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Book Review: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israeli/Palestine Conflict, Edited by Moustafa Bayoumi

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On May 21 of 2010, Israeli commandos took to the six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and intercepted the humanitarian mission with military force. On five of the six ships, no incident took place. Aboard the Mavi Marmara, however, a different story rang out in headlines around the world.

The Mavi Marmara was the flagship of the convoy heading to break the controversial Gaza blockade. Israeli Defense Forces seized the vessel in international waters and violently clashed with activists aboard. When the dust settled and the bullets finally stopped flying, nine activists were killed. Two of those nine activists were shot at close range as they lay injured.

In Midnight on the Mavi Marmara, Moustafa Bayoumi has compiled an extensive series of articles and essays from a host of contributors. The pieces span the events aboard the Mavi Marmara and include first-hand testimony from activists aboard the vessel. There are also articles of analysis, putting the situation in historical context. Some pieces are decidedly angry, while others are calm and objective.

The first part of the book, “On Board the Ships,” features work from those who were on the scene during the raid. A chilling diary-style entry from Henning Mankell opens things up. Mankell’s account is suitably confusing and frenzied, clearly conveying the chaos of that May day. Ken O’Keefe speaks of “self-defense” and speaks of disarming an Israeli commando of his 9mm and hiding the weapon.

These frightening, surreal accounts set the stage for the deeper analysis to follow.

The second part, “Understanding the Attack,” deepens the context with writings from Gideon Levy, Ben Saul, Noam Chomsky, Rashid Kalidi, and others. Professor of law George Bisharat writes as to the illegality of the raid, stating in concise terms what Israel’s legal courses are and aren’t in the region.

The third part of the book, “The Blockade of Gaza,” begins with a list of items that are prohibited and permitted into the Gaza Strip. The lack of continuity would be hilarious if so many lives weren’t at risk. Writing from Sara Roy adds more context to what life is like in the Gaza Strip, noting that the “people of Gaza know they have been abandoned.” Nadia Hijab, Raji Sourani and other contributors flesh out more details.

“Inside Israel,” the fourth portion, contains my favourite of all of the writings in the book. “No Citizenship Without Loyalty!” is a poignant, striking essay from former IDF paratrooper and doctor of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion Neve Gordon. His insistence on the necessity of states being loyal to citizens rather than the perverse opposite is compelling.

Doron Rosenblum talks about Israel’s passive-aggressive response to the flotilla raid, while Ilan Pappé talks about the old thinking of Israeli government that contributes to the nation’s decline in international stature. Yousef Munayyer’s “A History of Impunity” tells us that the events aboard the Mavi Marmara are not all that surprising when one considers the history of Israel.

The fifth part of the book, “Old Friends, New Thinking,” delves into the aftermath of the raid and the subsequent battle for the hearts and minds of the world’s citizens. Writers like Murat Dagli and Marsha B. Cohen describe the Turkish response and the expected smear campaign by the IDF on the IHH.

Glenn Greenwald‘s piece on tribalism is vital reading, as is Arun Gupta’s suitably cynical piece about the incessant “victimhood” of Israel.

The sixth part, “Palestine on Our Minds,” compares the Palestinian struggle to that of the South Africans. Writings from Adam Shapiro, Omar Barghouti and Mike Marqusee close out the final portion of the book.

Midnight on the Mavi Marmara is a satisfying and intelligent read. This collection of writing ventures through the events of May 31, 2010, with clarity and candour. The book is thorough and precise, with varying styles adding surprising humour and justifiable anger to the mix. It’s a must-read for anyone wanting to know more about Gaza, Israel, the flotilla raid, and the plight of the Palestinian people.

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