Tuesday's attack on an unarmed, humanitarian flotilla of activists carrying relief supplies for the besieged and blockaded people of Gaza is a reminder to the world of the lawless, outlaw nature of the Israeli state. Although the death toll is still unclear, as many as 10 activists, several of them Turkish nationals, died when Israel Defence Forces commandos swooped down on the vessels in international waters and used grossly disproportionate force to overcome the not unexpected resistance they encountered. The boats, their passengers, and cargo have all been illegally detained. Among those locked up by the Israelis are a number of journalists from around the world who had joined the flotilla to cover the story. The criminal Israeli response to what was intended to be a Gandhian act of solidarity with the Palestinian people is the product of the international community's failure to ensure that Tel Aviv's illegal and immoral blockade of Gaza was lifted. Israel cut off Gaza from the rest of the world in June 2007 as a means of weakening the political hold Hamas has on the territory. The rocket attacks were a pretext for the blockade, which quickly escalated into a full-scale war on the people of the territory. Gaza suffers all the evils of occupation despite the withdrawal by the Zionist forces in 2005.

The Israeli invasion of 2008-09 led to the commission of war crimes as documented by the UN-mandated Goldstone Commission. And the blockade of Gaza and its people amounts to collective punishment of civilians, another grave breach of international humanitarian law. Any other country would have been hauled over the coals by the UN Security Council for such rogue behaviour but Israel enjoys the backing of the United States. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama held out the faint hope of a more even-handed approach to the problems of West Asia. But as President, he has dismally failed to exert the kind of pressure needed to get Israel to withdraw from the territories it has illegally occupied since 1967. The crime that played out on the high seas on May 31 is very much part of the crime of occupation. There is little sense in the UNSC asking for an inquiry into the incident when previous inquiries into Israeli behaviour — notably the Goldstone report — ended in the dustbin. At the very least, the international community must ensure the immediate end of the Israeli embargo on Gaza. No goal or logic can justify subjecting an entire civilian population to an economic blockade. India has joined democratic forces round the world in condemning the attack on the flotilla. It must move beyond this now and actively work for the lifting of the inhuman blockade.

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