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Joel Brinkley, June 25, 2010

[Reprinted with permission]

When Israel boarded another ship bound for Gaza last weekend and escorted it to an Israeli port without incident, it demonstrated to me that both sides, Israel and the activists, hold blame for the aid-ship melee the week before.

But you can't tell that from the continuing accusations and debate - exposing rank hypocrisy of a scale seldom seen in modern world affairs. Consider a co-incident on May 31, the day activists assaulted Israeli troops as they boarded the Mavi Marmara, prompting the Israelis to shoot and kill nine of them.

In Lahor, Pakistan, that same day, gunmen stormed into a hospital, where they shot and killed 12 badly wounded patients lying in their beds. Those victims were survivors of murderous attacks on two mosques a few days earlier, when 93 worshipers were killed.

One hundred and five people shot and killed in a hospital and two mosques. Didn't that warrant even a nodding acknowledgment? No, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said almost nothing about the dead Pakistanis but did manage to declaim: "I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much needed aid to the people of Gaza."

There's no question that Israel erred. A trap had been set, and Israeli commandos walked right into it. Dropping special-operations troops on deck in the middle of the night was foretold to result in violence. In widely reported remarks just before the ships left Cyprus, Bulent Yildirim, leader of a Turkish group on board, declared: "We do not even have a jackknife, but we will not let Israeli soldiers on board this ship."

I have no connection to either side in this debate - except that I have spent five of the last 20 years working, reporting, in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Like so many correspondents, I left the region after my first tour there weary of writing about hatred and violent anger. Pox on both their houses! I thought.

But the current debate is surreal. The week before the aid-flotilla incident, international discussion centered on North Korea and its attack on a South Korean naval vessel. A torpedo sank the ship, killing 46 sailors. The U.N. Security Council was to begin discussion of possible action against North Korea. But then a few days ago, council members made it clear they were going to drop the North Korea matter and take up a resolution condemning Israel first.

At the same time, all of the blame for the sad state of affairs in Gaza falls on Israel, even though Egypt usually keeps its gates to Gaza tightly locked, too - Egypt, which styles itself as the Palestinians' greatest friend and benefactor.

Imagine for a moment that the activists had decided to storm Egypt's gates to Gaza instead and, when Egyptian troops tried to stop the aid caravan, activists assaulted the soldiers with iron rods and knives. If the Egyptians shot and killed nine people in the ensuing melee, do you think the U.N. Security Council would be dropping everything right now to rush through a resolution condemning Egypt? Certainly not.

But then the Free Gaza Movement argues that Israel should open up Gaza, let anyone and anything come and go. That's not exactly how they put it, but that would be the end result. How utterly naive. I wonder how many of the Free Gaza Movement's members have interviewed the leaders of Hamas, as I have - many times.

"From our ideological point of view, it is not allowed to recognize that Israel controls one square meter of historic Palestine," Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, told me. Without even a hint of irony or jest, Ismail Abu Shanab, suggested: "There are a lot of open areas in the United States that could absorb the Jews." Israel assassinated both of those men soon after I spoke to them. But Hamas' goals have not changed.

Hamas leaders are single-minded, heedless of anything but their generational crusade. Could there be better evidence than Hamas' refusal to accept the aid unloaded from the flotilla ships, tons of it - denying their people all of that food and medicine, preferring instead to make a political statement?

"We want to break the siege of Gaza," the Free Gaza Movement says. In the process, do they want to "free" the leaders of Hamas? Last week, these leaders made their position clear. They fired four missiles into Israel, toward Ashkelon and Sderot.

Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times. To comment, e-mail [email protected]. This article appeared on page N - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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