On Sunday evening, thousands of people joined together to condemn Israel's 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, a 1,080-capacity passenger ship that participated in a flotilla of ships challenging the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The event, organized by the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, commemorated the fatal tragedy and made it clear to the world that they had not given up. Nor have they forgotten the international community's silence on the suffering of Palestinians. Speaking to the media last week, İHH chief Bülent Yıldırım said that the flotilla incident marked a turning point in history because "it turned the Palestinian cause into the cause of anyone with a conscience."
Let's take a step back and remember how the world responded to the flotilla raid: Twenty-three European countries, including the United Kingdom and France, condemned the raid. Four other countries - Turkey, South Africa, Nicaragua and Ecuador - downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel. Eventually, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to apologize for the incident. International media outlets were more reluctant to tackle the issue than world leaders. For instance, on June 11, 2010, The New York Times published an editorial to effectively blame the Turkish authorities for not "discouraging organizers from running the Israeli blockade" to avoid what the paper referred to as "a stupid fight," while conveniently avoiding any references to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The same attitude, sadly enough, still prevails. Just last week, The New York Times suggested that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was promoting bigotry toward Turkish Jewry, citing his "heated exchanges with the Israeli leadership, primarily over Gaza."
There is no doubt that the tragedy merely amounted to a fraction of what millions of Palestinians have had to suffer over the past century. Nowadays, the world's silence encourages the Israeli government to pursue an aggressive campaign of expansionism and engage in grave human rights violations. Although there seems to be little hope for the future, there is a certain value to holding the moral high ground, which brought thousands together on an Istanbul evening yesterday. It is this sense of righteousness, too, which guides the Turkish government's actions when standing in solidarity with "the huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Sunday, May 31 marked the fifth anniversary of the Mavi Marmara raid, during which 10 peaceful activists died at the hands of Israeli soldiers firing live rounds. While insincere apologies have been offered and the tragedy of millions has turned into an ordinary matter, a new generation of journalists, politicians and opinion leaders, one would hope, will be able to distinguish between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and anti-Semitism. Until then, thousands on the streets screamed with unmistakable confidence, we are proud to be labeled and protested.