Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
You don’t know me, nor I you, but my home is a few minutes’ walk from Cheltenham High School from where you graduated, so in that sense we’re like neighbors. In any case, I know you’ve had a tough time figuring out the most appropriate response both to the Free Gaza flotilla last week as well as to its aftermath, so I wanted to give you some suggestions. Please accept this in the spirit in which it’s offered.
First, the flotilla. Everything is always clearer in hindsight, but it was pretty clear to me and others that this was only going to end badly. How could this have been prevented, while still adhering to Israeli concerns about potential arms smuggling to Gaza? Perhaps the wisest solution, given that you have to also cater to your political interests in Israel, would have been to wait until the ships were in Gazan waters (where you are blockading naval traffic to Gaza), board them in broad daylight without helicopters, make it clear that your navy’s intent is to inspect the ship for weapons, and once nothing was found (since there were no weapons on board, based on the current state of knowledge), allow the vessels to pass on to Gaza. Yes, you would have allowed the flotilla to violate your blockade, but let’s face it, the blockade has been knowingly violated before, as Israel has allowed some boats to pass through. I’ll ignore my own view that the blockade is illegal, useless, counterproductive to your country, harmful to the people of Gaza (many of whom are innocent of any bad deeds towards Israel, etc. But I will say that had you inspected the vessels and allowed them to pass, yes Israel might have lost a little face and some folks would laugh at your country’s expense, but many others would have actually praised your country for showing restraint. No one would have died-that’s always a good thing. And after a few days, most people would have forgotten about this.
So now let’s deal with the present-nine people (including a US citizen) died on one of those ships. I get it-they attacked your elite commandoes, but in all honesty, the average big city cop in the US deals with riots every now and then an generally no one gets killed. Why did you helicopter in commandoes one by one-if you were worried enough about the potential for arms on that ship, surely your military folks understand the bad judgment involved in having military people descend single file into a mass of several hundred pissed off people. And why couldn’t the commandoes have shot at people’s legs-seriously, Arnold Schwarzenegger did just that in Terminator 2, so if people in Hollywood consider this possible, surely the IDF understands the possibility of nonlethal force as well.
But then you went ahead and squandered a good opportunity to try to move on. You spoke the next day and declared that no apologies were needed, that this was a ship of hate, not a love boat, etc. Not at all reconciliatory. Let me give you a hint if I might-you’re the leader of the fourth largest military power in the world. You represent an entire country. Rather than act like a manager of a small company by denying blame, here’s what I think true leadership would have entailed: a measured apologia. Since I know you’ve never probably apologized for anything to anyone (let’s face it, this is Israel, not any other supposedly civilized nation), here’s a draft that you can use the next time you illegally board and murder a bunch of people on a Turkish vessel:
“In order to move forward, I would like to apologize. First,to the Turkish nation for what happened to their ships yesterday. All Israel values our longstanding, close relationship with our Turkish friends and I will do whatever it takes to nurture that relationship back to where it once was and beyond. I deeply regret the loss of life, and want to make it clear that this was not something we ever intended to have happen. We should have chosen a different course, such as inspecting the vessels in Gazan waters, certifying the lack of weapons smuggling and letting humanitarian aid go unimpeded to Gaza. We made a grievous error, and I would like to take a moment and honor the nine people who regrettably died at our hands yesterday (insert names). I would also like to apologize on behalf of Israel to the families of the dead, to the survivors and their families, and to the various countries represented by the passengers. We accept full responsibility for our actions, and as Prime Minister, the primary responsibility is mine to bear.
Israel overreacted. That is clear. While I cannot reverse the terrible events that took place yesterday, I can work to make a difference moving forward. To begin, we will pay restitution for the lives lost and for damage to the ships. Second, we will immediately lift the blockade against Gaza. This has not helped the cause of peace, but has made life unbearable for the residents of Gaza, who have been living like prisoners. Israel has no desire to occupy Gaza-let me be clear. But while we did withdraw several years ago, we did not create conditions on the ground that would allow Gazans to rule their own destiny. This will change. The blockade will end. Third, Israel will continue to work with our Palestinian partners, whom we respect, to develop a mutually-agreeable amd workable solution to the conflicts that divide us. Make no mistake-we want to normalize relationships with our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We have shared this land before, and will do so in the future. Our lives are intertwined, and what divides us pales before the bonds that can unite us. We will respect your autonomy. At the same time, we ask that we can also live securely, but will work with your security forces to rein in terrorism on a joint basis, rather than engage in collective punishments that do not serve, and actually harm, the process of peace.
So we are terribly sorry for our horrible errors in boarding the Turkish vessels and, whether unintentional or not, killing several people on board. Let’s make these nine deaths stand for something, however. Let’s take this as an impetus towards settling our differences, making life better for the people of Palestine and Israel, and moving forward.”
I know what you’re thinking, Bibi-am I out of my mind? Yes, this type of speech would undoubtedly cause friction within your conservative Likud party and certainly cause problems with the extreme right wing in Israel, much as Obama’s policies (real or imagined) have driven our lunatic fringe nuts here in the US. But it’s the right thing to do, and you know as much. Yes, some Arabs and Turks would still riot against Israel in the wake of the civilian deaths. But this proposed speech would blunt much of of the criticism; in one fell swoop, you would be acknowledging the loss of nine people, accepting responsibility, asking forgiveness and taking concrete steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. Surely many of the Palestinians and Turks would be impressed by your words and, if followed by constructive actions, be less inclined towards rioting, express hatred of Israel, etc.
So you missed an opportunity, Bibi. Israel has become the BP of nations. Why is it, though, that some corporations at least know how to do damage control (sorry, but doctored/selectively edited YouTube videos don’t cut it) and are at least willing to apologize, while a supposedly democratic nation like Israel can’t apologize for anything to save its life?
Anyhoo, feel free to use my speech the next time you arrogantly board unarmed vessels and murder civilians who resist an act of piracy. Maybe the speech will help. Or not-but like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.