By means of three fallacies, a significant portion of Arab politicians, commentators and media figures transferred a number of their biases and prejudices on issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict to their treatment of the criminal attack by Israeli forces against the activists aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Whether deliberate or merely a product of force of habit, the effect of their treatment was to divert the focus of public discussion in the Arab world away from the essential nature of the crime: the illegitimate use of excessive force against a group of peaceful protesters of diverse religious and national affiliations who set sail aboard ships laden with humanitarian aid with the aim of breaking the illegal and inhumane blockade that Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2007.
Firstly, a good many Arab opinion pundits were quick to paint the attack on the Freedom Flotilla in the types of religious terms, codes and symbols that reproduce the duality of the Jewish oppressor versus the oppressed Muslim, and that work to cast the attack in the framework of a reductionist reading of the Arab- Israel conflict as an existential conflict between religious antitheses. None of these commentators paid serious attention to the fact that a number of Jews were present among the Muslims and Christians on the flotilla. If they bothered to mention it at all it was in passing and solely to underscore the universal solidarity behind the people of Gaza, which did nothing to diminish the prevalence of their religious interpretation of the Arab-Israel conflict.
The "religification", as it were, of the Mavi Marmara incident did not begin and end with activists chanting the Islamist refrain, "Remember Khaybar, Jews. The armies of Mohamed will return!" -- reference to the Battle of Khaybar, in 629, between Mohamed and his followers and the Jews of the Khaybar Oasis, and with similar strains echoing through numerous opinion articles in the press along with commentaries on satellite networks. In their testimonies to the media following their release from detention in Israel, not a few of the Arab activists who included parliamentarians and politicians from various Arab countries, used such expressions as "the racist Jews" and "the criminal Jews" in the course of their apportionment of blame. Not only did they fail to differentiate between the affiliates of a religion and the citizens of a state responsible for the excessive recourse to violence, they almost invariably made no distinctions whatsoever between the government that ordered the attack, the armed forces that carried it out, the citizens of that state who supported it and the citizens who protested it. All were conveniently lumped into the same nebulous basket customarily labelled the "Zionist entity," the "usurper entity" or "rampaging Zionist gangs".
In completely the opposite direction to the foregoing trend, but also working to divert public attention away from the essential nature of the violent Israeli boarding of the Mavi Marmara and the three-year blockade of Gaza, a number of political commentators played on variations of an overly simplistic and potentially misleading theme. Their refrain is that the violence of "some" in Israel is the response to the violence of "some" Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, and that the extremism of "some" in Israel mirrors the extremism of "some" Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. While the violence-begets-violence principle does indeed explain certain aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship, and while there is a likely causal relationship between extremism in the Israeli context and its counterparts in Palestinian/Arab/Islamist contexts, to reduce the manifold issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict to these simple dimensions discards many crucial facts. Above all, it disregards the ongoing Israeli occupation and its exercises of structural violence (settlement expansion, the Judaisation of Jerusalem, the blockade) and routine violence (daily and systematic human and civil rights violations) against the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.
The callousness, irrationality and political bias inherent in this approach are no less pernicious than the effects of the religification of the Arab-Israeli conflict, regardless of how divergent the two trends are. As for attempts to project the paradigm of Israeli violence and extremism in reaction to Palestinian/Arab/Muslim violence and extremism onto the assault of the Mavi Marmara, they produce nothing but a flagrant misrepresentation of events. Not only were the people aboard the Mavi Marmara exercising their legitimate right to self- defence when under attack, contrary to the narrative that suggests that the attackers were the victims and to the even more tendentious allegation that the activists were carrying out some kind of extremist Islamist plot intended to provoke Israel, but also the incontrovertible fact is clear that Israeli forces grossly violated international law by attacking vessels in international waters and using excessive force against peaceful activists who were not engaged in violence, extremism or any other activities that could even remotely be regarded as a threat to Israel's security.
While the third fallacy shares the qualities of irrationality and bias of the first two, it is prompted by different motives, which might be subsumed beneath the heading "regional score-settling". The Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla occasioned a replay of Arab and non-Arab media gambits during the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008, when Egypt became the victim of a concerted propaganda campaign aimed at painting Cairo as chiefly responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza. So intensive was that campaign that it was almost as though the Israeli war machine were purely incidental. This year, no sooner did the media begin its coverage of the Israeli boarding of the Mavi Marmara than the website belonging to a certain satellite news network put the following question to a vote among the site's visitors: "Do you think that Egypt should reopen the Rafah crossing for good in response to the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla?" Naturally, the immediate -- and intended -- effect of such a question was to plant an association in the minds of the website's visitors linking the Israeli attack with Egyptian policies and, therefore, to direct a finger of accusation against Egypt.
The day after the Israeli attack, Egypt did, indeed, reopen the Rafah crossing for an indefinite period to allow for the passage of humanitarian and medical assistance to Gaza. Although most Arab satellite news channels and Internet news websites gave considerable coverage to the Egyptian government's decision and its ramifications, the particular website in question initially ignored the news. Then, when it did finally get around to mentioning it, it appeared virtually in passing in a three-line item in its "news update" that began, "Reuters -- Hamas says Egypt decided to open the Rafah crossing." Not only did the subject receive no further attention, as though it were now a marginal detail, the abovementioned question to visitors remained on the website. Meanwhile, over the next two days, during which six out of eight of the website's top news items were on the attack on the Mavi Marmara, it gave banner headline status to an article by an Egyptian commentator on the Egyptian role in Sudan, entitled, "Egypt in Sudan: Is it absent or in a coma?"
As different as the three abovementioned fallacies are in substance, and as divergent as the motives of their proponents are, their combined effect is to obscure the actual nature of Israeli crimes against the Freedom Flotilla and against the people of Gaza under the blockade, and hence to obstruct our collective capacity to rationally respond to and capitalise on Israeli violence and extremism.