No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed off the coast here early Monday morning, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the Israeli government and the army. Israel did not send its soldiers to kill civilians in cold blood; indeed, this is the last thing it wanted. And yet, a small Turkish organization, fanatical in its religious views and radically hostile to Israel, recruited to its cause several hundred seekers of peace and justice and managed to lure Israel into a trap, precisely because it knew how Israel would react — knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did.
How insecure, confused and panicky a country must be to act as Israel acted. With a combination of excessive military force and a fatal failure to anticipate the intensity of the reaction of those aboard the ship, it killed and wounded civilians, and did so — as if it were a band of pirates — outside Israel's territorial waters. Clearly, this assessment does not imply agreement with the motives — overt or hidden, and often malicious — of some participants in the Gaza flotilla. Not all are peace-loving humanitarians, and the declarations of some of them regarding the destruction of the state of Israel are criminal. But these facts are simply not relevant at the moment; such opinions, so far as we know, do not deserve the death penalty.
Israel's actions are but the natural continuation of the shameful, ongoing closure of Gaza, which in turn is the perpetuation of the heavy-handed and condescending approach of the Israeli government. It is prepared to embitter a million and a half innocent people in the Gaza Strip to obtain the release of one imprisoned soldier, precious and beloved though he may be. And this closure is the all-too-natural consequence of a clumsy and calcified policy, which again and again resorts by default to the use of massive and exaggerated force, at every decisive juncture, where wisdom and sensitivity and creative thinking are called for instead.
And somehow, all these calamities — including the latest deadly events — seem to be part of a larger corruptive process afflicting Israel. One has the sense that a sullied and bloated political system, fearfully aware of the mess produced over the years by its own actions and malfunctions, and despairing of the possibility of undoing the endless tangle it has wrought, becomes ever more inflexible in the face of pressing and complicated challenges, losing in the process the qualities that once typified Israel and its leadership — freshness, originality, creativity.
The closure of Gaza has failed. It has failed for years now. What this means is that it is not merely immoral but also impractical, and indeed worsens the entire situation and harms the vital interests of Israel. The crimes of the leaders of Hamas, who have held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive for four years without once allowing the Red Cross to visit him, and who fired thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns and villages, are acts that must be firmly dealt with, using the legal means available to a sovereign state. The ongoing siege of a civilian population is not one of them.
I would like to believe that the shock of Monday's frantic actions will lead to a reevaluation of the whole idea of the closure, at last freeing the Palestinians from their suffering, and cleansing Israel of its moral stain. But our experience in this tragic region teaches that the opposite probably will occur. The mechanisms of violent response, the cycles of vengeance and hatred have begun a new round, whose magnitude cannot yet be foreseen.
Above all, this insane operation shows how far Israel has declined. There is no need to overstate this claim. Anyone with eyes to see understands and feels it. Already there are those here who seek to spin the natural and justified sense of Israeli guilt into a strident assertion that the whole world is to blame. Our shame, however, will be harder to live with.
Israeli writer David Grossman is the author of, most recently, "To the End of the Land," to be published in October. This article was translated from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman.