Since 2007, Israel has maintained a legal maritime blockade around Gaza. Gaza is a territory ruled by a known terrorist organization -- Hamas -- whose explicitly stated goal is the elimination of Israel through violence. Past experience has proven that Hamas keeps its promises of terror, cravenly using its own citizens as civilian shields in order to launch attacks on Israelis.
Preventing this terror has been a full-time occupation for Israel, and the goal of the maritime blockade has been the protection of Israeli citizens. Keeping rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas, while simultaneously letting food and other humanitarian aid in, is a constant exercise in measured risk. World media outlets have bought into the widespread Palestinian propaganda that the Gaza blockade is a humanitarian crisis -- going so far as to conflate the situation in Gaza with a "holocaust" and comparing the Israelis to "Nazis" for failing to allow basic human services to reach Gazans.
This inflammatory language does get attention. It also effectively masks the reality on the ground -- the fact that it is Hamas itself which blocks humanitarian aid from reaching its citizens, diverting funds and materiel instead to building arms caches. In what has become a brilliant public relations ploy, the Hamas leadership has managed again to use its civilians to shield its true intentions and actions.
Nearly half a decade ago, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in order to disengage from that territory and create a chance for peace. Hamas (a recognized terror organization by both the United States and Israel) took advantage of internecine Palestinian fighting and took control of Gaza. The putative "government" of Gaza is not one which values human life (at least not that of its citizens, much less Israelis); the civilian infrastructure in Gaza Strip has been exploited by Hamas to launch attacks -- inviting Israeli response (which is then condemned as targeting civilians). By using hospitals, mosques and offices of international aid groups to conduct terrorist activity against Israel, Hamas is swaying public opinion in its favour.
Hamas found a willing and able partner in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It was UNRWA's director of operations in Gaza, John Ging, who was quoted in The New York Times in early 2009 as saying that Israel's blockade was choking off basic humanitarian supplies like medicine, clothing and blankets, as well as food supplies. Moreover, it was Ging who called upon the international community "to shoulder its responsibility on this issue" by "sending ships to break the siege."
In an interview with a Norwegian newspaper in early May, Ging reportedly urged the world to send ships to the shores of Gaza. He added, "We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organizations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible."
This was a leading official of a United Nations NGO acting in the capacity of his position. He was urging other non-governmental actors to engage in what is clearly an act of international war--invading the territorial waters of a United Nations member state and sovereign nation.
Israel seems to have been the only state to recognize this and, as was reported by Middle East Monitor, will make an official request to the United Nations for clarification of how an official representative of the United Nations could call for European countries to send ships to Gaza without authorization and prior co-ordination with Israel.
Though it is not surprising that this aspect of the issue went unreported in the world media, it is an extremely dangerous and discomfiting precedent. UNRWA has long been a co-opted (and corrupted) actor on the Gaza scene; but as UNRWA is still under United Nations auspices, it retains the responsibility of at least pretending to act in a fair and objective manner. Ging's actions belie any facade of accountability and teeter on the edge of outright incitement.
During the latest flotilla saga, Mr. Ging has continued to defend Hamas when questioned about the terror organization's credibility regarding the allegations that they might misuse aid. According to Ging, Hamas does not steal and any aid delivered via UNRWA and the UN is respected by Hamas. As such, had the flotilla reached Gaza it would have alleviated the mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages which left four out of five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid -- i.e. UNRWA facilities. Such a view is not only overly optimistic, but downright disingenuous. The boats' cargo contained weapons as well as foodstuffs -- and it was clear from the outset that the flotilla was meant as a provocation and a media stunt designed to challenge Israel and open a new route for weapons smuggling.
In inciting the flotilla, John Ging has dishonoured UNRWA and the United Nations. UNRWA itself should long ago have been absorbed into the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Now the matter is more urgent than ever.
Moreover, the hyper-sensitive focus on Israel by the global media outlets not only embarrasses Israel (an imperfect, yet law-abiding democracy); it actively encourages Hamas and other terror organizations. It is long past time for the media to examine its own role in sponsoring and promoting acts of violence against civilians, and in creating an atmosphere in which the perpetrators of said violence are rewarded by vast media coverage and heralded as "militants" rather than called out for their murderous actions.
The international community is also guilty. While rogue states like North Korea, Iran, Syria, Sudan and China (to mention just a few) wantonly engage in human rights abuses and abhorrent violence against civilians, it is Israel that brings the UN Security Council together for more commissions and inquiries than any other nation.
Of course, the stark contrast is nothing new. It's much easier to target Israel than it is to address the entrenched violence and inhumanity perpetrated in so many other United Nations member states. And, more recently, focusing on Israeli "sins" diverts attention from the real threat -- a nuclear Iran. Iran's recent announcement that it now has enough uranium for two nuclear bombs was completely obscured by the media frenzy surrounding the Gaza flotilla
Israel may be the first country to have been directly challenged by an open act of war in this flotilla episode. But if other nations think they are exempt or immune, they are wrong. Terrorists and those who sponsor them have taken notice of the world's response. And they are nothing if not emboldened.
Asaf Romirowsky is a senior fellow at EMET and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. Nicole Brackman is a former Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.