16 June, 2010 — Middle East Report Online
Jonathan Cook is a journalist based in Nazareth. He is author of Blood and Religion (2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilizations (2008) and Disappearing Palestine (2008).
For background on tensions between Palestinians in Israel and the state, see Peter Lagerquist, ‘Recipe for a Riot: Parsing Israel’s Yom Kippur Upheavals,’
Middle East Report Online (November 2008).
For background on the October 2000 events, see Jonathan Cook, ‘Impunity on Both Sides of the Green Line,’ Middle East Report Online, November 23, 2005.
For background on Azmi Bishara’s case, see Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, ‘They’re Hounding Bishara Because He’s Right,’ Middle East Report 243 (Summer 2007).
Order the issue via a secure server at www.merip.org.
The first reports of Israel’s May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla surfaced among the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens alongside rumors that Sheikh Ra’id Salah, head of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement of Israel, had been shot dead on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. Salah is alive, but at the time his demise seemed confirmed when it emerged that large numbers of police had been drafted into northern Israel, where most of the Palestinian minority lives, in expectation of widespread violence.
At the first spontaneous demonstrations in the north, participants expressed shock that Israel had killed international peace activists in international waters — a rumored number of 20 dead later dropped to nine. But in a community used to intermittent bouts of extreme violence from Israel’s security forces, few seemed to doubt that the order might have been given to execute Salah. The sheikh, who has repeatedly been arrested and is facing a series of trials, has long been public enemy number one among Israeli Jews for his campaign to protect the Haram al-Sharif from what he regards as an attempted Israeli takeover. The Haram al-Sharif is a compound of mosques in the Old City of Jerusalem that includes al-Aqsa and is believed by Jews to be built over two ancient Jewish temples. Half-jokingly, a protester in Nazareth wondered aloud whether a military commander had overheard the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ask: ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent sheikh?’
Breaking the Siege of Gaza
The flotilla, which was attacked more than 60 miles off Israel’s coast early in the morning, was not the first to bear aid for Gaza, but it was the first to include a delegation of Palestinian leaders from inside Israel. Palestinians are roughly one fifth of Israel’s population. Most of the main Israeli-Palestinian political factions and institutions were included: Salah and his counterpart in the Islamic Movement’s more moderate southern wing, Sheikh Hamad Abu Da‘bas; Muhammad Zaydan, head of the Higher Follow-Up Committee, the umbrella body dominated by local mayors; and Hanin Zu‘bi, a first-term member of the parliament, the Knesset, from the nationalist Tajammu‘ party (Balad in Hebrew). Alongside them was Lubna Masarwa, a resident of Kafr Qara‘ in northern Israel and an activist with the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the aid convoy.