Leader: Lift this cruel blockade of the wretched of Gaza

The botched commando raid on the Gaza flotilla is the latest in a line of disastrous diplomatic own

Supporters of Israel have long argued that it is singled out for international opprobrium and held to a different standard from its neighbours. There is truth in that. But Israel is different: it is a western-style liberal democracy, armed and funded by the United States, and the beneficiary of a web of preferential agreements with the European Union. It should in so many ways be a source of hope and democracy in a part of the world where tyranny holds sway. By contrast, critics of Israel would argue that the Jewish state is the subject not of international discrimination, but of special treatment.

In the past week, the Obama administration has worked hard to soften UN criticism of the Israeli raid on a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip in which nine people were killed. (One can only imagine the reaction if it had been Iranian Revolutionary Guards airdropping on to a flotilla of aid ships in international waters, killing unarmed activists in the process and imprisoning British citizens.)

The damage to Israel in global public opinion is done. How could a country with such a keen sense for public relations have allowed commandos to board a flotilla of aid ships flying the flag of its closest ally in the Muslim world, Turkey, and which had on board the bestselling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire and the young film-maker Hassan Ghani, as well as legislators and peace activists from across Europe and North America?

Polls show that even a majority of Israelis believe the flotilla could have been stopped from reaching Gaza through other, less belligerent means. One of Israel's leading novelists, the admirable and courageous David Grossman, whose soldier son was killed in the Lebanon war of 2006, wrote: "No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army."

So, once again, the Israelis, misled by their bellicose prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, have scored an own goal. The botched commando raid on the Gaza flotilla is the latest in a line of disastrous diplomatic own goals by the Israelis. The other debacles include the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai in January, in which suspected Mossad agents used forged British and Australian passports to enter the emirate, and the provocative announcement, during a visit to Israel by the US vice-president, Joe Biden, in March, that Tel Aviv intends to build an additional 1,600 homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.

In addition, there is the ongoing blockade on Gaza, enforcement of which led to the fiasco on the high seas. For the past three years, Gaza has been under siege, with Israel - aided and abetted by Egypt - maintaining a blockade. This, according to aid agencies, has caused a humanitarian disaster inside the crowded strip. It is a policy "amounting to collective punishment", concluded a United Nations investigation, led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone, in September 2009. It is this punishment of ordinary Gazans that the activists on those ships, rightly or wrongly, set out to oppose and defy.

On 4 January, in our leader marking the first anniversary of the Gaza war, we called on the EU to take the lead in applying pressure, and not just make rhetorical calls, to force an end to the siege. "Gazans cannot wait any longer," we said. Six months on, we again join the rest of the world, including the new British government, in repeating this urgent call: lift this cruel blockade of Gaza.

This article first appeared in The myth of Mandela

2010-06-07