What are they so afraid of?

Sixteen yachts, part of an Israeli flotilla, set sails off the shores of Herzeliya in protest of the three-ship flotilla that left Turkey en route to Gaza on May 22. The Israeli yachts waved huge Israeli flags, pictures equating Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plastered to the sides. Other boats hosted posters of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Their purpose is to protest and –” in the best case scenario –” halt the Turkish "freedom flotilla" from arriving at Gaza’s shores carrying much needed aid to the people.

The Freedom Flotilla is hardly the first ship to break the siege on Gaza and deliver food, medicines and other basic necessities to the people of Gaza who continue to suffer under the strain of Israel’s years-long embargo and siege. And while the activists on board are naturally pro-Palestinian, the act in itself is not politically-motivated. The activists who come from all over the world and from all walks of life, including Israelis themselves, are first and foremost human rights advocates who want nothing more than to protest Israel’s inhumane siege on the Strip and bring a small bit of relief to the people.

The Israeli government knows this, but like everything else in this highly-charged country, everything that is anything is quickly interpreted as a political act. Hence, if the activists meet with a Hamas official once they reach Gaza to express their solidarity with the people (not with the movement), this is viewed as treachery and as support for terror. In the past, Israeli journalist Amira Hass and Tony Blair’s niece (among other prominent figures) have been a part of these relief convoys traveling to Gaza. Neither of them ever pledged their allegiance to Hamas, nor did they propose any political solutions further than a lifting of the siege. These convoys come to Gaza as humans, trying to help out other human beings in need.

So, what are these Israelis –” floating in the Mediterranean –” so scared of? Do they really want to bar medicines, baby formula or notebooks from reaching Gaza homes? This is a situation similar to the backlash generated by the PA’s declaration to boycott settlement products. Why is Israel so up in arms? It’s not like the Palestinians said they would burn down factories or torch settlement homes or anything. The world says settlements are illegal, not just the Palestinians. Most Israelis are not even big fans of settlements, basically because they take up too much tax money and manpower to defend, not to mention the bad rap they give Israel on the international scene. So why the frenzy surrounding the boycott? Some Israelis are calling for a halt to proximity talks, some say Israel should close its ports to exports coming into the Palestinian territories and some are calling for a withholding of revenue funds due to the PA. The term "economic terror" even came up in reference to Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad’s plan. In response to an article about the boycott, which explicitly explains that the products to be boycotted are those made in illegal Jewish settlements and not Israeli products per se, one comment hailing from Canada read, "I will be now looking for settlement products so I can buy them and promote them. Thank you for putting this to my attention, your hate will backfire !!!"

Hate? Isn’t the fact that settlements are illegally built on usurped Palestinian land and plunder Palestinian water and other natural resources while its residents harass neighboring Palestinians much more of a "hate campaign" than the boycott?

Besides, boycotts are a trademark of occupied peoples. They are nonviolent and effective and they push a fair agenda. Boycotts were popular in South Africa under the Apartheid regime and African-Americans carried out the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 to protest US laws of segregation against blacks and whites. Hence, Israel knows boycotting settlement products is fair game just like it knows bringing in humanitarian aid to the Gazans is an act of humanity. However, their fear lies in the underbelly of their very existence: a deep-seated fear that such acts will delegitimize Israel as a democratic state and a civilized nation among nations.

When shiploads of food for children, medicine, blankets and books is banned entry into Gaza, the world will hopefully look twice and question what can only be described as Israel’s crime against humanity in the Gaza Strip. When the Palestinians and other peoples of conscience throughout the world boycott products made in Jewish settlements, not only will it hurt these illegal colonies’ economy, it will bring this very important issue to the attention of nations and peoples. For that reason, Israel reacts to such moves of nonviolent resistance with such ferocity.

The boycott reminds people that Israel has repeatedly shunned international resolutions by refusing to dismantle settlements and has angered even the United States by continuing to expand them. While the Freedom Flotilla may be carrying just a fraction of the aid the people of Gaza so desperately need, it is not just about that. It is about the publicity and the exposure of an inhumane siege on 1.5 million people, most of whom are not involved in the politics of Hamas or the PA. And so Israel and many Israelis resist and fight back and try their best to delegitimize Palestinian efforts instead.

If one looks at the issue from this angle, it makes sense why Israel is so afraid. It should be worried that one day it will have to pay for its crimes. And if these baby steps bring us Palestinians to that ultimate goal, then let’s promote this fear factor as much as we can.