Israel Barricades Itself against the World

With its attack on the "Free Gaza" aid convoy, Israel chose to take a dangerous solitary stance. This kind of "splendid isolation" could give rise to a "wagon barricade" mentality that would prevent the Israelis from shaping their country's future as a democratic nation. By Bettina Marx

The Israeli flag (photo: AP)
The military assault on ships delivering aid to Gaza is a further step in Israel's increasing isolation from the international community. The World Security Council has in the meantime condemned the attack on pro-Palestinian activists

​​Israel is rapidly losing its last remaining friends and allies. The Jewish state is becoming a country that no one wishes to engage with any longer. Meanwhile, the attack on an international fleet that tried to break through the Gaza Strip blockade is only the latest affront in a policy that the rest of the world has so far tolerated but has been less and less able to understand.

Now the feeling of unease is growing. People in Europe have long since raised their voices in protest, but now their governments, which heretofore considered themselves loyal friends to Israel, are likewise distancing themselves from that country's policies.

They watched in silence as Israel allowed itself free reign in the occupied Palestinian territories, and as Israelis settled in East Jerusalem but did not allow Palestinians to build houses and apartments in that city to meet their growing needs. Europe had become accustomed to the fact Israel had incarcerated 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip under inhumane conditions, and that it had thrown some 700 Palestinian minors into prison.

These things did not prevent Turkey from concluding a military pact with Israel, nor did they stop the OECD from allowing Jerusalem to join its ranks. They didn't keep Europe from permitting Israeli football players to participate in the European Championship or Israeli singers to compete in the Grand Prix Eurovision.

Unfathomable patience

With an amount of patience that defies understanding, the European capitals acquiesced in every Israeli provocation, incomprehensibly condoning what was happening in the occupied territories.

An Israeli soldier and tank in the Gaza strip (photo: AP)
Trail of violence: According to Palestinian accounts, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and a further 5,500 wounded during the January 2009 war in the Gaza Strip. 13 Israelis also lost their lives

​​No one has forgotten those pictures of European heads of state visiting Israel – among them German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, who paid her respects to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the day after the deadly January 2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip ended, and breathed not a word of sympathy for the victims.

Even this military operation, which cost 1,400 people in the occupied Gaza Strip their lives, met with protests only on the part of Europe's populace, while the governments sufficed themselves with mild censure – if they made any statement at all.

But now the tide seems to be turning. The attack on the ships, which were en route in international waters, at least prompted some concerned faces amongst the European governments and words of warning addressed to Jerusalem, while some nations even dared what used to seem unthinkable and summoned the Israeli ambassador.

Israel reacted to this criticism as it always does: insulted, uncomprehending and aggressive. Politicians and citizens seem to have withdrawn behind a virtual wagon barricade from which they peer out onto a world that is apparently so hostile to them.

The whole spectrum of Israeli feelings of "splendid isolation" could be traced in the country's media on the day of the attack. Early in the morning, when the first news of the incident spread, shock and horror prevailed. "What have we done?" alarmed Israeli journalists asked in the morning radio shows. "How could something like this happen? And how will the world react?"

"We were only defending ourselves!"

Just a few hours later, however, the hosts and studio guests had regained their composure and were once again brimming with self-confidence. "What? We're supposed to apologize?" asked one commentator, indignant. "What for? We were only defending ourselves!" Not a word of self-criticism was to be heard, not the least little doubt about the actions of the Israeli army.

Free Gaza protests (photo: AP)
International solidarity for Gaza: The "Free Gaza" aid convoy wanted to bring some 10,000 tons of supplies into the Gaza Strip, despite the sea blockade imposed by Israel

​​In the evening, this self-righteousness then gave way to a persecution complex. On Israeli television, pictures taken by the Israeli army upon boarding the ship could now be seen. They showed dark figures on board who were apparently beating at the boarding soldiers with poles.

"They wanted to lynch us," lamented the commando soldiers, whose faces are rendered unrecognisable in the film but whose wounds are plain to see. Memories of the lynching in Ramallah rapidly made the rounds. In 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the Intifada, two Israeli soldiers who had allegedly become lost in the Palestinian city of Ramallah were beaten to death in a police station by an enraged mob.

The soldiers had now faced a similar threat, they claimed in unison. If it weren't so sad, it might be laughable: between nine and nineteen dead and more than forty wounded on the protesters' side, but the Israeli army leadership still views itself as the real victim of the military action.

After ten years during which the Israeli army has primarily gone after the civilian population and poorly armed fighters in the Palestinian territories, the soldiers are evidently used to people surrendering immediately and without a fight. Resistance is not tolerated, no matter how meagre and weak.

In Israeli society, it is deemed illegitimate to defend oneself against the Israeli army. Apparently, only Israel has the right to defend itself in this region.

With this attitude, Israel is gradually withdrawing into a dangerous isolation. And this "splendid isolation" could turn into a "wagon barricade" mentality that would prevent the Israelis from shaping their country's future as a democratic, open-minded and respected nation.

Bettina Marx

© 2010

Dr. Bettina Marx was for many years radio correspondent for the Middle East for the ARD network. Her book "Gaza. Berichte aus einem Land ohne Hoffnung" was recently published by Zweitausendeins. She is currently working in Berlin as capital city correspondent for Deutsche Welle.

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Editor: Lewis Gropp/

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