the Israeli occupation authorities and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has not yet begun.