Israel's attack on the convoy of ships bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza has garnered international condemnation - and rightfully so. At least nine civilians were killed, many more injured, and hundreds were detained in Israeli jails. Once again, bloodshed and violence has pushed to the fore the most festering international issue of the last decades: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The convoy was an international attempt to nonviolently challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza - an inhumane collective punishment (a violation of international law) imposing cruel hardship on the more than 1 million Palestinian people living there. Among the 700 people from 50 countries on the six ships were an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor from the United States, an Israeli Knesset member, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Northern Ireland, at least 15 journalists and a year-old baby. The ships were carrying construction material, like cement, not rockets or weapons.
When nonviolence is met with violence, a shift occurs in people's thinking. What once seemed impossible becomes possible. What once seemed intractable becomes moveable.
This shocking incident has brought forward both the opportunity and the necessity for stronger action by the United States to push Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, stop settlement construction in the West Bank, and engage in serious talks that will achieve, in short order, the widely accepted solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on two states living side by side in peace.
This can be a watershed moment for the Obama administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The far-right militarists both in Israel and the U.S. are on the defensive as a result of the outrageous Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. Out of this crisis can come a real opening for peace.
The United Nations call for a transparent and international investigation of the attack moves things in the right direction. But most important is action to end the crisis.
U.S. taxpayer dollars - to the tune of several billion a year - should no longer go to support Israeli policies of militarism, occupation and repression. It's simply not in the interests of either the American people, the Israeli people or the Palestinian people. Enough is enough. Even U.S. generals are saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is contrary to U.S. national security interests.
The Obama administration has plenty of "carrots and sticks" to exert major pressure on Israel's right-wing government to get serious about peace - and it should do that ASAP. For starters, the U.S. should insist that Israel end its inhuman - and illegal - blockade of Gaza. At the same time, the White House must insist that Israel curb its own right-wing fanatics, stop obstructing the peace process with settlement construction or other provocations, and get to the negotiating table for real, with a clear timetable to achieve a two-state solution.
The people of the U.S. have a critical role to play in ending this deadly conflict. To help the Obama administration move ahead, it is essential to build the broadest, all-inclusive movement among the American people that presses for strong U.S. action to at long last achieve peace with justice in the Middle East.
Photo: A child carring a sign that reads "massacre on high-seas" stands on the beach-front in Ashdod, Israel, where ships from the Freedom Flotilla were being taken. A police boat keeps a close watch on the demonstrators. (CC)