After repeated delays, a UN report on the Mavi Marmara incident from the 2010 Gaza Flotilla has been made public by the New York Times. The report finds that the flotilla acted recklessly in trying to breach a legal blockade, but fails to remark upon what was surely one of the most bizarre scapegoatings of a country in recent history.
Scapegoating is a universal feature of social life. According to Stanford theorist René Girard, the lynching of scapegoats provides an outlet for the tensions and hostilities that divide any community. When everyone bands together unanimously to vent their violence on arbitrary victims, peace and unity are restored.
Israel has been blamed for everything from global warming to American deaths in Afghanistan. To gauge Israel’s true scapegoat potential, one would want to test the world’s reaction to an out-and-out lynching. That’s where the 2010 Gaza Flotilla including the Mavi Marmara came in. The events played out like a virtual experiment in scapegoating.
Passengers on the Mavi Marmara fell into two groups. There were volunteers from 34 different countries. Then there were the religious extremists from Turkey’s IHH who were eager to “mix it up” with the Israelis and manifested a desire for martyrdom.
Their group included a pro-Chechen gunman who helped seize a Black Sea ferry in 1996, threatening to blow it up and kill the Russian hostages.
The Mavi Marmara incident displayed two features of scapegoat violence as described by René Girard in his classic work Violence and the Sacred – “the crowd and the mad rush at the victim.” In testimony given to the Turkel Commission, the first Israeli soldier said:
“Before I managed to touch my feet to the deck, about ten people jumped onto me and began brutally beating me from every direction… A number of attackers grabbed me by my legs and my torso and threw me over the side… Upon landing on the middle deck, I fractured my arm, and a mob of dozens of people attacked me and basically lynched me - including pulling off my helmet, strangling me, sticking fingers into my eyes to gouge them out of their sockets, pulling my limbs in every direction, striking me in an extremely harsh manner with clubs and metal rods, mostly on my head.”This subject was later treated for a deep scalp wound, two cranial hemorrhages, a hemorrhage in one eye and a fractured skull. His account underscores how scrupulously the attackers respected the requirement for unanimity:
“[O]ne enemy strangled me from behind and twisted my arms from the back, while we were moving, so that everyone who passed by me made sure to strike at me and take part in beating me.”This is what Girard calls the “type of mob violence that reconciles all members of the community because it involves the participation of all.”
The fact no Israelis died worked in the IHH mob’s favor. A killing would have risked making them look like victims.
One soldier was shot in the abdomen with a 9 mm bullet. Another was stabbed in the abdomen with a knife. The latter got away by jumping in the water.
He “was swimming with difficulty,” recalled a soldier in the Israeli speedboat that picked him up. “We saw that his arms were full of cuts, his face was swollen from blows and smashing, and he had an open slash in his abdomen from which his internal organs were protruding.”
A fourth soldier was choked with a chain around the neck until he passed out; then, when he revived, he was tied to a couch and beaten on the head until he lost consciousness again and went into convulsions.
The mob wasn’t done. A fifth soldier was stabbed full force in the chest, but he survived thanks to his protective vest; he still ended up with blunt trauma to the head and abdomen, three broken bones in his hand, a badly slashed ear with hemorrhaging in the eardrum, and a bullet wound in the knee.
Three more soldiers were beaten on the head till they collapsed.
Each of the 15 soldiers from the first helicopter found himself cut off from his comrades and surrounded by at least three to five assailants.
The Israelis now had more to think about than enforcing the blockade.
A Turkish journalist present on the ship, Şefik Dinç, publicly stated that Israeli forces did not open fire until they saw that the lives of their men were in danger.
They fought back. Nine of the passengers in the mob died.
Some of the injured would-be “martyrs” tried to refuse treatment, tearing out IV tubes and demanding to “die like a shaheed.” The Israelis insisted on saving their lives.
How would the world react?
With headlines everywhere denouncing the “killing of nine people on a Turkish aid ship” – even though there was actually no aid on the ship – most people seemed willing to accept Prime Minister Erdogan’s characterization of the event as a “bloody massacre”; and not just an ordinary, everyday bloody massacre but “a dark stain on the history of humanity.”
The main group that sponsored the Mavi Marmara was banned in Germany for supporting terrorism – but not before the Bundestag voted unanimously to condemn the real culprit: Israel. Al Jazeera noted “unanimous agreement across the world” that the Israeli assault “was unjustly disproportionate.”
It is rare that the world agrees unanimously on anything – a telltale sign that the scapegoat mechanism is at work.
The assailants continued to be described as “peace activists” by participants and observers even after the facts emerged. Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, who was on a different boat, clung to the idea that the Mavi Marmara had been the scene of an “unprovoked massacre.” When a BBC documentary suggested otherwise, she angrily rejected as false all the evidence presented. She did not explain how the Israeli soldiers came to be injured, but she left the distinct impression that they may have fallen on the stairs.
The failure of the genuine peace activists to acknowledge the outburst of extreme violence on the part of fellow passengers demonstrates the power of the scapegoat mechanism to forge a distorted perception of reality. “The metamorphosis from peaceable citizens into raging beasts is too terrifying and too transitory for the community to accept it as issuing from within itself,” writes Girard.
It may be more than a simple denial of reality. If Girard is right, the channeling of unanimous violence against a scapegoat has the paradoxical side effect of bringing peace to the greater community. In this sense, lynchers really are “peacemakers” of a sort. As Latma TV’s “Flotilla Choir” video intimated, the planetary outpouring of hate against Israel was a “We Are the World” moment for the haters. But a lynching will bring peace only as long as it remains unanimous.
Had fellow activists broken ranks and chastised the mob, they would have run the risk of stirring resentment and undermining peaceful relations within the Hamas-support movement and the Israel-hating community at large.
After the events, Mr. Erdogan warned Israel that it was “drawing the hatred of the entire world.” That is precisely how a scapegoat helps purge violence from the world around it: by drawing to itself the hatred of everyone else. René Girard quotes the following line from Aeschylus: “unanimous hatred is the greatest medicine for a human community.” And, we would add, the only medicine carried on the Mavi Marmara.
FP: The critical function that Jews have served over the millenia. The world likes to cleanse itself by scapegoating the Jews and does not ever stop to consider what it loses in the process, this time at the instigation of the Arabs and Turks who have contributed nothing to humanity and civilization other than violence, destruction and death.
Perhaps if the media disseminated the detailed facts of the event instead of the flotilla propaganda, the impression would have been different. But thousands of years of scapegoating the Jews indicates that that's unlikely.
This is why it was critical that instead of even considering an apology, Israel should have been much better off demanding one from Turkey first. As long as Israel continues in its appeasement stretegy, it also preserves the Jew scapegoating tradition, which it was created to terminate.
UPDATE: Here's how Voice of America, a US government agency, describes the UN report. It does the same job as the rest of the media, focusing on the anti-Israel aspect while being almost totally silent on the major pro-Israel finding.
Ties between Israel and its former Muslim ally, Turkey, have plummeted in the wake of a United Nations report on a deadly Israeli raid off the coast of the Gaza Strip more than a year ago.
Israel has expressed regret over Turkey's decision on Friday to expel the Israeli ambassador and suspend military ties between the two countries. Turkey is furious after a United Nations report charged that Israel used excessive force in a commando raid on a Gaza aid flotilla last year in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
In a statement by the Prime Minister's Office on Saturday, Israel said it "cherishes the significant ties, past and present, between the Turkish and Jewish peoples" and therefore it had sought to settle the dispute peacefully. But Israel said it could not meet Turkey's demand to apologize for the flotilla raid because Israeli troops acted in legitimate self-defense.
While describing Israeli actions as unacceptable, the U.N. report also said that Turkey did not do enough to prevent a violent confrontation, and that some Turkish activists were armed with iron rods and knives used to attack Israeli commandos.