Flotilla | IDF spokesperson spins Mavi Marmara video for local political purposes

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

After weeks in which Israel refused to release the media confiscated form the journalists on the Gaza-bound flotilla, a short clip is posted on the IDF radio site, just at the perfect timing for Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s needs

Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified this week before the Turkel committee, the investigating panel Israel has formed to look into the events surrounding the deadly raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

In what seemed like a strange coincident, while Ashkenazy was testifying, IDF Radio released another short clip from the videos taken on the the Mavi Marmara and later confiscated by the army. This new video, it was claimed, shows Arab Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi “in the presence of armed men on board the ship”. The Israeli media immediately jumped on the story, and Ashkenazy was temporarily forgotten.

MK Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara, was the target of unprecedented public outrage in the Jewish public. She was almost physically attacked by Knessent Members, and later striped of some of her privileges as a member of the Israeli Parliament.

The head of the IDF Spokesperson unit, brigadier general Avi Bnayahu, is the closest ally of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, among high ranking officers.

As can be seen below, the clip the IDF released was heavily edited. MK Zoabi is seen passing on the deck when two men with sticks are passing, later she is seen with other men carrying sticks, but this is apparently after the IDF soldiers boarded the ship. Yet the headlines describing the clip in the Hebrew media declared that unlike what Zoabi told reporters after the raid, “She knew the passengers were armed“. Even Haaretz site claimed that the film proved MK Zoabi knew of the existence of weapons on the ship.

Leaving aside the fact that calling people carrying sticks and polls armed – especially when they face battle ships and commando soldiers – is taking it a bit far; there is little doubt on my mind that by releasing the film IDF spokesperson tried to provoke public anger against an Israeli Member of Parliament in order to silence the growing criticism over the army’s performances, and especially the talk regarding the actions of Chief of Staff Ashkenazy, who remained at his home and didn’t supervise the attack from Central Command in Tel Aviv.

If the Israeli army had serious allegations against MK Zoabi, he should have turned them to the state prosecutor’s office, rather than post them on the IDF radio’s site (As far as I know, it’s the only Mavi Marmara video not released officially on the army spokesperson’s site, but through the radio station). But it is the timing tells the real story: there hasn’t been a Maramara clip released in weeks now, and suddenly, when the chief of staff faces some public criticism, suddenly there are new “evidences” Israelis must see.

These are not easy days for the IDF’s commander, who is caught in an ugly public battle with defense minister Ehud Barak over the identity of his successor. Barak whishes that GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant will take over the Israeli army and Ashkenazi wants anyone but Galant. Affairs turned toxic last week after channel 2 published a document detailing a PR campaign to boost the chances of Galant winning the job (Galant claimed the document is fake and that this is a set-up intended to smear him). This led to a police investigation, and current suggestions are that the source for the leaked document was army spokesperson Avi Bnayahu.

It seems that Bnayahu, maybe even Ashkenazy, used the oldest trick in the handbook for the Israeli politician: Faced with troubles, find an unpopular Arab and attack him.

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The release of the new video by the Army spokesperson – this time, it seems, not to help Israel’s case in the world but for the army’s local political needs – should remind us that Israel is still holding the evidences that could have shed light on the events that took place on the Mavi Marmara and led to the death of nine people.

As they were led off the ships in the Israeli port of Ashdod, around 60 journalists who were present on the Gaza-bound flotilla had all their electronic items taken from them and all recorded media confiscated, never to be returned. Kürşat Bayhan, a Turkish reporter, told Zaman newspaper that he tried to hide his camera’s flash memory card under his tongue, but it was discovered and confiscated during a medical examination. Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker who managed to smuggle out of Israel an hour-long video, said in a news conference at United Nations that another memory card she had was discovered and taken from her.

During the days following the raid, IDF spokesperson released short clips which appeared to have been taken from the footage confiscated from media representatives. These segments – who appeared to have backed some of Israel’s claims regarding the events – were released without stating who them, were and when.

At the time, I contacted the army spokesperson in request for an official explanation regarding the detention of journalists present on a foreign vessel and the confiscation of their recorded material.

In an official comment, IDF spokesperson stated that all media was taken from the journalists “for security reasons”, and that it was used later by the army “due to false allegations that were brought up.”

The army spokesperson chose not to comment on my question regarding the legal ground for these actions.


Flotilla | A probe that would get Netanyahu’s government off the hook

Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

“[the] commission’s conclusions were pre-determined… members of the panel did give the facts a chance to confuse them.”

(Israel’s Foreing Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the Goldston’s commission’s report)

“Gaza flotilla probe will show the world Israel acted lawfully.”

(PM Benjamin Netanayhu talking at the start of the cabinet meeting which unanimous approved the probe).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today the forming of an investigative commission into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The commission will include three Israelis and two foreign observers. The internationals won’t be bale to vote on decisions or view confidential material.

The three Israeli members were carefully chosen so that they would suit Netanyahu’s political needs. The Prime Minister wishes to keep the government intact, and not have Defense Minister Ehud Barak forced to resign. It shouldn’t be too hard with Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel heading the committee. Turkel explained his views of on such probe in an interview to the IDF radio three weeks:

“I don’t like personal recommendations. The main thing is what stands before me. I don’t want any more failures, and whether a certain person is dismissed or not, or whether his role is frozen or not is of secondary importance.”

Two elderly gentlemen will serve under Turkel:  93 years old international law professor Shabtai Rosen, and 86 years old Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, who has been know for his criticism on the army in the past, but will probably not put the political leadership in danger.

In order to take care of the international crisis, add some credibility to the committee and give the US something to justify backing it with, two international observers were added to the panel. The first is Lord David Trimble, a former leader of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist party, a known supporter of Israel and a member of the recently launched “Friends of Israel” group. In 2007 Mr Trimble wrote a report for the Conservative Friends of Israel in the UK, explaining that the international community should oppose to negotiations with Hamas. You can read more on his appointment in NYT’s The Lede blog.

The second international observer is Canadian Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, an expert on terrorism and on fighting none-governmental organizations. Terrorism experts usually back Israel.

This committee will probably not hear evidences from the passengers. It won’t be allowed to talk to IDF soldiers and officers, except for chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. To gain knowledge of the events on the Mavi Marmara, it will have to rely on the army’s report – if they even let the two observers to see it. Its report will deal with the legal justifications for the siege on Gaza and with the legitimacy of the Israeli raid.

The US has welcomed the commission. The rest of the world is doubtful, which is not surprising. It’s interesting to note that the Obama Administration, who supposedly believes working with in international institutions, helped Israel bypass a UN resolution (or at least try to: we don’t know what will happen with the UNHRC planned commission).

I think the administration is simply looking to put the entire affair behind it, and go back to the diplomatic game with the Palestinian Authority. Maybe the White House hopes to get some concessions out of Netanyahu for getting him and his government off the hook. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that they really take this probe seriously, and I even guess that’s the reason they didn’t put an American observer on it – so they don’t be part of the report which will find that Israel, believe it or not, did act within its rights. But if there is something that both the US and Israel needed to understand from the past two weeks, it’s that you can’t ignore Gaza, isolate Hamas and hope the problem will just go away or sort itself somehow. In fact, both should have learned that after Cast Lead. There won’t be half a peace, just in the West Bank. And even the flotilla incident is far from being over.


Flotilla | New Mavi Marmara pictures raise more questions regarding IDF attack

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Turkish paper Hurriyet published pictures of captive IDF soldiers inside the Mavi Marmara (see them here) during the Israeli raid on the ship. IDF spokesperson already declared that “this is clear proof of Israel’s repeated claims, that the boat was carrying mercenaries, whose sole purpose was to kill the soldiers.”

But to me these pictures raise even more questions. It seems that the people on the Mavi Marmara actually kept the soldiers alive – rather than “lynch” them, as Israel claims. This might also explain why the battle against unarmed civilians took so long: Could it be that the nine casualties weren’t just the result of an attempt to protect the life of the soldiers at the moment they were attacked, but rather the outcome of a violent rescue operation?

Since the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, there is a standing order in Israel not to let any IDF soldier to be captured alive, even if it means risking his own life – let alone the life of the people around him.

Another thought: could it be that the bullet injuries few IDF soldiers suffered occurred during this rescue attempt?  Maybe it was IDF shots that caused them?

Here is another picture, posted on the IHH flickr page, showing passengers treating a wounded IDF soldier. I don’t know if this pic is real or not, but if it is, it might back the claim that the passengers were trying to defend themselves rather kill the soldiers:

flotilla

As long as the IDF doesn’t release it’s version of the events and all confiscated material, we have no way of knowing what happened on the Mavi Maramra. But as passengers’ testimonies are released and more material is coming out, the army’s version seems to have more and more holes in it.

UPDATE: Alon Ben David, channel 10 military correspondent, gave last night an unofficial account of events from army sources: attack on the ship started on 4:30 AM, with 15 soldiers going down the ropes to the upper deck. The first three were captured in the lower deck. After one minute the soldiers opened fire and took control of the upper deck.

At 4:35 another team arrives by helicopter. At 4:50 the army starts taking over the ship. At 5:00 the army announces it has control over the ship’s bridge. The soldiers in the lower deck escape from their captives: two jump to the water, and the third reach the front of the ship and awaits there for the other commandos to rescue him. According to a report from Al-Jessira (quoted here in Ynet), the third soldier didn’t escape; IDF commandos broke into the room he was held in and shot the passengers surrounding him.

There is no official IDF version of the events yet.

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Israel has rejected United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s idea for an international commission of inquiry into the raid. According to this offer, the inquiry committee would have been led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer (an expert on maritime law), with an Israeli representative and a Turkish one serving under him.

Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu informed the government today (Sunday) that he would not agree to such an investigation. Netanyahu also said that the world is beginning to open up to the Israeli view of last week’s events.

The Israeli dilemma is simple: reject an international committee, and you risk having another Goldstone report, based entirely on the evidences of the flotilla’s passengers. Accept the committee, and you risk ending up with a report which will condemn Israel and enjoy world wide credibility. There is also a problem with the IDF, which opposes to having soldiers testify in front of any sort of civilian committee, Israeli or international. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who finally agreed to some sort of investigation in order to ease up the pressure on Israel, still firmly object to having soldiers testify before it.

Israeli leaders also have their own political concerns, which further complicate things: a civilian Israeli committee might force them to resign, while an international inquiry won’t have personal implication on them.

The solution Israel is hoping for is an Israeli-led investigation, with an international observer, preferably an American, sitting on it (but staying out of the room when security issues are discussed). Zeev Segal, Haaretz’s legal expert, wrote in favor of such a solution this morning.

I explained here why the international community should not accept an Israeli-led investigation.

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The talk of the day in Israel was the decision by Boston Rock group The Pixies to cancel their gig in Tel Aviv planned for this Wednesday. The Pixies are very popular with my generation of Israelis (I had tickets), and this was supposed to be their first show in Tel Aviv. But the real issue is that Israelis are extremely troubled by the idea of an international boycott. Producer Shuki Weiss, who booked the show, called the pressure on bands not to perform in Israel “cultural terrorism“.

Most pundits and talking heads I heard today said that it was a PR failure, rather than a policy one, which led to pressure on Israel these days (here is an example from Israel’s most popular columnist). Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decided, like many Israelis, to put the blame on the left and the Israeli Arabs.

More and more it seems that Israelis simply don’t understand why the world is mad at them. As Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today, the one place IDF propaganda actually worked very well is Israel, where both the media and the public now views the attack on the flotilla as an heroic success story.

British Author Iain Banks also decided to join the boycott on Israel. He explains why in a letter to the Guardian:

Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do? For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.

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News and Suggested reading:

NY Times: Washington Asks: What to Do About Israel?

Our own Freedom Fries: A right-wing group has asked Elite, Israel’s largest coffee manufacture, to change the name of its popular  Turkish Coffee [link in Hebrew].


Smoke grenade thrown at Tel Aviv peace rally, well known activist attacked

Posted: June 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Political tension in Israel grows, as Left and Right protesters clash

Uri avneri (left), befor he was attacked by rightwing people today in Tel Aviv

Former MK and peace activist Uri avneri (left), befor he was attacked by rightwing people today in Tel Aviv

Between 7,000 and 15,000 people (depending on who you ask) marched this evening in Tel Aviv to mark 43 years of occupation and to protest Israeli government policy. Following recent events, the demonstration, which was scheduled weeks in advance, turned into a protest against the attack on the Gaza flotilla.

While the march itself was relaxed for most parts, a few dozens of right-wing people held a counter-protest, and several of them tried to break into the Left’s rally. During the speech of a Hadash representative, a smoke grenade was thrown (There are conflicting reports as to who threw the grenade – the right or the left protesters). Later, Uri Avneri, the 87 years old former MK and peace activist, was attacked. Ynet reports that Avneri was rescued from the area in a car, with police escort. Right-wing activists also clashed with coffee shop goers in Tel aviv and shouted insults at locals.

Here is a video of the moment the smoke grenade was thrown into the crowd. it was taken by a friend who was standing next to me. You can see the speaker cuts his speech and join the crown in calls “no to fascism”.

Earlier this week, Israeli right-wing protesters threw stones and a smoke grenade at the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv. Later, a Turkish memorial site in Beer Sheva was vandalized, and the Turkish flag at the place burned.

More Flotilla news:

The Turkish autopsy of the nine victims of the IDF raid revealed that they were shot a total of 30 times. 19 years old Furkan Dogan, the American casualty, was shot four times in the head and one in the chest, all at close range.

IDF admits editing an audio tape of radio communication with the Mavi Marmara released earlier this week.

Finally, here is a video from Friday’s demo in Bil’in: IDF soldiers are attacking a model of the Mavi Marmara. Surreal.


Flotilla | the case against an Israeli-led investigation

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

It seems that the White House is now suggesting that Israeli will lead the investigation of the flotilla incident, with a US representative serving as an observer. VP Joe Biden mentioned this idea in his Bloomberg interview yesterday, and Barak Ravid reported today in Haaretz that it was mentioned in talks between American officials and two of PM Netanyahu’s men. earlier Today Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman expressed support for such an investigation (Ehud Barak still objects it).

It’s a bad idea. Here is why:

1.    The attack occurred in international water, and it involved a Turkish vessel (which is regarded as Turkish sovereign territory) and Israeli soldiers. Even if one thinks that the soldiers had the right to board the ship in order to impose the blockade, during the fight it was still Turkish territory. How can Israel investigate something that happened in another country?

2.    Israel has confiscated some of the most important material for the investigation, namely the films, audio sections and photos taken by the passengers and journalists on board and the Mavi Marmara’s security cameras. Since yesterday, Israel has been editing these films and using them for its own PR campaign. In other words, Israel has already confiscated most of the evidence, held it from the world and tempered with it. No court in the world would have trusted it to be the one examining it.

3.    This is probably the most important argument: even if Israel can be persuaded into handing the recorded material, testimonies from the passengers will take a considerable part in the investigation. It’s clear that Israel cannot be the one questioning them, since even if the passengers agree to speak to Israeli investigators, this would look more like interrogations then testimonies.

We are left with the option of having an investigation that will take place without presenting the recorded material and without talking to the passengers. The report it will produce won’t enjoy much credibility.

Having the US use put its own name on this probe – on which it will serve only as an observer, without the power to subpoena material or to question witnesses – is pure madness, not just from an American point of view, but also from that of those wishing to see it reignite the diplomatic process in the region. Not only that it might destroy American credibility in Europe and the Middle East, but it could also damage its relations with Turkey beyond repair, not to mention weaken the administration at home, as both sides won’t like this move – all of this in order to cover up for the failure of en extreme Israeli government.

Even the Bush administration, who all but gave Israel a Carte Blanche regarding the use of military force, never placed itself in such a position.


Gaza flotilla | Things the IDF doesn’t want us to know

Posted: June 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

The videos released by IDF from the Mavi Marmara are controlling the news cycle in Israel for the past 48 hours. Their effect has been tremendous: They silenced all questions on the operation, and had the public rally behind the government and the army, as the Maariv poll shows. They made Israelis go out to the streets, demonstrating in front of the Turkish Embassy and having smaller rallies around the country.

But Incredible as it may seem, it’s been almost three days since the army raided the ship, and we know nothing on the attack itself, except for the fact that some of the men on the Mavi Marmara stormed the soldiers as they descended from the helicopter to the upper deck. We also have reason to believe that this attack was planned in advance, but that there were no firearms involved.

In other words, we only know what Israel wanted us to know.

At this point it is extremely important to say what we don’t know: We don’t know the names and nationality of the killed passengers (UPDATE: Turkey released some details). we don’t know for sure how many people were injured. We don’t know where they were killed, when, and how they died. we don’t know if and when people were given medical treatment. There were security cameras on deck, but Israel doesn’t show us what they filmed, except for the material which serves its purposes. The night vision clips released by the army end just before the shooting begins.

We don’t know what happened before the civilians attacked the commandos. There were passengers claiming soldiers opened fire before they even boarded the ship, but we don’t know if that’s true.

Most important, we don’t know anything about the battle itself – if it was a battle. It seems that it was a long one, since we have short recording, in which you can hear Israeli MK Hanin Zoabi calling for help and begging the soldiers in Hebrew and English to stop shooting (It’s the second clip on this page). At this time there were already passengers hurt, and one can assume that the attack on the soldiers ended. But the shooting went on.

Some of this information could have been available had the IDF not confiscated all material from the Mavi Marmara. What’s even worse is that the army is now editing the films and releasing it in a way which suits its own narrative. This film, shot from the upper deck, seems to have been taken by a camera crew or a passenger on board the ship. The film embedded below, showing the passengers getting ready for the Israeli attack was taken from the ship’s security camera.

Here is a good post regarding the IDF clips on the New York Times lede blog. Robert Mackey notes in it that the images the army released lack context. My only remark is that they were deliberately taken out of context.

The way Israel is withholding information is very troubling. If the army has nothing to hide, why not release the material? Naturally, Israel is also refusing to address the bigger questions, such as why the flotilla was attacked in international waters, and if so, whether the passengers actually had the right to resist the soldiers’ attempt to board their vessel.

The worse effect of this PR war is on the Israeli public, which now views the entire flotilla as a terrorist enterprise. One can see the effect of this nationalistic mood in the way the members of Knesset almost physically attacked MK Zoabi today (video here). In fact, the government’s campaign was so successful, many protested the release of the detained passengers, claiming “the terrorists” should be “brought to justice”.

All this leads to the conclusion that only an internationally led investigation might shed some light on the events on the Mavi Marmara. Even so, the chances the IDF will give full access to the materials and soldiers are slim at best.


Attack on the flotilla: the day after

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

2:15 AM: As the second day following the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla comes to its end, the Israeli public is standing behind its government and military. But things might still change, as the country will go on facing international pressure and the fingerprinting among top government and army official will increase.

The international community demands an inquiry, again. After its campaign against the Goldstone committee, it’s clear that Israel won’t like an external investigation, but this time it might not be easy to avoid one. The question will be, as always, the White House’s position. So far it’s been a very careful one, expressing regret on the loss of life, but not condemning the raid. Israel couldn’t have hoped for better.

From here it also seems that Israel was able to get some of its message through today, at least in the US. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon briefed hundreds of Jewish community leaders today, and as long as they feel that Israel is under attack, they might try to fight any measures from being taken against it. But the American Jewish community is changing, and it seems that most of it is getting tired from the policies of the current Israeli government. The real effect of the attack on the Mavi Marmara will be felt there once the initial storm passes.

The affair itself is far from being over: Israel has yet to finish releasing the detained passengers, which will finally be able to tell the story from their point of view. It was said that Israel confiscated all cameras and phones, so I don’t know if we will get any new material from the time of the attack. So far, the IDF only released the clips showing the soldiers being attacked, and not anything that followed. I guess they have a good reason for that.

Israel also needs to make public the names and nationality of all casualties. There were reports that at least four of them are Turkish nationals, and possibly one or two others are Arab-Israelis.

2:10 AM Amos Oz in a NYT Op-Ed:

Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land.

1:15 AM Opinion and comments round-up (some of this stuff was posted much earlier today, but I didn’t have time to get to it):

David Grossman (Guardian): “No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army.” [this article appeared also in Hebrew in Haaretz].

Alan Dershowitz (Huffington Post): “The moment any person on the boat picked up a weapon and began to attack Israeli soldiers boarding the vessel, they lost their status as innocent civilians.” [this article apeared also in Hebrew on Maariv]

Peter beinart (Daily Beast): “Don’t blame the commandos for the flotilla disaster. Blame Israel’s leaders, who enforce the cruel and corrupt Gaza embargo, and their supporters in America.”

Helena Cobban (Just World News): “Israel should also be required to provide a full accounting of what happened to all those who were killed or injured, and to cooperate with the international inquiry.”

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): “Time after time, Netanyahu just pwns Obama; and the US president just lets it happen.”

Seth Freedman (Guardian): Flotilla activists had ample opportunity to defuse the situation before the IDF arrived – instead they decided on violence.

M.J. Rosenberg (TPM cafe): “The administration barely uttered a word of criticism yesterday. The whole world was appalled but we only asked for an investigation.”

Read also rep. Anthony Weiner strongly defends Israeli attack on flotilla, in a conversation with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

1:00 AM: Under international pressure, Israel will release most of the flotilla’s passengers, including those who were on the Mavi Marmara. There are conflicting reports as to whether those who attacked the soldiers will be released. Ynet.co.il claims that Israel will go on detaining them, while Maariv and Haaretz say they will be released as well. I estimate that Maariv is right, and only few might be detained any further.

Haaretz: The White House demanded a “credible and transparent” investigation into the Israel Navy raid of the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.

00:50: IHH launches an information site on the Gaza flotilla.

10:45 PM: Something I couldn’t avoid noticing since yesterday: all the material released by Israel is from one minute (!) during the battle. The soldiers’ testimonies refer to this timeframe as well. But events on the Mavi Marmara lasted, according to reports, several hours. Even at this early stage, if Israel wants its version to have some credibility, it needs to start explaining what happened from the minute the soldiers took their first shot, until they held their fire.

10:15 PM Ynet’s military correspondent has a report claiming that the people who attacked the soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara had “direct and indirect ties” to the Global Jihad. According to the IDF, they pre-planned the assault, and even had bullet proof vests and light weapons.

Some of the suspects were found to be carrying large sums of money. Others had Kevlar vests and gas masks; and all were found to be carrying weapons such as knives, metal clubs and slingshots. Several of the suspected were wounded by IDF fire.

Investigators have already concluded that this was the group that planned the violent resistance, which centered on the Marmara’s top deck.

IDF also released another clip, this time a recording of the radio transition prior to the moment when the soldier opened fire. While I post it here, I must say that it’s very hard to conclude anything from these clips, as the IDF doesn’t reveal any material concerning the actual shootout, and according to reports, even confiscated all recording devices the passengers on the Mavi Marmara had.

10:05 PM Labor junior MK Daniel Ben Simon joins the calls for the resignation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

10:00 PM Another diplomatic crisis on the way? Ireland officially requested Israel to let the Rachel Corrie, with 15 activists on board, into Gaza. Haaretz reports:

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen urged Israel to let the vessel to finish its mission. The ship was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate.

“The government has formally requested the Israeli government to allow the Irish-owned ship … to be allowed to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” Cowen told parliament in Dublin.

21:50 PM A few small pro-IDF rallies took place in several towns in Israel, including Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmone, Karmiel, Gush Etzion (West Bank), Beer Sheva, Maalot, Raanana, Netivot and Natanya. Each of the rallies had between a few dozens to a few hundred protesters. Demonstrations against the attack on the flotilla took place in the Arab town Arabe, in Jaffa, and in several other Arab towns. Pro-IDF protesters clashed with Palestinian supporters of Raed Saleh in Ashkelon, were the Shikh was brought before a district judge.

4:20 PM Amos Oz: Israel is turning into the new South Africa.

Celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz said today on IDF radio that Israel is becoming the new South Africa:

“We are placing ourselves under an international siege, which is more dangerous for us than the siege on Gaza in dangerous to Gaza.

“Israel is turning into South Africa in the Apartheid days – a country which the world’s nation wouldn’t want to buy its goods, wouldn’t want to visit, and that will be thrown out of international organizations. We will become a pariah state that nobody wants anything to do with

Oz said that there was no reason to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza, and added that Israel is not only losing the media battle, but also the moral battle.

4:00 PM The flotilla got its first victory: The siege on Gaza have been partly lifted, after Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing until further notice, allowing goods and people to travel in and out of the strip.

Egypt has been facing mounting pressure from pro-Palestinian groups and opposition elements for its support for the Israeli siege on the strip. So far president Hosni Mubarak allowed Rafah crossing to be opened only on for limited periods, claiming that he wouldn’t let Israel make Gaza an Egyptian problem.

2:30 AM Guardian: Journalists on the flotilla were censored and arrested by Israeli forces.

Irish Times reports that Rachel Corrie, the last ship of the Gaza flotilla is due to arrive at Gaza territorial waters. No official word has come out of Israel concerning this ship, but army sources told Maariv that the ship would be treated in the same way the other ships were handled.

2:00 AM Maariv is reporting that unnamed “senior ministers” are calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation over the Mavi Marmara fiasco [link in Hebrew].

Some more commentary from the world:

Glenn Kessler (Washington Post): Condemnation of Israeli assault complicates relations with U.S.

Jeffrey Goldberg (Atlantic): the disappearance of Jewish wisdom.

Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy): Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue?

Leslie H. Gelb (Daily Beast): Israel was right.

12:30: Israel might have sabotaged the engines of some of the vessels in the Gaza flotilla, but not the Mavi Marmara’s. Haaretz reports that in a testimony in front of the Knesset’s Foreign and Security affairs committee, Colonel Itzik Turgeman of the IDF command stated that some of the ships were treated in what he described as “a gray way”.

According to colonel Turgeman, the Mavi Marmara wasn’t sabotaged so a humanitarian crisis wouldn’t break in it when the ship will run out of food and water, and because towing it to Israel would have taken too long.

Head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, said in the Knesset that “Israel is becoming from an asset to a burden on the US”.

—————————-

11:00 AM: During the night, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla and calling for an investigation, as well as the immediate release of the captured vessels and the their passengers. It seems that Israel will not complicate things further and all foreign passengers will be deported in the next few days.

The Israeli passengers might face charges (though most of them have been released by police). MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) was interrogated twice and proceeding against her, which began in the Knesset prior to the attack, will probably resume. There are also calls to press charges against Sheikh Raed Saleh, already one of the least popular Arab public figures with the Jewish public. Saleh is still under arrest.

Israel is yet to release the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack. Yedioth Ahronoth reported this morning that most of them are Turkish nationals. The paper claimed that six of the 9 casualties were identified as ones who took part in the assault on the soldiers.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of the flotilla passengers, and allowing them to sail to their original destination in Gaza. Feldman claim the attack on the flotilla was done without legal authority (my guess is that it’s more of a political move. The court will not intervene in these matters, and Feldman knows that).

Israel’s morning papers frame the entire incident as a trap the government stepped into. Yedioth’s front page headline is “the trap” and Maariv follows with “The failure and the heroism”, referring to the soldiers that were put in risk. The rightwing Israel Hayon also view the events from the soldiers’ perspective: “Soldiers facing Lynch“, the headline says. as one might expect, the only ecception is the Liberal Haaretz, which calls for a state inquiry committee which will investigate the decision-making process, and “decide who should pay for this dangerous policy”.

opinion round-up:

Jerusalem Post’s editorial is dismissing some of the public and internationl outrage, caliming “IDF response to violence could have been worse.”

Ari Shavit (Haaretz journalist known until not very long ago for his good relations with Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu): “During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.”

Zvi Mazel (Foreign Office veteran writing for Jpost): “We are facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis (…) we can’t expect help or even assistance from anyone. But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. The biblical words from Numbers 23:9 come to mind: wLo, the people shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.’”

Gidon Levi (Haaretz): “If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series.”

Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post): “A straight line runs from the anti-Israel UN resolution passed last Friday and the Hamas flotilla.”

Yossi Sarid (former minister and head of Meretz, writing in Haaretz): “Seven Idiots in the Cabinet.”

(Sarid is refering to the top decision making forum in Netanyahu’s government, whose members are Barak, Netanyahu, Liberman, Eli Yishay (Shas), Beni Begin and Dan Meridor (Likud) and deputy PM Moshe Yaalon from Likud. The final go ahead to yesterday’s operation was given in the “7 forum” prior to Netanayhu’s departure for North America – an issue that will surly be discussed in the days to come).

Ofer Shelah (Maariv military correspondent): “Israel is being portrayed as a country which acts violently, without thought, and out of a permanent existential fear” [Hebrew].

Yedioth Ahronoth’s top political correspondent, Nahum Barnea, and senior pundit Sever Plotsker are attacking the government this morning, and Plotsker – that reveled yesterday that Yedioth didn’t publish information regarding vast concerns the army had over the operation – is calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation. Military correspondent Alex Fishman is claiming that the even with its consequences, “the operation was the right thing to do.” (Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read daily paper, doesn’t post editorials online, so I can’t link to its articles).

Amnon Abramowits, Channel 2 senior political commentator, is calling in an op-ed in Yedioth for PM Netanyahu to immediately form a different coalition that would have new diplomatic policies, both in Gaza and in the West bank.


Death at Sea | the attack on the Gaza flotilla (live blogging)

Posted: May 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments »

2:50 AM: finally, going to sleep. I will post at least another media round up in the morning.

2:05 AM: the finger pointing begins. Ynet quotes [Hebrew] unnamed government ministers claiming the army guaranteed them that taking over the ships would end with no casualties. One senior cabinet minister said: “we didn’t understand how explosive this story is.”

Senior IDF official was quoted saying the all scenarios were presented to the cabinet before PM Netanyahu left for north America. “the responsibility lies with the political level.”

0:30 AM: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) who was on board the Mavi Marmara, is interrogated at the Ashdod police station. Sheikh Raed Saleh is also interrogated.

Earlier this evening, some 500 people demonstrated in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, protesting the Turkish involvement in organizing the flotilla and Ankara’s recent hostility towards Israel. the demonstration received extensive coverage in the Israeli media.

11:42 PM: Weapons found by IDF on Mavi Marmara: knifes and sticks (IDF spokesperson picture here).

11:05 PM: It seems that the government and the army got their message through, at least here in Israel. The last two graphic videos released clearly showed the soldiers being attacked, and are going to have an enormous effect on the Jewish public, as such images always do.

These images will be used by Israel in its PR counter attack in the US and Europe, and might have some effect there as well, though people will surly wonder what reaction the army expected when he sent commando unit on a civilian ship in international water.

As the last passengers of the Mavi Marmara leave the ship, the day’s drama comes to an end, but the diplomatic and political game only begins. There are reports of another ship – the Rachel Corrie, heading from Irland – on its way to Gaza; Israel haven’t released the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack; the Security Council is meeting. Questions might be raised even in Israel, once the initial shock passes. More important, we have yet to hear testimonies – and we might even get some new pictures and videos – from the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, something that is bound to have an effect on public opinion, in Israel and outside.

I will follow events here in the next few days, focusing as always on the Israeli angle. I will also try to add some of my own analysis, something I didn’t find the time to do today.

10:18 PM: Dozens of Ultra-Orthodox demonstrated in Jerusalem in protest of the Israeli attack on the flotilla [link in Hebrew]. They carried signs reading  “Zionist ד= pirates”.

9:48 PM: Evening analysis round-up:

Dan Ephron (Newsweek): Israeli Attack highlights failure of Gaza blockade.

Jo Klein (Time): This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government.

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): The disproportionate use of force, the loss of life, the horrifying impact of the blockade of Gaza in the first place: it makes Israel look like a callous, deranged bully, incapable of accepting any narrative that it cannot control and responding instinctively with disproportionate violence.

Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph): Under the stewardship of Benjamin Netanyahu, its abrasive prime minister, Israel has developed an extraordinary knack for inopportune timing.

Gideon Rachman (financial Times): “three particular angles for the Israelis to worry about. First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration” [I don't agree. there won't be Intifada over this. the major problem is Europe and world public opinion, not US].

Yossi Melman (Haaretz): the government acted in such a tragic and stupid way, it’s hard to even understand it [Hebrew].

9:40 PM final casualties report from IDF spokesperson: 9 civilians killed, 7 soldiers injured, out of which four soldiers were moderately wounded, and three lightly wounded. The number of injured civilians wasn’t reported.

9:10 PM: estimated 2,000 people at tel Aviv protest in front of defense department.

8:55 PM: 7th eye (Israeli media watchdog organization): Yedioth Ahronoth daily knew but wouldn’t publish vast IDF top brass opposition to the raid on the flotilla [Hebrew].

8:50 PM: IDF posted another very graphic video in which the activists are shown attacking the soldiers landing to the Mavi Marmara. Passengers’ video supposedly show IDF shooting on board Mavi Marmara even after the ship raised a white flag.

8:40 PM: The Maramra docked in Ashdod, and the passengers are being detained by Israeli authorities. So far, there were no violent clashes. According to reports in Israel, the activists will be deported soon.

In New York, the UN  security council began its discussion.

6:45 PM: The Mavi Marmara is about to enter the Israeli post of Ashdod, while some demonstrations take place in Israel: a few hundreds are protesting the attack on the flotilla in the Arab town Um El-Fahem. Small protests are scheduled for 7.00 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were also pro-IDF protests in Ashdod and in Haifa.

6:15 PM: Opinion and analysis round-up: there is a growing gap between what’s the talking heads are saying in Israel rigth now – focusing on the threat to the soldiers lifes and the insuffianct force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara – to what’s going on in the world, where this is viewed as a brutal attack on civilians on international water, or as Moshe Yaroni puts it, Israel’s Kent State.

David Horvitz (Jerusalem Post’s editor): A race to contain the damage: The “humanitarian aid” flotilla was clearly a perniciously well-conceived initiative, for which Israel prepared inadequately.

Blake Hounshell (Foreign Policy): It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

MJ Rosenberg (Huffington Post): Israel is in trouble. At the present rate, the remarkable accomplishment that is Israel will be lost because the right (i.e, Netanyahu, AIPAC, etc) prefers the settlements, smashing Gaza and building in Arab East Jerusalem to Israel itself.

Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy): It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.

Avi Trengo (Ynet): When Israel conveys a sense of weakness is it any wonder that a mob would charge at a commando and attempt to lynch him?

Richard Spencer (Telegraph): Whether on land or now at sea, there is a terrible symmetry to Israel’s engagement with the Palestinians and those who support them.

Rafi mann (Seventh Eye): The Palestinian Exodus [Hebrew].

5.00 PM: IDF completed search of Mavi Marmara, no weapons discovered except for the two pistols that were taken from the soldiers (channel 10).

4:57 PM: IDF spokesperson: 9 activists killed on Mavi Marmara, 7 soldiers injured. Ynet: 31 activist injured.

4:55 PM: It’s Official: PM Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his trip to Washington and will not meet president Obama, but rather return home to handle the crisis. It was speculated that part of the reason is the will to avoid the scheduled press conference with the president, in which the President will be forced to condemn the attack in the presence of the Israeli PM.

4:35 PM: IDF releases video and report of the events:

4:15 PM: CRIF, the representative council of the organized Jewish community in France, declared the events “not good news for peace,” and expressed its regret on the death of civilians.

4:00 PM: Israeli media framing the incident as one in which the soldiers were the victims of an organized, surprise attack (the fact that it was the IDF soldiers who boarded the ships on international waters is hardly mentioned). There are more and more descriptions on channel 1 and 2 of the knifes and bats that were used against the soldiers.

The IDF just started releasing videos of the demonstrators rushing to the soldiers as they board the ship. According to most pundits, the mistake the IDF did was not applying enough force, and boarding the ship with a small force, not fully armed.

This is Ron Ben-Yishay, Ynet’s military correspondent, that was on one of the Israeli navi ships:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

(…)

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

3:10 PM: Two of the smaller ships arrived at the Ashdod post. The Marmara, – the main ship on which the fight occurred – is not expected to arrive before 7PM. Israeli press speculates on possible danger to soldiers and Israeli civilians from the protesters on the ships. Riot police and anti terror units are on their way to Ashdod. Early reports claim that 16 protesters were arrested.

3:00 PM: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Channel 10:

“As time passes, it becomes clear we found weapons in the ships. The events move now to the diplomatic front. All our messages were passed to the Foreign Media.

“Regarding relation with Turkey: we did not initiate any confrontation; we hope there won’t be damage to relations. This wasn’t a peace flotilla, it wasn’t a humanitarian flotilla. IDF spokesmen will publish material that will prove that there were terrorist personal and arms on the ships. This is our message to the world.”

2:50 PM: Channel 10: soldiers boarded the main ship with paintball guns and were immediately in danger for their life. they had no choice but to move to live ammunition.

2:40 PM: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navi Commander Eliezer Marom held a press conference in which they gave the first Israeli official explanation to the day’s events. Barak declared that the flotilla organizers are to blame for the casualties.

“The soldiers were attacked after arriving at one of the ships. Some were injured by serious physical violence on the part of the protestors.

“In light of the life-threatening situation, the soldiers were forced to use crowd dispersal means and firearms,” said Barak, adding that some of the casualties were killed by firearms. According to Barak, 10 soldiers were injured in the incident, some from firearms and some from cold arms.

“The IHH organization, which was behind these unruly ship, is a violent and radical organization acting under the cover of humanitarian activity.”

2:30 PM: Israel Ch1 military reporter: Islamic leader Raed Salah “alive and well” – reports of him injured and in surgery are a case of mistaken id.

2:15 PM: commentary round up:

Bradley Burston (Haaretz): We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel’s Vietnam.

Aluf Ben (Haaretz): Netanyahu should stop US trip, come home and form an official commission of inquiry. excuses that activists were armed won’t work [Hebrew].

Ian Black (Guardian): Israel’s bloody interception of the Gaza flotilla looks like a disastrous own goal… this was a gift to Israel’s worst enemies.

Amos Harel (Haaretz): If rumors are confirmed that Muslim leader Raed Salah is among casualties of Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid convoy, the country’s Arab population could explode.

Glenn Greenwald (Salon): If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt as possible, how could it do a better job?

Shmuel Rosner (Jerusalem Post):  PR – as important as it might be – is not all in life (…) If force had to be used as to prevent the flotilla from going into Gaza – if there was no way around it – than PR becomes a secondary issue and will have to be dealt with later.

1:50 PM: CH 10 TV defense correspondent Alon Ben David at Ashdod: Rioting expected to continue at port. Some passengers still locked in cabins. Channel 10 site: Arabs from Haifa among casualties.

1:40 PM: Israeli Foreign Office warned Israelis from trips to Turkey. Those already here are advised to stay in hotels. Turkey canceled three planned military maneuvers with IDF. Greece also canceled its planned maneuver with Israeli air force.

1:30 PM: Turkish ambassador leaving for Ankara.

12:30: Deputiy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accuses Flotilla organizers of having ties to Hamas and AL-Qaeda. Regarding the attack, the Foreign Ministry web site stated that:

According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire.

12:10: Leftwing protests scheduled for 6 Pm in Jerusalem; 7 Pm in Tel Aviv (in front of the Defense Ministry on Kaplan st.); 7 Pm in Haifa. Some protesters are on their way right now to Ashdod and Haifa ports, to which the flotilla boats are headed.

12:00 AM: Ynet: two soldiers badly injured during the attack on the ships. 7 civilians in Israeli hospitals.

11:40 AM: Haaretz: Raad Saleh injured, not dead, hospitalized in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv). UPDATE: ynet reports that according to army sources, Salah is on one of the boats, only slightly injured.

video: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) calling for help in English and Hebrew from the attacked ship.

Ynet: 15 died on Ships.

10:50 AM: We woke up to the news of the violent takeover of the flotilla by IDF soldiers, and to the rumors that Sheikh Raad Salah, the Israeli-Palestinian Muslim leader, is among the 10 casualties. Regardless of one’s political views and what comes out of this incident, these are horrible news. It seems that the government really blew it this time. Violence looks almost inevitable, and who knows what will follow.

After a few hours of silence, Army and government spokesmen started commenting on the affair, declaring that the people on the boats “tried to lynch the soldiers“. But the spins won’t work here. Even without knowing what really happened, so much is clear: when you keep more than a million under siege for years – even if you make sure they don’t starve to death, as Israelis constantly remind us they do – some people are bound to try and break this siege. And when they do, if you send the commando at them in the middle of the night – and on international water! – there will be consequences, and there might be casualties.

I will keep updating this post as news come.

This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government