The Saga of the "Peace Flotilla" that set out to force the Gaza blockade...

Once again, we are treated to another round of calamities in the Middle East. Whenever the Palestinians do something ghastly, like blow up an Israeli schoolbus or throw a bomb in a market full of innocent civilians, your sympathies inevitably and rightly go to Israel. But you can be sure that the Israeli will do something equally reprehensible the next time around. Like build more settlements in occupied territory or launch an attack on Gaza killing women and children, and your sympathies swing again and go to the Palestinians.

This time (we've all read about it) a bunch of ships loaded with humanitarian aid - reportedly some ten thousand tons of medicines, toys and building material - and with six or seven hundred pacifists aboard, sailed towards Gaza in an attempt to force the Israeli blockade. As expected it was stopped dead in its tracks by the Israeli military.

This episode might have passed unnoticed - several such ships have tried to force the blockade before - if the Israeli military hadn't totally bungled their operation. First, they attacked in international waters ships that were clearly civilian. Second, the attack was, as President Sarkozy immediately noted, "disproportionate": on board the ships there were only knives and clubs (no firearms), and while some Israeli soldiers got unfortunately wounded, the dead (9 of them according to the latest reports) are all on the side of the civilians aboard the ships.

This particular Israel vs. Palestine round has clearly come out in favour of Palestine. As a result of the attack, Israel has lost two of its most important supporting neighbours in the region: Turkey and Egypt.Turkey is clamouring for an international investigation, and so is the EU top diplomat, Lady Ashton. Egypt has reopened its Rafah border post which had been closed in deference to Israeli pressure.

Can America repair the damage done as two of its more trustworthy allies, Turkey and Egypt, clash with Israel? If nothing is done, there is little doubt that this episode signals the end (for the moment) to American efforts to revive the Israel-Palestine peace talks. But America so far hasn't done anything: Obama's silence has been deafening. He keeps talking (rightly so, no one will disagree this is a major issue) about the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but why nothing about Gaza? Worse, American diplomats at the UN Security Council are reportedly busy shooting down any proposal for an independent international investigation, demanding that it should be entrusted to Israel.Are they serious? How independent can they expect Israel to be in this matter?

America is giving the world the impression that it has not yet taken the real measure of the situation. Seeing it from where I live (in Italy),the differences in reporting the episode in the American press compared to the European were very striking. American newspapermen talked of the passengers aboard the ships as "pro-Palestinian activists", reflecting the terminology used by the Israeli Government and echoed the concept that it was an action of self-defense on the part of Israeli forces. In contrast,Europeans talked of "peace activists" or pacifists and underlined that Israel attacked in international waters and that Gaza has become over the last three years, because of the blockade, an "open-air prison" for the 1.4 million Palestinians living there.

Who's right? Nobody, of course. Hamas is wrong in continuing to deny Israel's right to exist and in supporting despicable and horrific terroristic methods. Israel is wrong in over-reacting, establishing blockades and building Berlin walls around Gaza, in continuing with its settlements policy and, more importantly, in denying Palestine's right to become a free, independent state.

What is the way out of this impasse that has lasted now nearly half-a-century? It is undoubtedly in the hands of America. Everyone in the Arab world is convinced that (a) Israel is more than a preferred ally of the United States but a de facto extension of America (even its Prime Minister is a born American), and (b) it has nuclear weapons, which explains why it has recently refused to join the international anti-nuclear pact. Maybe it does, and that is certainly a reason why Israel is so concerned about Iran getting its own nuclear bomb.

What are we supposed to do? Watch the Middle East burst into a nuclear mushroom or recognize Palestine?

With such a simple solution at hand (i.e. mutual recognition of Palestine's and Israel's right to exist as independent states), one wonders about Man and how stupid he can get...But then, we should remember that it took 110 years to solve the "Irish question". So I suppose we've still got time on our hands...

In the meantime, the ships' passengers who had ended in Israeli jails have all been expulsed and deported home (citizens from some 40 countries were involved - many Europeans, even some Americans but most of them were Turks). But what about the humanitarian aid the ships had brought? Not a word about it in the press. I assume that now everything has been confiscated by the Isreali...

And once again, it is the poor and the destitute in Gaza who are the real victims...