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Margaret Wente

Ship of useful idiots? Add to ...

I regret to report that this year's Freedom Flotilla to Gaza is a bust. The hardy band of activists - including a couple of dozen Canadians and the novelist Alice Walker - failed to break Israel's brutal blockade and deliver their cargo of humanitarian relief to the suffering Gazans. In fact, they barely made it out of port. The Canadians' boat, the Tahrir (Arabic for "liberation") was immediately intercepted by the Greek coast guard. An early alert that the boat might be sinking proved to be a false alarm. It was merely gouged when the coast guard took it back to the marina and ran it into the dock.

The Canadians didn't really expect that their effort to run the blockade would succeed. They hoped for something better - martyrdom, perhaps. Maybe there would be a repeat of last year's debacle, when Israeli forces killed nine people on the Mavi Marmara. "We're expecting to be tasered," said Kevin Neish, a white-haired B.C. activist who enjoys volunteering as a human shield. Mary Hughes Thompson, another white-haired activist who co-founded the Free Gaza Movement, was serene. "If anything should happen to me - if I should die - I can't think of a better cause," she told the CBC.

Despite their best efforts, nothing happened. Most of the other boats, including Ms. Walker's, were turned back, too, and the horde of journalists breathlessly covering the lead-up to the voyage were left without a story. So many reporters were packed aboard the Tahrir, it's amazing there was room for relief supplies. These supplies consisted of medicine and medical equipment (which are in acutely short supply) and cement (to rebuild hospitals and schools). If you think cement is a weird thing for a small boat to haul across the ocean, remember, it's the symbolism that counts.

This year's useful idiots included the usual aging peaceniks, left-wing university types, a few Jewish radicals, and the kind of people who show up to protest against logging and genetically modified foods. It doesn't seem to bother them that Gaza is controlled by Hamas, widely regarded as a terrorist group. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. It endorses The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that describes Zionist plans for world domination. (Too bad the journalists didn't ask about that.) Hamas is backed by Iran. Its leader, Khaled Meshaal, is based in Syria, where, as you may recall, the regime of Bashar al-Assad is busy killing its own people. Hamas was among the few groups in the world to condemn the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Israel's blockade exists to stop rampant weapons-smuggling into Gaza. But the activists are unruffled by the Hamas connection. To them, the terrorists are all in Israel. They regard the suffering of Gazans as equivalent to the suffering of southern U.S. blacks under segregation, and the Gaza flotilla as the moral equivalent of freedom marches in Alabama. One of the passengers aboard the Tahrir was David Heap, a university professor whose father took part in the civil-rights movement. Mr. Heap says his father, too, was "ridiculed when he went to Selma to join Martin Luther King."

Alas, Khaled Meshaal is no Martin Luther King. And Gaza isn't 1960s Alabama. While Israel is far from blameless for Gaza's problems, many are of its leaders' own making. Take the current shortage of medical supplies, which the activists blame on Israel. Mahmoud Daher, the Gaza office director of the World Health Organization, says the shortage has been caused by the failure of Palestinian authorities to pay suppliers on time, as well as by a lack of co-operation between health authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Gaza is a wretched place. But Gazans are not the most wretched of the Earth. Flat-screen TVs, new cars, lavish weddings, and Israeli mineral water are abundant. If the activists really cared about people in desperate need of humanitarian relief, they'd be sailing to North Korea or Sudan. If they really cared about murderous dictatorships, they'd be protesting against Bashar al-Assad. Instead, they'd rather martyr themselves to enable terrorists. They wouldn't be the first, or the last.

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