Ruth Zakh: Ships' intent was to cause a violent confrontation with Israeli naval forces
ISRAEL regrets the loss of life -- but it did everything it could to avoid this outcome. We repeatedly called upon the organisers, through diplomatic channels and all other available means, to stop this provocation.
Most of the six ships were indeed peacefully escorted to safe waters and no harm was caused to them. The intentions of those in control of the Mavi Marmara were clear -- they wanted to cause a violent confrontation with Israeli forces.
Their intent to use violence against Israeli Naval personnel was made clear in television interviews on Sunday given by the head of the IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi -- 'humanitarian relief fund'), Bulent Yildirim, on board the Mavi Marmara. But Israel still believed the organisers, who assured it that no violence would be used.
Instead, on attempting to board the vessel, the Israeli Navy was met with violent opposition; pistols and other weapons were used against them, and more than a dozen Israeli personnel were hospitalised, some in critical condition.
One must see the broader picture here -- 125 Israeli children and more than 1,000 Israeli citizens have been murdered in recent years by Palestinian terrorists.
Hamas, the extreme regime that controls Gaza, has launched 10,000 rockets against Israeli civilians. Pleas by Israel to the international community to stop Hamas were not answered.
It is for that reason that a state of armed conflict exists between Israel and Hamas.
Hamas is at present making great efforts to smuggle in arms and military supplies to Gaza, by land and sea, in order to fortify its positions and continue its attacks.
Under international law, Israel has the right to protect the lives of its civilians from Hamas attacks.
This is why it has undertaken measures to defend itself, including the thorough inspection of ships that may carry arms and war materials into Gaza. This is in line with international maritime law. Within the past week, Israel repeatedly invited the organisers of the flotilla to land in the port of Ashdod, and to transfer their aid to Gaza through the existing overland crossings, in accordance with established procedures. In line with Israel's obligations under international law, the ships participating in this provocative flotilla were warned repeatedly to avoid approaching the Gaza shoreline.
Most of the ships chose to adhere to this advice and were unharmed and redirected peacefully to the harbour of Ashdod, 40km north of Gaza. From there, after inspection, their aid will be transferred to the people of Gaza -- people who are not the enemies of Israel.
Since the ceasefire of January 2009, well over a million tonnes of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel -- that is almost a tonne of aid for every man, woman and child in Gaza.
Israel transfers food, medicines, clothing and schoolbooks for all Gazans, but Hamas demands concrete for its reinforced bunkers, from which they can continue to fire rockets at Israeli schools and hospitals.
Despite the need for restrictions on the supply of building materials for this reason, Israel has facilitated the entry of trucks loaded with 250 tonnes of cement, five tonnes of iron and 15 trucks loaded with gravel for building projects operated and executed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza. Israel transfers 15,000 tonnes of real aid to Gaza each and every week -- so a flotilla claiming to carry 10,000 tonnes of concrete was clearly about a different agenda.
We will have peace with our Palestinian neighbours -- we will not let Hamas stop us on the way to peace.
Ruth Zakh is a counsellor with the Embassy of Israel, Dublin