The six boats were carrying 10,000 tones of aid for Gaza, but their mission was also provocative: to draw attention to the Israeli blockade of the territory.
The provocation was successful. Israeli commandos attacked the flotilla, killing nine passengers and arresting more than 600 activists from the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization that has organized previous aid voyages.
The Israelis had warned the vessels that they were entering a hostile area and the ships refused a request to dock at the port of Ashdod, where earlier shipments have been unloaded and sent on to Gaza after being searched for contraband.
When Israeli commandos boarded the largest ship early Monday morning, instead of encountering passive resistance, fighting erupted.
Although the Israeli government defended its navy's actions, the battle has sparked international condemnation and further isolated Israel just as the United States is working to restart the Mideast peace process. Turkey, Israel's closest Muslim ally, denounced the action as "inhumane state terrorism" and Egypt reopened its border with Gaza to allow aid through.
The Israelis imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, which refuses to recognize the existence of Israel, took control of Gaza. But the burden falls disproportionately on the innocent. Among the banned items are jam, chocolate, french fries, fabric and toys. The Israelis also prohibit nearly all exports, which has decimated Gaza's agriculture and industry and left more than 80 percent of Gazans dependent on food aid.
Those who organized the voyage and its participants laced their humanitarianism with calculation, and the Israelis, either knowingly or unwittingly, fell into their trap.
The blunder should encourage the Israelis to rethink their Gaza blockade.