In a matter of days, an American ship containing 36 U.S. citizens – The Audacity of Hope – will likely embark for Gaza as part of a controversial flotilla intending to enter Israeli waters and break Israel's blockade of the Strip.
In response, the State Department has issued an updated travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, the text of which is unlike anything I've seen from the State Department in that it warns Americans about the threat of injury or death from the military personnel of a staunch U.S. ally.
Given the diplomatic import such warnings have, what was released by the State Department today is no small matter, and reveals the frustrations building in the Obama administration toward Israel.
Below is the relevant, updated portion of the travel warning (w/ my emphasis):
U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea. On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are not able to provide consular assistance in Gaza or on the high seas or coastal waters.
The text of this warning is curious, and reveals not only the administration's disapproval of (and concern for) Americans taking part in the flotilla, but both a subtle critique of Israel's past use of force and, perhaps, an unintentional echoing of the general frustration this administration is feeling with regard to its ally in the Middle East.
What is curious? This:
Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens.
Considering that the vast majority of those who were met in 2010 by the Israeli navy were ultimately arrested and deported, one might argue that it would make logical sense for the warning to begin with the least severe of fates which could be visited upon Americans choosing to participate in the flotilla, and proceed from there (as most warnings do, such as this current one for Sudan).
But to begin with "injury" and then move to "death" – which, it should be noted, is not constructed in logical order from most severe to least (for those who might argue that a warning should, by definition, begin with the most severe fate) – sends a stark message about how the State Department views Israel's planned military intervention and its ability to show restraint.
Of course, State Department warnings are not meant for Israeli ears – the Obama administration has been admonishing Israel directly in recent days about its need to accept the White House's terms for peace negotiations and about its military stance toward the Palestinians.
What the warning does do, and this is highly unusual, is highlight the dangers posed by a stanch ally's military, dangers that are not characterized as collateral or unintentional. Again, from the warning:
On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt.
The warning does not state that nine people died in Israel's "attempt" to block a non-military convoy of ships in 2010, and this is significant given the diplomatic import such warnings have. For the word "killed" implies not collateral or unintentional results, but military intent.
Words matter, and such travel warnings, particularly those dealing with countries friendly with the U.S., are constructed with great care given the diplomatic ramifications such warnings can have.
Which is why this, to my mind, is significant.
Now, lest this diary be misinterpreted, I want to make one thing clear: I am not intending to pass judgement on the flotilla itself, on its justifications or lack thereof, nor on Israel's right to block it. (Personally, I find the flotilla to be, ultimately, a counterproductive venture, but that's a separate issue.)
What this diary does intend to do is highlight that, as the Obama administration warns Americans about participating in the upcoming flotilla, what it also is does, perhaps unintentionally, is reveal the tension building between this administration and Israel on how to proceed – in all avenues – with regard to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.
I suspect that such expressions of the tension that is building between America and Israel will continue to leak as September, and the promise of the Palestinians unilaterally declaring statehood before the U.N., draws closer.