The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are.
- Gandhi (1982)
As with much of the dialog in Attenborough's film, I haven't seen such a direct quote from the Mahatma's mouth or pen in his Collected Works, but the line certainly reflects the spirit and intent of the raid on Dharasana and his methods of nonviolence. In fact, Indian economist J. C. Kumarappa wrote in Young India:
Dharasana raid was decided upon not to get salt, which was only the means. Our expectation was that the Government would open fire on unarmed crowds .... Our primary object was to show to the world at large the fangs and claws of the Government in all its ugliness and ferocity. In this we have succeeded beyond measure.
In nonviolent invasion a group of nonviolent volunteers deliberately and openly enter a forbidden area in order to demonstrate their refusal to recognize the right of the controlling regime or agency to exercise sovereignty or control over that area or to use it for a particular purpose. This method entails civil disobedience and the risk of severe repression.
It's probably hard for people to understand this method, as with most, thanks to our lack of education about nonviolence (a Department of Peace sure would be handy). So in the aftermath of the IDF's murdering the activists, I see people calling the flotilla a provocation, a setup, a stunt.
Seriously, those words are used to diminish and denigrate the action, but the whole point of such an invasion is to set up a stunt that provokes the opponent. This serves to highlight the injustice of the policies being protested, demonstrate the brutality used to defend the indefensible, and to get the world to notice and apply pressure to resolve the issue.
One of the reasons the IDF reaction is being deemed such a blunder is because of something Gush Shalom warned about a week before the massacre:
The whole world is looking. The State of Israel has no interest in flooding the international television screens with images of Israeli sailors and naval commandos violently assaulting hundreds of peace activists and humanitarian aid workers, many of them well-known in their countries. Whose interest will it serve when hours long dramatic live reports arrive from the Mediteranean, with the world's sympathy given to hundreds of non-violent activists, on board eight boats, assaulted by the strongest military power in the Middle East?
While nobody on the flotilla, I'm sure, deliberately courted their own murders, part of the exercise was in fact to "show to the world at large the fangs and claws of the [Israeli] Government in all its ugliness and ferocity." It put the IDF in a terrific bind because it has no idea of how to deal with nonviolence.
Really, it's a lose-lose-lose for Israel. They could have allowed the flotilla through, as on previous occasions, in which case they show just how much of a charade the blockade is and give the activists and Gazans a major win by getting aid where it needs to go. Or they can block it in a non-murderous fashion, in which case they mitigate any real deterrent. Or they can end up tactically botching a violent raid and creating a tipping point.
Predictably, Israel is following the repressive playbook page by page. Brian Martin:
[It] is useful to look at methods used by attackers that inhibit outrage. Examination of a wide range of cases reveals a diversity of methods, which for convenience can be grouped into five categories.
* Cover up the attack, hiding it from observers.
* Devalue the target.
* Reinterpret the attack, describing it as something else or as someone else's responsibility.
* Use official channels, such as authoritative pronouncements or official inquiries, that give the appearance of justice.
* Intimidate or bribe participants, thereby discouraging action against those responsible for the attack.
Israel did a fairly decent job of this regarding Gaza and Operation Cast Lead, I think. They take advantage of a lot of ambiguity and have been aided by Hamas' steadfast commitment to violence and stupidity. In this case, however, they are rudderless because the people they attacked were from the international community, in international waters, and clearly on a humanitarian mission.
They certainly have tried hiding the attack as much as possible, but their attempts have been short circuited by ubiquitous cameras and social networking applications. Live tweets and Youtube videos also make it hard for the IDF to devalue the target (they're terrorists), reinterpret the attack (poor defenseless commandos), use official channels (IDF Spokesperson vs Twitter legion), and intimidate participants (they've given in on show trials for the activists).
Further complicating things for Israel is the fact that violent repression rarely has the intended effect. Generally there is a backlash, and this situation is no exception. Beyond activists continuing the waves of aid missions, the worst case has come true geopolitically because they have not been able to spin their way out of the massacre:
* Under severe pressure, Egypt, which has blockaded Gaza by land for its own political reasons, has opened its borders (at least for now), a move that is likely to facilitate more weapons shipments than the most extreme estimates of potential smuggling from the Mavi Marmara would have supplied.
* Turkey, the only predominantly Muslim country that regards Israel as an ally, has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv amid massive anti-Israeli protests in the streets of Istanbul.
* Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on his way to Washington to discuss the resumption of Palestinian peace talks with President Barack Obama, had to go home (for obvious reasons), and the prospect for renewed diplomacy—which had gained much support in the region—has, to say the least, diminished.
* The case for tighter sanctions against Iran, to the extent that they involve sympathy with Israel's security concerns, has been dealt a setback, just as the U.N. nuclear agency has announced that Iran has enough fuel to build two A-bombs (though the fuel still needs to be enriched).
* The U.N. Security Council has condemned Israel's actions, and countless aid groups, including no doubt several that are hostile to Israel, are sailing toward Gaza, as if to dare the Israelis to fire on them too and, in any case, to deal another blow against the legitimacy of the blockade.
In sum, in order to keep one ship from delivering aid directly to Hamas—and, as Ha'aretz put it, choosing "the worst of all possible options" to do so—Israel has plunged itself into the deepest state of isolation that it's experienced in years.
This goes to show just what happens to a regime when it refuses to study anything except violence. People talk a lot about "existential enemies," but while they keep harping on provocative activists delivering water purifiers and wheelchairs and Israel's need to defend itself from such dangers, they miss the only real existential enemy Israel has: itself.