A violent confrontation occurred in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in late May between the Israeli navy and a Turkish ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of several vessels attempting to deliver humanitarian aid in a direct challenge to the blockade. Israeli naval vessels intercepted the convoy in international waters, ordering the flotilla’s captains to reverse their course.
After the warning was ignored, five of the ships were commandeered by the Israelis, with few injuries. When the Mavi Marmara was boarded, however, a violent clash took place. Navy commandos opened fire after being initially overpowered by protesters wielding clubs and knives. Israeli officials claimed its personnel acted in self-defense. Israel considers the blockade allowable under international maritime law, as a measure to limit smuggling of weapons by sea into the Palestinian territory ruled by Hamas.
The protesters aboard the “Free Gaza” flotilla, who came from more than 35 countries, were removed to a detention center and later deported. Before sailing, they had announced their intention to try to break the blockade. The episode, which was relayed in real-time by Turkish TV and livestreamed over the Internet, especially by the protesters onboard the ships, was more a battle for world opinion. As one observer noted, besides “carrying knives, guns and metal bars,” the activists were also “armed with cameras, cellphones, blogs and Twitter accounts.” The organizers of the flotilla succeeded in getting their message out worldwide basically for free. Israel, meanwhile, spent “millions of shekels” for its Navy personnel and ships, surveillance planes, detention facilities, and more.
- TIMELINE-Main events in the Gaza flotilla affair
This brief time line summarizes the events leading up to and immediately following the confrontation between the Israeli navy commandos and the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
(Source: Reuters, June 7, 2010)
- The Gaza Flotilla and the Maritime Blockade of Gaza—Legal Background
This is the official account of the incident by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
(Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 31, 2010)
- How Free Explains Israel’s Flotilla FAIL
This article explores the way that media coverage of the incident—in real-time by live video and social networking tools, which instantly fed numerous media outlets—shaped what the world learned of the events.
(Source: wired.com, June 2, 2010)
- David Cameron: Israeli Blockade Has Turned Gaza Strip into a “Prison Camp”
This article describes comments by British prime minister David Cameron on a visit to Turkey about the Israeli raid on the flotilla, demonstrating how the incident still reverberates in international politics.
(Source: The Guardian, July 28, 2010)
Other Issues in the Region
Expanding economies in the Middle East have led some countries in the region to rely on “guest workers” from other countries. While many guest workers are unskilled laborers, some take skilled positions in oil or high-tech industries. The presence of so many guest workers can lead to culture clashes. The workers face complicated employment laws, and sometimes live or work in unsafe conditions. They can also become the target of terrorists whose agenda includes removing foreign influences from their countries.
- Vatican expert draws attention to high levels of Christian immigration in Middle East
Analyzing the changed religious scenery” of the Arabian Peninsula, a Vatican scholar describes it as a paradox that the land that gave birth to Islam is witnessing a rise in Christianity. The increase is not due to conversion, which is generally illegal, but to massive migration from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan, the Philippines, Africa and South America due largely to the oil boom in the Gulf countries. (EWTN News, June 22, 2010)
Oil Wealth Fuels Change
Oil fuels the world’s industries and transportation—and its economies. Oil became a valuable strategic commodity, a resource so important that nations will go to war to ensure its steady supply. Southwest Asia contains much of the world’s oil supply, but oil prices rise and fall unpredictably. As a result, Southwest Asian countries cannot always plan how much revenue oil will bring in.
Economic development requires diversification—the development of multiple sectors of an economy, such as agriculture, mining, and technology. The countries of Southwest Asia are also investing oil profits in building and improving other infrastructure essentials, such as roads and telecommunications. Moreover, there is an awareness of the need to provide education, since economic development requires the knowledge and skills of a well-trained and well-informed workforce and citizenry.
- Middle East Feels Oil Price Pinch
Ups and downs in gasoline prices affect Americans’ pocketbooks at the pump. The price of crude oil has reached a peak at near $150 per barrel in July 2008, then fell dramatically in 2009 to as low as $40. The price decline was generally good news for consumers. But it’s not such good news for the oil-producing nations of the Middle East, some of which get almost 90 percent of their national income from oil exports. (Source: BBC, July 13, 2009)
Conflict over Land
Conflicts between Jews and Arabs over land controlled by Israel continue to disrupt life in the region. The Palestinian people living in Israel are seeking their own autonomous nation. The signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians suggested that the two sides could achieve a permanent peace. But by the early 21st century, violence had spiked once again. In August of last year, Israel pulled all of its settlers out of the Gaza Strip region. Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967, and since then it has been a major point of contention between Israelis and the Palestinians who live there and insist the land is theirs. In January of 2006, the Hamas Party was elected into power in the Palestinian Territories.
- Clinton, Netanyahu Offer Differing Views of Settlements Dispute
Israel’s recent announcement to keep developing housing in East Jerusalem has revealed some cracks in its bilateral relationship with the United States. Because East Jerusalem is the part of the city Palestinians want for a future capital, an aggressive land policy there on the part of Israel angers Palestinians.
(Source: VOA News, March 23, 2010)