The prize-winning writer and creator of Wallander was among those on board the Gaza flotilla. He was on the Sophia with about 25 others, one of the ships that offered no resistance to the commandos.
Here he shares his private diary of the events leading to his capture.
“We gather, up on the bridge. The soldiers are impatient and want us down on deck. Someone who is going too slowly immediately gets a stun device fired into his arm. He falls. Another man who is not moving fast enough is shot with a rubber bullet. I think: I am seeing this happen right beside me. It is an absolute reality. People who have done nothing being driven like animals, being punished for their slowness.”
“A single example will do. Right beside me, a man suddenly refuses to have his fingerprints taken. He accepts being photographed. But fingerprints? He doesn’t consider he has done anything wrong. He resists. And is beaten to the ground. They drag him off. I don’t know where. What word can I use? Loathsome? Inhuman? There are plenty to choose from.”
“The myth of the brave and utterly infallible Israeli soldier is shattered. Now we can add: they are common thieves. For I was not the only one to be robbed of my money, credit card, clothes, MP3 player, laptop; the same happened to many others on the same ship as me, which was attacked early one morning by masked Israeli soldiers, who were thus in fact nothing other than lying pirates.”
Exclusive: Nine Turkish men on board Mavi Marmara were shot a total of 30 times, autopsy results reveal
Robert Booth, Guardian 4 June
Israel was tonight under pressure to allow an independent inquiry into its assault on the Gaza aid flotilla after autopsy results on the bodies of those killed, obtained by the Guardian, revealed they were peppered with 9mm bullets, many fired at close range.Nine Turkish men on board the Mavi Marmara were shot a total of 30 times and five were killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to the vice-chairman of the Turkish council of forensic medicine, which carried out the autopsies for the Turkish ministry of justice today.
The results revealed that a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, said Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.
The findings emerged as more survivors gave their accounts of the raids. Ismail Patel, the chairman of Leicester-based pro-Palestinian group Friends of al-Aqsa, who returned to Britain today, told how he witnessed some of the fatal shootings and claimed that Israel had operated a “shoot to kill policy”.
He calculated that during the bloodiest part of the assault, Israeli commandos shot one person every minute. One man was fatally shot in the back of the head just two feet in front him and another was shot once between the eyes. He added that as well as the fatally wounded, 48 others were suffering from gunshot wounds and six activists remained missing, suggesting the death toll may increase.
The new information about the manner and intensity of the killings undermines Israel’s insistence that its soldiers opened fire only in self defence and in response to attacks by the activists.
“Given the very disturbing evidence which contradicts the line from the Israeli media and suggests that Israelis have been very selective in the way they have addressed this, there is now an overwhelming need for an international inquiry,” said Andrew Slaughter MP, a member of the all party group on Britain and Palestine.
Israel said tonight the number of bullets found in the bodies did not alter the fact that the soldiers were acting in self defence. “The only situation when a soldier shot was when it was a clearly a life-threatening situation,” said a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London. “Pulling the trigger quickly can result in a few bullets being in the same body, but does not change the fact they were in a life-threatening situation.”
Protesters from across the country will tomorrow march from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy to call for Israel to be held to account for its actions.
Earlier this week, William Hague, the foreign secretary, said the government would call for an inquiry under international auspices if Israel refuses to establish an independent inquiry, including an international presence.
The autopsy results were released as the last of the Turkish victims was buried.
Dr Haluk Ince, the chairman of the council of forensic medicine in Istanbul, said that in only one case was there a single bullet wound, to the forehead from a distant shot, while every other victim suffered multiple wounds. “All [the bullets] were intact. This is important in a forensic context. When a bullet strikes another place it comes into the body deformed. If it directly comes into the body, the bullet is all intact.”
He added that all but one of the bullets retrieved from the bodies came from 9mm rounds. Of the other round, he said: “It was the first time we have seen this kind of material used in firearms. It was just a container including many types of pellets usually used in shotguns. It penetrated the head region in the temple and we found it intact in the brain.”
An unnamed Israeli commando, who purportedly led the raid on the Mavi Marmara, today told Israeli news website Ynet News that he shot at a protester who approached him with a knife. “I was in front of a number of people with knives and clubs,” he said. “I cocked my weapon when I saw that one was coming towards me with a knife drawn and I fired once. Then another 20 people came at me from all directions and threw me down to the deck below …
“We knew they were peace activists. Though they wanted to break the Gaza blockade, we thought we’d encounter passive resistance, perhaps verbal resistance – we didn’t expect this. Everyone wanted to kill us. We encountered terrorists who wanted to kill us and we did everything we could to prevent unnecessary injury.”
Tonight the Rachel Corrie, an Irish vessel crewed by supporters of the Free Gaza movement, remained on course for Gaza. Yossi Gal, director general at the Israeli foreign ministry, said Israel had “no desire for a confrontation” but asked for the ship to dock at Ashdod, not Gaza.
“If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it,” he said.
Scottish campaigner Theresa McDermott speaks exclusively to David Pratt and reveals what she witnessed when Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last week.
I was on Challenger 1, a 25-metre motor yacht that was the smallest in the flotilla. On board were 10 women and five men, among them a retired female US military colonel, two Australian journalists, four crew and the captain, Irishman Denis Healy. Our rendezvous point with the other ships was about a quarter of the way between Cyprus and Gaza.
As night fell the ships pulled closer together around the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the ships in the Free Gaza flotilla. During the night we noticed four big ships, two on either side of our group. One of the guys on our boat who had worked for the coastguard back in Ireland identified one of them as an Israeli frigate.
Just after midnight on Sunday the Israelis radioed the Marmara, which in turn contacted us, warning the flotilla would not be allowed to proceed. It was around four o’ clock on Monday morning, while early morning Muslim prayers were underway on the Marmara, that the Israeli boats and commandos arrived.
They walked up to the man co-ordinating facilities for journalists, put a gun to his head and shot him dead at point-blank range
Obviously they had timed that raid to coincide with the prayers. To starboard we saw a row of lights appearing on the water as a group of small Israeli boats approached, while on the port side there were others, and we realised we were being surrounded. The fast inflatable Zodiacs with the commandos cut right through the flotilla, trying to separate us.
We were only a hundred yard off the Marmara, so really close, enough to see what was going on. The helicopter came across a few minutes after the Zodiacs.
The Israeli commandos were finding it hard to board, with those on the Marmara using fire hoses to stop them. As soon as the Zodiacs got close enough they fired smoke and percussion bombs.
Right from the beginning these weapons caused injuries. I’m assuming that at this point the Israelis were still using rubber bullets, but they definitely started firing live ammunition when the helicopter came in on its second attempt to drop off more soldiers.
It was all very loud, with people running around on the Marmara, which was shining its lights onto the helicopter. The crew even tried turning the fire hose on it but the downwash from the helicopters soaked everyone. I was told later by those on board the Marmara that the first two soldiers who abseiled down from the helicopter were overpowered and taken and searched by some of the Turkish activists.
On the commandos they found plasticised detailed maps of the layout of every boat and pictures of people on board including MPs, bishops and other VIPs. Maybe these were the people the Israelis were trying to avoid harming. I was told there were those on board who really wanted to have a go at the Israeli soldiers who were being detained, but were held back by others.
When the helicopter returned more commandos came down and that’s when the live firing started, and some on board the Marmara told me that bullets were definitely fired from the helicopter. I was on the flydeck of the Challenger on watch along with the captain and two Australian journalists, and it was maybe fifteen minutes after they boarded the Marmara that they came for us.
The captain had opened up the throttle to try and put as much distance between us and the Marmara when we saw that things were getting heavy on its deck, but the Zodiacs came up alongside us and fired more smoke and percussion bombs.
Our only resistance was to stand by the rail of the boat with our hands out, so they could see clearly we had no weapons, and try to block them from coming on board. We had no intention of fighting back.
One of the bombs hit the face of a Belgian woman, bursting her nose before exploding on the boat. She was in a bad way and started bleeding heavily.
At least 20 soldiers came on board and each had a number on the shoulder of his uniform. In charge was number 20, while a lower rank had the number one on his shoulder. They were all wearing ski masks and had on body armour and were fully armed and very aggressive. On seeing the female journalist on board, they Tasered her. I saw the electrical discharge shoot up her arm and she collapsed, vomiting, on the deck.
At least three of the soldiers had Australian accents.
Two of the women on board, Huweida Arraf, a Palestinian with joint US nationality, and a Dutch woman, Anna, who tried to block the stairs to the deck, were thrown to the ground, their hands cuffed with plastic ties that cut into their wrists and their faces pushed on to the deck that was full of broken glass.
They were also blindfolded and hooded. We shouted at them: “Are you proud of this, is this what your army teaches you, beating up women?”
At one point when I was shouting and wouldn’t sit down and trying to get to the girls they were beating, one soldier cocked his automatic pistol and put the gun to my head and said he would shoot me if I didn’t do as I was told.
I didn’t have time to be scared but realised it was probably time to back off and give him space.
The level of aggression they showed was way over the top, with rubber bullets scattered everywhere. When bullets hit they seemed to release a sort of dust that glowed, perhaps so they could be picked up by the commandos’ night sights.
When they took us into port in Ashdod, we were paraded from the moment we arrived and jeered at by the large crowd there. All the time they filmed us, especially when they gave us food. They even tried to distribute some of the captain’s beer but we didn’t drink because we knew it was a propaganda thing. We were processed through Ashdod and doctors there examined us, but never really treated us. When some of us pointed out the levels of bruising they told us it was just mosquito bites. They then searched us and gave us a bit of paper to sign that would allow then to deport us as illegal immigrants, but we refused.
We hadn’t entered Israel of our own free will but were kidnapped in international waters. We were moved to a jail in Beersheva, a new prison block apparently called LA block. It was so new that there was still dust and plaster on the floor.
Here they continued filming us, and we eventually had our first food. I think the reason they put us here was because it was so isolated and there was no news for us to see about what had happened to those on board the Marmara and other ships. Later our embassy staff told us they had been kept waiting at the entrance since one o’clock that day having been refused access to us.
Separated throughout from the men, in the jail we began to get news from the other women of what had happened on the Marmara. Some of the stories were horrific. One Turkish woman had lost her husband. In our cell there was also an Indonesian woman whose husband was a Turkish journalist on board.
He had described how when the Israeli soldiers came to the press room on the half deck of the Marmara, they walked straight up to the Turkish man whose job it was to coordinate facilities for the journalists, put a gun to his head and shot the man dead at point-blank range.
Two people who worked in the medical area on the Marmara also said they had at least three bodies, who had been shot in the head in what looked like an execution style.
Another thing the Israelis did that was particularly nasty while we were in the Beersheva jail was to take a woman into a room and ask her to identify her husband from photos they had taken after he was killed. Before leaving the Marmara the crew had time to clean and prepare the man’s body for burial. She was able to say her good byes then with his body properly wrapped and with the eyes closed. But in the photos his body had evidently been left to bloat virtually beyond recognition in the sun. She collapsed on seeing these and had to be comforted by the other women.
They were also extremely aggressive during our deportation to Turkey. We were woken at 6.30am and loaded into high-security wagons, two or three crammed into a tiny cell on board the vehicles. Though the journey to the airport was only an hour-and-a-half we were kept in the daytime heat in these cramped compartments for a whole five hours. One of the women, an Australian, was pregnant and we kept shouting at the guards that she was with us and that we needed the toilet, but they kept us there.
At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, we were jostled and jeered by huge numbers of soldiers who surrounded us, and I saw a number of the men beaten up by soldiers. One Irishman who refused deportation to Turkey, was hauled from his seat kicked and punched on the body by a large group of Israelis.
During the many hours we were forced to sit in the one spot there without moving, our consular staff were kept outside and never allowed access to any of us. At the airport too I saw many of the injured and wounded forced to make their own way to the planes the Turkish government had sent to fly us out. Unless they couldn’t physically walk, the wounded had to struggle unaided to the aircraft, some carrying drip and drainage bags and with bloody dressings that looked as thought they had not be changed that often.
Now all I have to do is draw up a list of all the things the Israelis took from me as I left with only the clothes I wore when we were arrested. Through our embassy I’ll try to get my possessions back.
If I’d had the chance I would have gone straight back and joined the crew on the Rachel Corrie, the next ship that was going to try and get into Gaza. The behaviour of the Israelis has only made us all the more determined to carry on helping with the Palestinian cause. If this is the level of random violence and humiliation internationals received, can you imagine what they do to the Palestinians?
Protesters say Israel had an assassination list. Israel says soldiers fired only in self-defence. So what really happened on 31 May? Catrina Stewart reports
Sunday, 6 June 2010Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara don lifejackets after they are warned that Israeli naval ships are approaching; nine protesters died in the commando attack the next morning
Jamal Elshayyal, a journalist with al-Jazeera, woke with a start to the opening salvos of an Israeli assault that would transform the decks of the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel bound for Gaza, into a bloodbath.
From the ship’s position deep in international waters, satellite images of Israeli speedboats and helicopters approaching the vessel were beamed across the globe before communications were abruptly cut off, leaving the events on the Marmara to unfold away from the eyes of the world.
Six days after the bloody assault that left nine foreign protesters, mainly Turks, dead, nobody can recount with any conviction precisely what happened that night. The convoy of ships, whose passengers included writers, politicians and journalists, had been expected for weeks, with organisers loudly broadcasting their plans to run Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and draw international attention to the situation there.
From the beginning, it was clear that Israeli forces were concentrating in their largest numbers on the Marmara, a ship carrying some 550 peace activists. The remaining five boats were much smaller and easily commandeered. After the Marmara was subdued, the passengers silenced, and their recording equipment confiscated, Israel disseminated a carefully choreographed account of the events that night that would dominate the airwaves for the first 48 hours.
Only as eyewitnesses, traumatised by their experiences, started to return to their home countries, were serious questions raised about the veracity of the Israeli version of events. Israeli commandos initiated the attack on the Marmara with stun grenades, paintballs and rubber-cased steel bullets. They were met with water hoses as the ship’s passengers tried to form a defensive cordon to prevent soldiers from reaching the wheelhouse. Next, the helicopters started their approach, hovering overhead as they tried to disgorge commandos.
From the other ships, passengers looked on helplessly: “The worst thing was seeing the helicopter come up because I knew they were going to invade,” said Ewa Jasiewicz, a 32-year-old organiser. “You could hear the screams when they started shooting … We wanted to stop and go back but there wouldn’t have been anything we could have done.”
From the moment the helicopters arrived, the sequence of events becomes confused. The dizzying number of claims and counter-claims serves only to present an incomplete account of a military operation that went badly, badly wrong. More than 1.7 million viewers have pored over the edited YouTube footage posted by the Israeli navy since Wednesday. In the dramatic clip, commandos rappel down on to the deck from a helicopter, where they are met by angry activists armed with iron bars and sticks.
This is a critical point, for Israel has rallied domestic opinion on the crucial claim that its soldiers dropped into a meticulously planned riot for which they were completely unprepared. Panicked, they acted in self-defence after they landed, shooting only those who threatened them.
The video is problematic, though. The images of angry protesters are striking, but they lack context. What happened before? What happened next? Had the soldiers started shooting when they descended to the deck? The only account offered by the Israelis of what happened next is left to Staff Sergeant S, a commando who claims he shot six of the protesters.
The last of 15 to arrive on the deck, he said he saw that two of his colleagues had gunshot wounds. Pushing others into a protective cordon around the injured soldiers, he shot at the protesters to force them to fall back. It’s a neat account, but several eyewitness accounts tell a very different story.
Mr Elshayyal, a reporter for the Arab channel al-Jazeera, was standing to one side of the ship and had a view of the front and back of the vessel when the fighting started. By his account, soldiers fired down on the protesters from the helicopters before an Israeli soldier had even set foot on the ship. A man next to him was shot through the top of his head, dying instantly.
“What I saw were shots being fired from the helicopter above and moments later from below – from the ships,” Mr Elshayyal said. “As far as I am concerned, it’s a lie to say they only started shooting on deck.”
At least two other eyewitnesses saw soldiers firing from above the ships before they landed on the Marmara’s deck. It is possible that this is what prompted the fierce resistance to the soldiers when they dropped down. Several passengers recount how organisers urged their peers to stop hitting the soldiers, aware of how it would harm their claim to be peaceful protesters.
Others on the ship claim they raised a white flag, but say that it was ignored. They also used a loudspeaker to reiterate their message of surrender and requested that the injured be taken off the ship to get medical assistance. Again, they were ignored.
At some point early on, the activists dragged three, possibly four, injured soldiers to a lower deck, either to keep as hostages or for their own safety. It was then, several passengers say, that the situation quickly deteriorated. Israel has insisted that the protesters took two of the soldiers’ pistols and used them, but others claim the pistols were taken away to prove that Israel planned to use live rounds.
Below, the protesters rummaged through captured soldiers’ belongings and claimed to unearth a document that they allege is a list of people Israel intended to assassinate. The booklet, written in Hebrew and in English, contained some photographs of passengers on the Marmara, including the leader of IHH, the Turkish charity that provided two of the ships, an 88-year-old priest and Ra’ad Salah, head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Mr Elshayyal said.
A military spokesman, Lt Col Avital Leibowitz, insisted soldiers acted in self-defence and that she “was not aware” of any list. But one thing is fast becoming clear – many of the dead were shot multiple times at point-blank range. One was a journalist taking photographs. “A man was shot … between the eyebrows, which indicates that it was not an attack that took place from self-defence,” Hassan Ghani, a passenger, said in an account posted on YouTube. “The soldier had time to set up the shot.” Mattias Gardell, a Swedish activist, told the TT news bureau: “The Israelis committed premeditated murder … Two people were killed by shots in the forehead, one was shot in the back of the head and one in the chest.”
When Israeli troops had subdued the ship, they rounded up the passengers, bound their wrists, in some cases forcing activists into stress positions, and prevented them from using toilets. Mr Elshayyal said he was given just three sips of water before he was taken off the ship more than 24 hours later.
Their ordeal, of course, was not yet over. Accused of entering Israel illegally, the captives were transferred to an Israeli prison, where many were held in cramped cells and denied phone calls. Furious, Turkey sent three planes to transport the activists out of Israel, threatening to sever all diplomatic ties if they were not all released.
Meanwhile, much of the video footage confiscated from Marmara passengers remains undisclosed, and Israel has sought to undermine some eyewitness accounts by alleging some of the passengers were terrorist sympathisers bent on martyrdom.
Questions remain unanswered on both sides. But without a full and transparent airing of all the evidence, the truth of that dreadful night on the Marmara may never come to light.
In the meantime, the organisers say they will seek again and again to breach Israel’s defences. Scottish protester Ali El-Awaisi said: “We sent six ships this time. Next time it will be 30 ships.”
IDF Releases Apparently Doctored Flotilla Audio; Press Reports As Fact
On 06.04.10, By Max
The IDF’s propaganda is increasingly unbelievable, yet the media is enthusiastically playing along. This audio, which purports to show flotilla passengers telling the IDF to “go back to Auschwitz,” appears to have been doctored by the IDF General Press Office or someone connected to it.
The clip originally released by the IDF on May 31 of its exchange with the Mavi Marmara, which is featured below, shows the IDF warning the ship’s crew, “Mavi Marmara, you are appproaching an area of hostility which is under a naval blockade. The Gaza area coastal region and Gaza harbor are closed to all maritime traffic…” The Mavi Marmara responded to the IDF’s warning: “Negative, negative. Our destination is Gaza. Our destination is Gaza.” There was no reference to Auschwitz in the video the IDF released on May 31.
The original video released by the IDF on May 31
On June 4, the IDF released apparently doctored audio of its exchange with the Mavi Marmara. The clip the IDF released featured the same imagery from its previous clip, but the voice of the Israeli Navy dispatcher was dramatically different. And the reply from the Mavi Marmara sounded like an impersonation of an Arab by a mentally challenged pre-adolescent (both videos are still on the IDF’s YouTube channel even though they completely contradict each other).
The video apparently doctored by the IDF, released on June 4
Further, the IDF is claiming its “Aushwitz” audio is from the Mavi Marmara. Yet it includes a recording of Huwaida Arraf saying “we have permission from the Gaza port authority to enter.” Huwaida has confirmed to the Institute For Middle East Understanding that her voice appeared in the apparently doctored clip. Unfortunately for the IDF, Huwaida was on the Challenger One, not the Mavi Marmara. How can the IDF account for this inconvenient discrepancy?
The Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronot, which means “latest news,” are in fact the latest idiots. They’ve reported the apparently doctored audio clip as fact. And so has Haaretz. Haaretz has quietly changed its headline but the article remains stenographic in nature. Neither outlet made any effort to investigate the veracity of the IDF’s claims.
Either the mayor of Chelm is in charge of the IDF Press Office, or the Israeli military has something very ugly to hide.
Update: Ali Abunimah has also confirmed with Huwaida that her voice appeared in the apparently doctored IDF audio clip, but that she was not on the Mavi Marmara.