White house accepted the idea of an Israeli-led probe, but Jerusalem and Washington are still at disagreement over nature of the investigation
Almost two weeks since the IDF attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, the government is yet to announce what form of civilian investigation it will conduct (the army has already started its own probe).
Reports in the Israeli media indicate that the reasons for the delay include disagreement with the White House over the investigating committee’s authorities. It seems that the US accepted the idea of an Israeli-led probe with international observers,and the problem is Jerusalem’s insistence that soldiers and low-level officers will not testify, and that the committee won’t have a legal authority to subpoena witnesses and material, and to issue conclusion regarding decision-makers. In other words, Israel wants the committee to deal with legal matters only. This way Netanyahu and Barak hope to contain political fallout from the raid both at home and abroad.
I believe the US should stay away from such an investigation – rather then lend it its own credibility and rescue the government from the trouble it brought upon itself – but it seems that the White House already decided to stand by Netanyahu, even if it means damaging relations with Turkey. The question for the US now is how to form an investigating panel that would look credible enough to European leadership.
UPDATE: PM Netanyahu confirmed reports that former Supreme Court justice Yaakov Tirkel will head the Israeli probe. Netanyahu didn’t announce the creation of the committee itself yet, probably due to disagreements with the US over the authorities of the comittee.
Haaretz’s editorial: “The government’s efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce.”
Here is something an investigating panel should look into: It seems that Israel’s security forces confiscated all personal items from activists when they got off the ship. According to MK Hanin Zoabi, as well as other reports [Hebrew], credit cards, money and electronic gear were taken from the passengers, with almost none of them returned. I saw no official Israeli response on this issue, and there is at least one report of misuse of a confiscated credit card.
The flotilla’s passengers broke no low. Yet some of them were beaten, held in custody against their will, and had their valuables taken from them. Who should answer for this?
It should also be noted that Israel still holds almost all the photographed material from the Gaza flotilla – including tapes confiscated from journalists – editing it and releasing only what suits its own PR effort. Regardless of what we think happened on the Mavi Maramara or who is to blame for it, in the name of truth and freedom of press alone, the world need to make Israel hand back all confiscated videos and photographs.
Filmmaker Iara Lee have posted more then one hour of raw footage she was able to hide from the soldiers and smuggle out of Israel. You can watch the entire video on NYT’s The Lede blog. Here is a 15 minutes long edited version:
You don’t see much of the fight here, but you can get a feeling of the minutes after the soldiers took control of the upper deck. It seems likely that at least some of the casualties were shot later, during the soldiers’ attempts to find and rescue the two or three commandos held in the lower deck.
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. Soldiers are instructed to use whatever means necessary to prevent another soldier being taken hostage, as such an event always turn into a major strategic problem for Israel. I wonder what orders were the soldiers given once it was clear that at least a couple of the commandos are missing.
Towards the end of the posted video, you can here MK Hanin Zoabi calling the soldiers to hold their fire.
● Believe it or not: Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s approval ratings surged this week.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
Flotilla dominating the protest as Palestinians and Israelis mark 43 years of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza. Plus, one clip Israel wants the world to see, and one it doesn’t
Palestinians and Israelis marked today 43 years of occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The main rally today was near road 443, the Jerusalem-bound highway which goes through the West Bank and only a few Palestinians are allowed to travel on. Protesters wore T-shirts supporting the Gaza flotilla; the army used tear gas against them.
I was in Nebi Saleh, where the army arrested Ben Gurion University professor of Chemistry Eyal Nir (pictures below), and shot tear gas at protesters. Nir was taken into an army jeep for insulting a soldier.
The Palestinians of Nebi Saleh try to regain access to a tiny pond that was taken over by settlers from the nearby Halamish settlement. As usual, the weekly demonstration started with a march toward the pond, which was stopped on the village’s main street by the Army. Then came some stone-throwing by several of the Palestinians, to which the soldiers responded with tear gas.
One thing that is worth noting is that the soldiers in Nabi Saleh fire the tear gas directly at the protesters (as can be seen here), and not in an arch, like army orders’ demand. Earlier this week, in a small demonstration against the raid on the Mavi Marmara, an American named Emily Henochowicz was hit in her eye from such a shot.
Here is a video of Emily being shot. I don’t often post such graphic images, but this week the IDF used every clip they could put their hands on to portray the soldiers who took over the Mavi Marmara as victims, so I think we need to put some things in perspective (shooting at 1:10 min. h/t: The Lede).
Later in the afternoon some 300 Israelis gathered in Sheikh Jarrah for the weekly protest. A coalition of leftwing organizations is planning an anti-occupation march tomorrow in Tel Aviv, and there are rumors that rightwing activist will try to confront it.
● This bizarre “satiric” video was sent to all foreign correspondent by no other than Government Press Office head Daniel Seaman. After a few minutes came another e-mail, claiming the video was sent “due to a misunderstanding”, and that “contents of the video in no way represent the official policy of either the GPO or of the State of Israel”
It’s not the first time Seaman is trying to crack these kind of jokes. As the flotilla was heading to Israel, he sent an E-mail to all foreign correspondents offering them recommendations on Gaza’s restaurants [Hebrew].
● British Rock group Klaxons canceled its planned performance in Tel Aviv, and so did Gorillaz Sound System. The gig’s organizers promised tickets holders a refund. Read the rest of this entry »
During the night: Israelis burning Turkish flags, vandalizing Turkish memorial site.
Is Israel ready to partly lift the Gaza siege? Earlier tonight Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Israel will be willing to allow non-military goods into the strip, after inspection. At the same time, officials said that Israel would not allow the Rachel Corrie arrive at Gaza, and the ship will be led to the port of Ashdod, if necessary by force.
Right now, Israel is not letting most civilian items, including most food items and construction material, into or from Gaza. If a policy change will happen, it will be a tremendous victory for the organizers of the flotilla, after they had their first achievement when Egypt opened the Rafah crossing at the south of the strip.
UPDATE: There are reports the Rachel Corrie is turning back, and will not try to reach Gaza.
Casualties:Furkan Dogan, 19 years old, was the American who died on the Mavi Marmara. Reports in Turkey indicate that the NY born Furkan was shot four times in his head and one in the chest, all at close range. Here is the full casualties list. It doesn’t tell us much, but judging from their ages and family status, most of them don’t seem to fit the Shaheed profile (for a different opinion on this issue, see comments).
Nationalistic mood in Israel: Around 1,000 Israelis demonstrated in front of the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv (after the rally I saw some of them marching and singing football fans’ nationalistic songs on Ben-Yehuda Street). Protesters burned a Turkish flag, threw stones and even one smoke grenade at the embassy. Three of them were arrested. UPDATE: it seems that many of the protesters were fans of Beitar Jerusalem football team, know for there racism and nationalism.
Update II: Israelis sprayed pro-IDF slogans and tried to burn the Turkish flag in a Turkish memorial site in the town of Beer Sheva (Hebrew report and picture here).
Interior Minister Eli Yishy is asking to revoke not only the immunity but also Israeli citizenship (!) from Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad) who was on board the Mavi Marmara. In a letter to the government attorney, Yishay has accused Zoabi with treason. Yesterday Knesset Members tried to prevent from MK Zoabi from speaking at the Israeli parliament; 12 of them – an all-time record – were expelled by the speaker during the heated debate (video).
Palestinians and Israelis will mark tomorrow (Friday) 43 years of Occupation in protests and rallies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A march is planned for Saturday night in Tel Aviv (I’ll be going to some of the events, so I probably won’t be blogging until the evening).
- IDF Retracts claims about flotilla’s Al Qaeda links.
- Former US Ambassador Edward Peck: “I was deported for having violated Israeli law. And I said to the gentleman, “What law have I violated?” He said, “You have illegally entered Israel.” I said, “Well, now, wait. Our ship was taken over by armed commandos. I was brought here at gunpoint against my will, and you call that illegally entering Israel? You and I went to different law schools, guy.” (video here)
- The Mavi Marmara’s passengers’ accounts tell a different story from Israel’s, including claims that Israeli soldiers fired live bullets from the air on the people in the upper deck. As Israel confiscated all recorded material, these accusations cannot be confirmed nor denied right now.
- Daniel Luban has an interesting article in Tablet, a middle-of-the-road Jewish magazine, on the nature of the debate regarding Israel in the American Jewish community, and how it avoids moral and political issues.
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.
Passengers on board the Gaza flotilla are released by Israel, and their account of the raid is coming out. Here is Huwaida Arraf, and American citizen, talking to CNN:
the Crisis with Turkey: Both Yedioth and Maariv daily papers report today that the decision to release the detained passengers was also a result of a firm action by Turkey, who sent three military planes to Israel and demanded that they return with all their citizens, even the wounded ones. It was reported today that Israel decided to sent home family members of its embassy staff in Ankara because of the hostile atmosphere in the Turkish capital.
there are also reports that Turkey declared that future Gaza bound Vessels will have military escort. I haven’t seen this on any major media organization, and it sounds a bit exaggerated, but Israelis were speculating on such scenario in the last couple of days.
New York Times editorial: The questions raised by an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla demand an immediate and objective international investigation.
David Ignatius (Washington Post): Israel has been unable to resolve the Gaza mess on its own; it should turn now to the Security Council for help. That begins with a U.N. investigation of what happened off the Israeli coast.
Robert Fist (Independent): Something has changed in the Middle East these past 24 hours – and the Israelis (given their extraordinarily stupid political response to the slaughter) don’t seem to have grasped what has happened.
Aluf Ben (Haaretz): The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents’ diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation.
George Packer (New Yorker): The flotilla was bait, and Israel took it—a classic triumph of civil disobedience over state power.
Thomas Friedman (New York Times): both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.
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.
11:05 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.
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.
4:15 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.
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.
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.
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
deputy minister Ayalon (taller, on the left) and Turkey's ambassador
The arrogance of Israeli diplomacy under Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was demonstrated today again, when his deputy, Danny Ayalon, staged a public humiliation of the Turkish ambassador.
Ambassador Oguz Celikkol was summoned to Ayalon to hear Israel’s protest on another anti-Israeli show aired on Turkish TV these days.
When the Turkish representative arrived, he was made to wait otside the room with the reporters. when he finally got in, Ayalon ordered reporters to leave the room so he can keep “a respectable conversation” with the ambassador. But before they left, he instructed them to shot the meeting “so it would show that he is sitting low and we are high, and that there is only one flag in the room… and that it would show that we are not smiling.”
It is not clear whether Ayalon realized that he was being recorded while speaking to the reporters. Most chances he knew, and was aiming to win some points with the israeli public.
This is getting too ridiculous: after fighting with Norway and boycotting Sweden, Israelis are now mad at Turkey, following some TV show there and a few remarks by their PM that could hint he has some sympathy towards the Palestinians (Anti-Semite!).
The popular coffee shop chain I’lan’s has decided not to sell Turkish coffee anymore. Director of marketing for Ilan’s, Michal Shteg, told Ynet that:
“Like all Israelis, we were shocked to see films that showed IDF soldiers allegedly shooting kids. We believe that everyone can contribute in his own way, and that’s our modest way.”
Calm down, Naomi Klein. At this rate, Israelis will take care of the international boycott themselves.