At roughly 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning Israeli navy and air force troops
intercepted a convoy of
six ships that attempted to deliver 10,000 tons of aid to the besieged Gaza
strip. The convoy,
known as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, was inspected by several
governments and was a highly
publicized action. Israeli officials warned the ships they will not be
allowed to reach Gaza’s shores,
when the ships attempted to do so in order to break the siege on Gaza,
the Israeli army attacked
them, leaving 20 international activists dead and dozens injured.
Hundreds are currently in Israeli
jails. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky investigates what Israeli officials
and Israeli media have
been reporting about this attack.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER, TRNN: This is Lia Tarachansky with The Real News in Ashdod, Israel, where today roughly 200 protesters came here to the seashore to commemorate the death of nearly 20 activists. They were killed when the Israeli army attacked a six-ship flotilla on its way to Gaza to deliver aid. When the activists arrived here on the shores, they were attacked by locals, who were saying that standing in solidarity with Gaza was treason to Israel.
DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The IDF is a terrorist organization. Stop the siege on Gaza!
TARACHANSKY: It was here in Ashdod that the Israeli Navy diverted the Gaza Freedom Movement’s six-ship convoy on Monday. Termed the “Freedom Flotilla”, the ships were trying to deliver 10,000 tons of aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, including materials Israel bans from the entry, such as cement and most foods. The convoy is just the latest in nine previous attempts, and an attack on Sunday night is the second attack on the movement’s boats. Last year, a much smaller ship carrying several European parliamentarians, known peace activists, and US politician Cynthia McKinney was rammed by the Israeli navy. This year the Army prepared well in advance. Starting last weekend, the Israeli Navy collaborated with the Air Force is in training for the confrontation. Israel Navy Commander Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom briefed the soldiers the day before the attack.
ELIEZER MAROM, COMMANDER, ISRAELI NAVY (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We are IDF soldiers who operate according to the spirit of the IDF and according to IDF values, and we will act professionally and with determination. We have no intention of harming any one of these people. And with that said, we have a very clear mission to carry out. Any provocation that they will create, and there are a number of soldiersï¿½.
TARACHANSKY: According to the IDF spokesperson, Marom also warned the soldiers that terrorists may be on board the ship. The Israeli minister of defense, Ehud Barak, echoed terrorism as the motivator for the heavy military presence in his address to journalists Monday morning. The minister also said there is no humanitarian crisis, nor a food shortage in Gaza. His charge of the ships being linked to terrorism is based on the Israeli Information and Terrorism Center’s press release over the weekend. It says that one of the five members of the Free Gaza Movement, the Turkish IHH, is a radical Islamic organization established in 1992. The press release alleged IHH’s links to terrorism because of it having provided assistance to Bosnian Muslims during the Yugoslavian massacre. Where Muslims are engaged in armed conflict, some Islamic organizations provide military aid as part of a humanitarian package, it says. I spoke to Dr. Arafat Shoukri of the Gaza Freedom Movement that organized the flotilla about the IHH.
ARAFAT SHOUKRI, DIRECTOR, COUNCIL FOR EUROPEAN-PALESTINIAN RELATIONS: Well, actually, this is an Israeli propaganda to justify the killing of these civilian, unarmed people. But IHH is the biggest charity in Turkey, and they have branches in around 40, 50 countries helping the poor and needy, and they have very strong connections with the political party, the ruling party in Turkey. So if Israeli accuses them of a kind of terrorism or terrorist links, then they are accusing the political party for the same reason.
TARACHANSKY: Israeli officials called the flotilla itself a political and publicity provocation, and called the activists who attempted to prevent soldiers from boarding the ships “terrorists”. Throughout the day, Israeli press argued the attack was done in self-defense. According to the army’s version of events, the ships were asked to turn back while in international waters somewhere between three and four o’clock on Monday morning.
IDF SAILOR: Mavi Marmara, you are approaching an area of hostilities which is under a naval blockade. The Gaza area coastal region and Gaza harbor are closed to all maritime traffic.
TARACHANSKY: According to the Army, soldiers then descended from helicopters and boarded the ships, on one of which they were attacked. The only news report to come out from the ship itself before it was attacked and the army severed the ship’s lines of communications, the footage talks about how soldiers descended on one ship and attacked activistsï¿½even those who were sleepingï¿½before the fight the army showed ever broke out. The Israeli media, however, relied exclusively on army information, and its journalists were embedded with the Navy. The main Israeli radio station, Israeli Army Radio, spoke to soldiers and ministers about the attack.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The fighters of the unit that fought on the Marmara ship said that as soon as the first fighter descended onto the ship the masses tried to lynch him. They are currently verifying if the activists opened fire beside the use of pistols. Many metal sticks and knives were found on board the ships. The IDF says the leader of the Islamic movement, Raed Salah, is found on the ship. The army reported he rioted during the fight. Minister Gilad Erdan says that due to the activists’ attack, the soldier’s response should have probably been even more severe. Yiron Vilensky interviewed him at our 5:00 p.m. report.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): When people are killed we all feel pain and sorrow. But you simply see people who intend on killing Israeli soldiers. It’s very hard to see that. We shouldn’t be afraid of each criticism. Every leader knows in his heart that he wouldn’t just act like Israel, but much more aggressively.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Minister Benny Begin added that it should be broadcast worldwide that Israel’s intention was to defend itself and not hurt human lives.
TARACHANSKY: There’s a lot of confusing information coming out. So I was just wondering, according to you, how many people have been killed?
SHOUKRI: Well, actually, unfortunately, we don’t have exact information about that, because the Israeli army do not allow any contact with the prisoners there. We are trying through our solicitors to know exactly what’s going on and how many have been killed or injured, but according to the Israeli television, those who have been killed around 20 and the injured ones about 80.
TARACHANSKY: At one point there was a report that soldiers started shooting before they even descended on the ships. I was wondering if you could confirm that.
SHOUKRI: Well, actually, this is what we received from the eyewitnesses, one of the last things that we received from them, that, you know, in the helicopters, they were shooting at people. And this is what it was in the press release.
TARACHANSKY: Well, the report said that the soldiers were shooting on sleeping activists. Is this true?
SHOUKRI: Well, actually, we do not, obviously, know for sure what happened, but we are calling for a transparent investigation to know exactly what happened at that moment.
TARACHANSKY: After the attack, the Israeli army said pistols were found on board the ship. In the release itself, however, the army admitted that the pistols were Israeli army pistols that activists confiscated from the soldiers who attacked the ship.
TARACHANSKY: The world is going to be looking to Israel with a lot of questions about how Israeli society could seize this. What do you think is important for the world to know?
AYALA ASHANI, ACTIVIST, SOLIDARITY PROTEST WITH GAZA: Well, I think it is important to be aware of the language that was used prior to this brutal massacre. The language was about an enemy, about preserving Israel’s deterrence, about an attack on Israel sovereignty, while the ships were sailing from international water into Palestinian water. So there was no case of sovereignty. That language actually translated into what we’ve seen.
TARACHANSKY: The Israeli deputy foreign minister is Danny Ayalon. He works under Avigdor Lieberman. According to him, it doesn’t matter that the operation took place in international waters, because Israel is above international law. In response to the fact that Israel couldn’t declare international waters as its own closed military zone, he said, “These accusations have no basis in reality nor in legality. Our judgments and needs overbear any other. The decision to stop the flotilla was the right one.”
KOBI SNITZ, ANARCHISTS AGAINST THE WALL: I think that the appropriate thing is legal action against the people involved. We know that the commander of the Navy was personally involved. We know that the action took part outside of Israeli territorial waterï¿½not that it would make any more legal if it was inside Israeli territorial water. These people are known, their names are public, and they should be held responsible.
TARACHANSKY: In the meantime, protests have been taking place in every major Israeli and Palestinian city and university. Palestinian shopowners in the Old City of Jerusalem also went on strike in the early afternoon. Later in the day, Israeli army sources retracted that the attack left 16 casualties and said the number of killed was actually nine. It wouldn’t let anyone confirm this. However, the damage done to Israel’s image abroad will be harder to retract. Governments and organizations around the world have condemned the siege, last year’s war, and this attack on civilians. Activists are therefore hoping this attention will not simply remain angry words and condemnations but would actually help end the siege on Gaza.