Ye Olde Pirates on the High Seas

First they rammed the Dignity.  Then they harassed the Spirit of Humanity into turning back to its berth.  Now 18 corsair ships from the Israeli Navy have surrounded the Al-Ikhwa (The Brotherhood) ship, out of Lebanon, and boarded it, ransacking the boat and assaulting its passengers.  The ship was plainly up to no good: it carried, according to Al-Jazeera, 60 tons of medical equipment, food supplies and books, toys and milk for small children.  After destroying the ship’s communication equipment, confiscating cellphones, and destroying the generators that were keeping blood plasma cold, the navy brought the ship to Ashdod, where presumably they are beating the hell out of the humanitarian aid workers on board.  A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement condemned what it called Israel’s act of “maritime piracy.”

The International Maritime Bureau defines piracy as “an act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in furtherance of that act.”  Furthermore, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ensures that “The high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes,” and abjures interference, stating, “No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.”  A House subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on maritime piracy.  It does not appear that they took up the actions of the Israeli Navy.

I was waiting for the New York Times to weigh in.  After all, the paper hasn’t been too shy about reporting on the malefactions of Somali pirates.  Then again, as we know from Ridley Scott, Somalis are a “pack of snarling dark-skinned beasts,” to borrow Elvis Mitchell’s words from his review of Black Hawk Down.  But weigh in it did.  The piece is entitled “Israel Diverts Ship Bound for Gaza Strip,” a rather coy way of describing 18 warships surrounding an unarmed civilian vessel.  Ethan Bronner, the Times’ intrepid reporter, notes that “it was carrying what its organizers said was humanitarian aid: food, medicine and toys” (note to self: what else could such substances be?  Have the Palestinians concocted a way to turn blood plasma and flour into a pipe bomb?).

The first half of the article consists of the reporter copying and pasting the Israeli military statements, such as:

  • A statement from the Israeli military said the boat, sailing under the flag of Togo, left Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, a few days ago, made a stop in Cyprus, and then tried to enter Gazan waters against Israeli orders.  The military said that when the ship’s crew was instructed on Wednesday not to try to reach Gaza, the crew replied that the vessel would go to El Arish, in Egypt, but it then changed course”;
  • The military said it worried the boat could ‘threaten security concerns’ or be used to smuggle banned equipment, like weapons, ‘into or out of the Gaza Strip'”;
  • The Israeli military said humanitarian goods found on the boat would be sent into Gaza” (emphasis added).

All of which is either irrelevant or manifestly untrue nonsense.   Bronner waits until the middle of the article to inform us that “A reporter for Al Jazeera who was also on board spoke by telephone to television viewers, saying that the Israelis who took over the boat had pointed weapons and assaulted some of those on the ship.  The connection to his telephone was then cut.”  It is curious that the protestations of a government spokesperson are given more prominent placement than the report of a correspondent from one of the world’s best news agencies, right?  Not in the paper of record.

Max Ajl is a writer and activist based out of Brooklyn, has written on Latin American politics and economics for the New Statesman, the Guardian, and NACLA, and blogs at Jewbonics.  A slightly different version of this article first appeared in his blog.