Is the “flytilla” protest in Israel activism, or hypocrisy?

Photo by Takver

The Israeli government’s response to “Welcome to Palestine” protests on Sunday calls into question the value of activism and the true intentions of flytilla activists.

THOUSANDS OF pro-Palestinian activists were set to fly to Israel Sunday to take part in the “Welcome to Palestine” protests against the occupation of Palestine. Over the past three weeks, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Immigration Authority have attempted to thwart the arrival of as many known activists as possible, by serving airlines with “blacklists” of activists who should be denied the right to even board their flights.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that over 60% of the 1500 activists were denied the right to fly to Israel this Sunday. In a similar protest last July, 120 of 300 activists were detained and deported.

The news media has sensationalized the protest by renaming it the “flytilla,” a reference to the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid in which international activists en route to Gaza from Turkey were diverted in international waters by the Israeli navy. The ship’s refusal to change course resulted in a navy boarding and physical struggle which led to the death of nine Turkish activists.

“Welcome to Palestine” activists who were promptly denied visas and deported today were served with a sarcastic letter from the Israeli government, thanking them for their humanitarian concern for Israel and the Palestinians when there were “many other worthy choices.”

Image credit: @ofirgendelman

While the letter demonstrates a blatant disregard for the situation at hand, claiming Israel to be a democracy while simultaneously denying the right of foreign activists to peacefully protest the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the Territories, it also sheds light on an interesting paradox of hypocrisy within the activist community.

People are suffering at the hands of injustice across the Middle East, and it’s worth noting that these diehard activists choose to organize enormous protests in a country where political violence is quite low in comparison to besieged countries like Syria, and activism is denied by swiftly organized flights home rather than through brutal crackdown as it often is in Iran.

It’s likely that the majority of deported activists will tear this letter to pieces in defiance of a country that claims to be democratic despite a myriad of human rights abuses. But they would be well served to take a small lesson from the letter as well.

Yes, Israel’s human rights record is dubious at best. But to make a symbolic long-distance flight, scream political chants for 30 seconds at the arrivals hall of Ben Gurion, and be quickly ushered onto a plane back home….

Can something so indulgent be called activism?

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  • Ldubois22

    Of what specific human rights abuses would you accuse Israel? Curious.

    • Richard

      Detention without trial? Torture? You could start there?

      • Timothy Tucker

        I wonder what we would do if Mexico started lobbing into missiles Texas?

        • Richard

          And I wonder if it would be any less of a crime against humanity?

          • Timothy Tucker

            Firing missiles at civilians is a crime against humanity.

    • EHA
      • myrei

        how about an example other than today’s incident. Also considering that Israel did apologize for the actions of 1 soldier, whereas other countries such as Lybia and Iran offer 0 apologies for their treatment of international journalists and activists, I do not believe this “example” reflects the overall attitude of the government as a whole towards its stance on Human Rights. And calling Israel undemocratic based on it not allowing foreigners to come in to the country has nothing to do with its democratic processes, as those only apply to residents and citizens of the country…

        • EHA

          In reference to this and your comment above on Kate’s comment, I do concede that it’s impossible to argue with the statistics regarding the wall. Deaths by suicide bombing have been greatly reduced since the wall has been built. But what about the Palestinian families who have been separated from their land and their livelihood because of the wall, and who receive little to no sympathy during the harvest season when they’re trying to cross over? What about the families who have lost members due to natural causes because checkpoints are closed during the night, and guards have no sympathy to let them through to a hospital?

          What about the Palestinian families who have absolutely no stake and no connection to Hamas, who suffer greatly as a result of the wall? Is there no way to reconcile their suffering with a little bit of sympathy? For two groups of people who’s governments have caused each other such immense suffering and loss, I would hope that one day, there will be more sympathetic and compromising individuals involved in righting this wrong.

          • myrei

            The blame lays not with Israel alone in this matter. If you think about the USA’s position on Iraq when they went in there, which was that Sadam has weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the USA, then what about all those people in Iraq that to this day suffer because of the occupation. That, btw is a real occupation. It seems that everyone always says that the land Israel is on is Arab land. Well it was british owned prior, and prior to that ottoman, and at some point Roman, and Babylonian, and Mesopotamian. Israel was attacked by Arab nations when it was still a developing country because of their hate for Jews. Israel fought back and pushed them further back than before. They have no reason to give that land back to anyone. I understand where you are coming from regarding innocent families. But why is it that Jordan doesn’t accept the Palestinians, or for that matter any other Arab country. Where is there financial support for Palestine. I mean Iran provides Hamas with weapons to kill Jews, so I don’t consider that support. Israel built schools, hospitals and universities in Palestine, created an entire network for irrigation, and greenhouses. What happened after that? The Palestinian people elected Hamas, a terrorist organization, with a charter that calls for the murder of ALL Jews  (read about it if you don’t know). After that they convert all the schools and green houses into prisons for torture, as well as munitions bunkers and sites for shooting missiles. Now this is a full out war, and Israel tries its best to not go in there and destroy the entire area into a smouldering crater, but how much is enough for a country to take until they have to aggressively display that they will not be played with. Israel has come to the bargaining table to negotiate, and every time the Palestinian authority and Hamas have refused to negotiate, until Israel made some form of concession. After said concessions were made they would still not negotiate. So I ask again, how much is enough. We are not dealing on a person to person basis. This is two governments (neither is perfect) that are at odds. Also how many countries in the world, will send out flyers to entire neighbourhoods letting them know that an arms facility that is launching rockets is going to be bombed. Israel does. How many flyers has Hamas sent to Israeli cities to notify them of bombs being shot their way? Zero…

    • Kate Trenerry

      Where to start? Maybe the building of the separation wall around the Shu’afat refugee camp in East Jerusalem that that prevents emergency services and police from effectively accessing the neighborhood? Maybe the demolition of the only community center in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh while Jewish settlers move in with private security guards? Maybe the continued policy of officially ignoring and systematically destroying Bedouin villages around the West Bank and Israel?

      Emily, nice article, I always enjoy your work. The flytilla is interesting, and probably does raise awareness about Israel’s treatment of pro-Palestinian activists and Palestinians, but is certainly problematic. Who has the money and time to do this, and couldn’t it be put to better uses?

      • myrei

        The separation wall is for the safety of Israel preventing suicide bombers and other terrorists from crossing over and killing Israeli citizens, much like the border fence between the US and Mexico serves to prevent illegal immigration and the smuggling of drugs.

  • BardofAvon

    I remember reading an article on here a while ago where somebody basically posted about a visit to Israel and decided to not talk about what the Israelis were doing. I thought it was just trying to stay impartial.

    A few weeks later I noticed though that whenever an article was posted about Israel it was written in a very clever way as to say “well these aren’t the nicest people BUT”.

    I think this article is especially horrible. It’s like saying “Well Hitler wasn’t nice but protesting Nazi-ism is a terrible thing, what about Stalin, let’s focus on Stalin you hypocritical freaks”.

    It’s a very clever way of playing the apologist without giving your game away and this happens a lot on Matador Network in relation to Israel. When it comes to other countries you are more than allowed to tear into what you dislike. When it comes to Israel there is always a but somewhere.

    I’m not sure if this is the doing of the editor or if it’s just because a lot of people have visited and live on the nice side of the big fence but I have always treated this website as an alternative to Lonely Planet and now this website really is taking a turn for the worse and falling so behind Lonely Planet it is hard to see the purpose of coming here.

    Matador please stop with the fluff pieces and ulterior motives. I know it’s a nice traffic hit but the occasional traffic boost won’t make up for a website that is dead 99% of the time.

    • EHA

      I think you missed this extremely Pro-Palestinian article published recently:

      You should do more thorough research before tearing down an entire publication because someone’s political opinions hurt your feelings.

    • EHA

      Your last comment was delivered to me via email, and while I see it hasn’t shown up here yet, I’ll respond to it anyways. In it, you praised JO for documenting “what she saw and experienced” and urged Matador to hire some more competent writers.

      I’m not sure you actually read that article, because if you
      had, you’d know that Jo did NOT go to Israel. That article is second hand
      information from a friend of her’s who went to Israel with an agenda and chose
      only to speak with people who shared her opinions on the conflict. If you can’t
      recognize that for the blatant bias that it is, I don’t know what planet you’re

      In this case, I think you’re confusing my critique on
      methods of activism with a raging sympathy for Israel, which is presumptuous at
      best, and unintelligent and reactionary at worst. I share many of Jo’s
      sympathies for the Palestinians, but like Jo’s friend, I went to Israel with a
      limited knowledge of the HISTORY of the conflict. I therefore decided to leave
      my politics at home and talk to everyone, because who am I to take sides
      without an in-depth understanding of both sides of the story?

      My article questions the legitimacy and effectiveness of this
      type of reactionary activism, nothing more, nothing less. I believe that this
      type of activism is indulged in by groups of conflict-seeking whiners who want
      attention. They can be broken into two groups, for which I have equal contempt.
      The first group are the activists with such limited knowledge of the political
      situation on the ground in Israel that they really think that change can be
      initiated by their mere presence. This is naïve and uneducated. The second
      group is the people who are fully aware of the situation on the ground, who know
      that they will be turned away, but who spend money on a flight anyways. As
      someone who sympathizes greatly with the plight of the Palestinians, this is an
      affront to every one of my sensibilities. That is money that can be donated to
      solidarity movements (or even more constructive, dialogue based organizations) who can put it to better use. That is energy that can be
      more constructively channeled.

      If you want only want to read pieces sympathetic to the Palestinians,
      there are a plethora of media options out there for you. If you want to read
      your own opinions parroted back to you, then start writing, buddy. I love
      Matador for the fact that they publish articles like Jo’s and they’re willing
      to publish material by people like me who share her concerns but whose hearts
      aren’t bleeding quite as profusely. 

      • BardofAvon

        I’m not sure why it went to email I posted it here. Hopefully this one gets posted here.

        If you went somewhere and you asked people about their experiences as long as they told you about what they experienced you are still performing journalism provided the person you are talking to is not lying about events. See the problem is you accuse other people of taking sides but what are you doing?

        If I go into Gaza and I asked somebody about an event that took place as long as they tell me the truth about that event I AM performing journalism. You assume because they asked somebody that you don’t side with about something they are biased but talking to the “other” side isn’t a bad thing.

        Activism is about raising awareness about issues. You say you would rather see those several hundred people turned back spend that money in other ways but they have bought attention to the cause around the world perhaps drawing thousands of people to pledge. Unfortunately in this world you either get attention for your cause or you get ignored. These sort of flotilla and flytilla incidents literally lead to weeks and sometimes months of spotlight on Palestine while if those few hundred people spent a little it of money it wouldn’t lead to much of anything. These people shouldn’t be dismissed in this way though, it’s a pretty horrid thing to do.

        A little bit of critical thinking would go very far, you seem to just have an axe to grind, it seems you wrote an article for the simple motivation of attacking anti-Palestinian activists. Honestly you seem as sympathetic to the Palestinians as the Germans were to everybody else about 70 years ago. These are not appropriate accusations to make at all.

        • EHA

          Ah, the ever popular Nazi insult. Your breadth of knowledge and insight humbles me, dear sir. If you can’t see the problems and contradictions in your line of argumentation above, it really isn’t worth the continued debate. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

          Except…I’ll agree to disagree. And you’ll just call me a Nazi ;)

          • BardofAvon

            I actually don’t mind if you agree to disagree I have no hard feelings towards you.

            Just because somebody expresses their opinion does not mean they have an agenda against somebody. Honestly I bet your incredible well traveled and extremely bright I’m not interested in making mortal enemies and I won’t walk away with a sour taste in my mouth I am doing what I genuinely feel is “making a point” and I prefer not to censor myself or my language in making that point.

            If you have any disagreements about anything I have said I’ll be more than happy to take any criticism that you level at me. I don’t really care for the insults about lack of knowledge because I don’t see the purpose they serve,  if you are going to insinuate a lack of knowledge shouldn’t you also say what that gap of knowledge is?

            You seem to take exception to a lot of what I say but at the very least I am backing up what I say with what I feel is a good explanation, to me at least that means I am not merely insulting you but calling it how I see it.

            The Nazis were human beings as well, we tend to treat them like monsters but they had wives and children, they smiled and went to theme parks as well. The problem with the Nazis was that through their own indoctrination they came to ignore the plight of their fellow man, before long they became the plight of many fellow humans.

            There is an important lesson to take away from that. Being indifferent to the suffering of other people is a bad thing. You are incredibly intelligent at putting distance between yourself and Israel while defending what they are doing and attacking their detractors. It’s very easy to see through you.

            I think next time you visit beautiful Jerusalem you may want to visit Gaza. Nothing has changed aside from the goal posts and the same people who feel guilt about one event feel pride in ignoring another one. Look at yourself first my friend. Have a nice day.

          • EHA

            Thank you for explaining yourself, though I still take issue with equating anything less than foaming-at-the-mouth activism with “Nazism” and “indifference to the suffering of other people.” That’s a pretty large leap to take, and signals to me a lack of insight into both Nazism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s a weak line of argumentation, and greatly diminishes your credibility as an activist that you would so quickly jump down the throat of someone who believes in a more constructive path to a solution.

            I don’t think that anything you or any other Westerner does will change the reality on the ground. That fact has been demonstrated by decades of protests that have lead to nothing. It is my firm belief that changing the attitudes of both Israelis and Palestinians is the key to real change, and it’s only the actions of these two parties that will lead to any lasting solution.

            You still seem incapable of accepting and recognizing that only speaking to one side is biased. Even if the horrendous things they tell you are true, and I have no doubt that what Jo’s friend was told was quite true, she was setting herself up to be called out on bias because she only talked to one side. That
            is the definition of bias. I don’t know how else I can convince you of this clear and apparent fact.

            Israeli families have been subjected to brutalities as well, and I firmly believe that blaming this generation of Israelis for the occupation is like blaming this generation of Germans for the Holocaust. I can’t make any assumptions about your feelings toward Hamas or the PA, but I can venture a guess that you would argue that civilian Palestinians shouldn’t be grouped together with radicals who fight with suicide bombers instead of diplomacy. Shouldn’t civilian Israelis
            be given the same benefit of the doubt? Palestinians are not part in parcel with the actions of their government, and neither are the Israelis.

            Your activism would be much more humanistic and viable if you were able to come to this conclusion as well.

  • ElectricBoogaloo

    ” While the letter demonstrates a blatant disregard for the situation at hand, claiming Israel to be a democracy while simultaneously denying the right of foreign activists to peacefully protest the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the Territories…”
    I’m not entirely sure the how being a democracy and denying foreign nationals entrance is an irreconcilable situation. A democracy is not synonymous with an open border policy. Countries, irrespective of their governing model, should have the ability to control who comes in and for what purpose, even if that means restricting political speech of foreigners. Democracies make no promises to protect the free speech of people who are not their citizens or permanent residents. Cases in which such a condition is unnecessary are only really possible after a bilateral treaty between sovereign states. Even then, length of stay and purpose are regulated….

  • Timothy Tucker

    Wow, good point. The Prime Minister of the nation in question publicly condemning the behavior in the free press of said nation. Yeah, that’s an evil place alright. Makes Syria look like Disney. 

  • Julia C. Hurley

    Emily, I have to tell you, I really appreciate your criticism of the flytilla. While in Gaza I heard similar complaints about the flotillas that have been attempted since the disaster of the Mavi Marmara. The deaths of 9 activists shed a ton of light onto what the Israeli regime is capable of and willing to do, and was a “success” in that regard, but now we know they won’t get through and we know they won’t be attacked in the same manner. Israel simply isn’t that stupid. So, what’s the point? Many times it is more about ego than anything, and it’s ridiculous to think that the US Boat to Gaza last year raised ONE MILLION DOLLARS which went to a boat and flights and aid that never even made it out of the Greek port and barely did anything to impact the media. It looked more ridiculous than anything. When the fishermen in Gaza heard about the amount of money spent they turned to me and said “Why don’t they come in here, like you did, and escort us out to break the siege? Or help me rebuild my boat the Israelis destroyed?” There are so many more effective tools and so many activists fail to see this.

    This week I’ve had two meetings with government affairs people at two organizations I won’t mention, and will be hopefully taking to Capitol Hill to lobby for Palestine in the coming months. The strategy is in place, and I may only be one person, but I have an effective message….that this is NOT in America’s interests and voters are seeing this and it will negatively effect Members of Congress soon if they don’t begin to pay attention. Public education and lobbying is key here. You can demonize Israel all you want and you can scream and shout and dance in the streets, but that is not going to affect real change. It’s time to get a clue and DO something instead of indulging egos.

    • EHA

      Sing it, sister. I always enjoy your informed and extremely insightful take on the matter, and I wish you all the best this week as you pursue this important issue. Keeping an eye on your blog for updates!

  • Priyanka

    Emily, advocating a cause so vociferously and bringing these issues to the forefront like you are doing is commendable. This adds another dimension and meaning to your writing.

    Agreed, there are people who will agree and those who won’t but opening the platform for a dialogue creates awareness and that is great. 

    As always, I look forward to more from you.

    • EHA

      Thanks for all your support, Priyanka!

  • Amelia

    The fact that there is a massacre is Syria does not make the Palestinian cause invalid.  This is what people need to understand.  In that same line of thought, as you say, then we need to criticize ALL other organizations NOT working for Syria or other places in the MidEast. It is very hypocritical. 
    The Palestinian cause inspires many and just because you personally disagree with it doesn’t mean it is invalid. 

  • Cindy Katz

    First of all, as an Israeli, let me just say this letter delivered by the “government” (you might notice nobody was even willing to attach their NAME to it) was absolutely humiliating. My niece was arrested at Ben Gurion for holding a sign that said “welcome to Palestine” and I am damn proud of her for it.

    Here is Israel, everyone hates the activist but hey, they’re all “liberals and stuff” and gosh they feel bad for those Palestinians. You might not fit that bill, but if you live here, than you know it is true of most of the population.

    You have completely missed the point of this “indulgent” act (though you never explain exactly WHY it is indulgent). The point is that Israel controls ALL ENTRY to Palestine. The activists this year made it clear they were flying through Ben Gurion because they were trying to get to Bethlehem to build a school (or some community project, I don’t remember the details). The point is, you simply cannot fly into Ben Gurion and say you are going to Palestine. If you do, you will be questioned, humiliated, possibly denied entry. This was the point of the protest and it succeeded. It was to show what an occupation looks like. I have read too many uninformed Israelis make ridiculous statements like “if they want to go to Palestine, why don’t they just go through Jordan.” (You cannot get into Palestine via Jordan without going through Israeli border control. Do these Israelis honestly believe the IDF lets the Palestinians control there borders??? Of course not!).  

    Honestly, there are few things more annoying then listening to people *sort of* justify an occupation that has gone on for FORTY YEARS by whining about why don’t people complain about Syria or Iran. And, BTW, I (and the world) am most certainly am outraged by the violence in those countries. Just because they are kill and oppress people should mean that we should be able to do it too? I don’t think. I am not one to “compare” human devastation or oppression, but I guarantee you the horrors of the occupation (kept far from my own eyes, here in metro Tel Aviv) are very, very real.

    Anyway, point missed.

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