An open letter to the 2011 Gaza flotilla organizers and the Israelis

Posted: July 28, 2011 in Peace Building
Tags: , , , ,

It seems that the 2011 flotilla operation has reached an impasse.  If we look at what has happened, no real violence has occurred.  The Israelis  have predictably done all they can to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza.  Some media attention has been obtained by the flotilla organizers.  What has been accomplished?  From an outside perspective, not much seems to have visibly changed on either side.  Not one small step towards peace was achieved, and certainly the confrontation seemed to have entrenched the conflict a bit deeper.

As a former Canadian Military Officer, I was approached to inspect the boats for weapons or war materials and provide a certification to that effect, from a position of neutrality.  For me to be involved, I expressed a need for some positive outcomes that do not involve violence or  confrontation and offered to talk to the Israelis and explore possibilities.   Given the competing interests, differences of opinion,  I suggested  an approach designed to prevent violence and perhaps be a small joint gesture towards peace.

First, taking steps to prevent violence. To explore this, I suggested communicating that the Canadian Boat has undertaken to provide “non-violence” training for all passengers. The key to the avoidance of violence is to minimize misunderstanding and maximize predictability.  This  requires a level of trust, tempered by the need of involved parties to exercise extreme caution.  In the event of the Israelis’ electing to intercept,  board and inspect the boat at sea, this should involve a peaceful and standard boarding party process, and one that evokes a non-violent response by passengers and crew.  On the part of the flotilla, this should involve a non-violent response such as assembly on the deck with passenger and cargo manifests, or at most a “passive non-violent resistance” response.  An exchange of procedure and responses were suggested as helpful to minimize misunderstanding.

Second,  taking a small step towards peace.  This could mean jointly setting a precedent that would allow recognition of neutral party  inspections, and provide another avenue for humanitarian aid, but more importantly to recognize the need to respect the dignity of the Gazan people and enable them to have the rights and freedoms that define us all as human beings.

On the part of Israel, this was suggested as involving accepting the inspection results and allowing the Canadian Boat safe passage.  To build trust, the suggestion of allowing an Israeli representative to witness, not conduct, the inspection was made. The neutral  inspection team would  then search and control all entry to the boat until departure. It was suggested that an Israeli boat would be permitted to accompany the flotilla to ensure banned goods were not on-loaded at sea.

After discussion with the Israeli embassy in Ottawa, and the Canadian flotilla organizers, I provided a written proposal as requested.  The proposal was not accepted by the flotilla organizer and a response from the Israelis not received.   I therefore declined to be involved in an inspection.

Now that the respective interests have been asserted and given voice, and an impasse largely reached,  is it not time for some constructive dialogue  and positive action?    Perhaps below the level of competing government or political interests, the peoples of Israel and Gaza share a desperate deep need for peace, for the reduction of conflict,  the relief of suffering and the enhancing of  human dignity.

Perhaps it is time to go back to exploring the possibilities for building peace.

Paul Maillet

Colonel retired

Former DND Director of Defence Ethics


Tel: 613.841.9216 Cell: 613.866.2503

President Paul Maillet CENTER FOR ETHICS



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