Mavi Marmara was one of the six civilian ships heading for Gaza when the Israeli soldiers began their attack in the early hours of the 31th of May, 2010. The ships were carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials, with the intention of breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. As a result of the attack, nine passengers were killed on board Mavi Marmara. In the rush to pass judgment over the missions and intentions, much of the international media feel to investigate the real story beyond the flotilla and the people on board. For millions around the world, the ship has become a symbol of resistance against oppression but the Israeli government claims it posed a very real threat to Israel national security. The story has been told from many different angles but most of the narrators have never even set foot onboard the ship. Yet, the narrator of this film was one of the journalists broadcasting live from the deck as the Israeli soldiers opened fire on him and other passengers.
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“From there, the door behind us, a soldier came towards me whilst opening fire. Then they kicked me to get me to lie face down. They bound my wrists with plastic handcuffs. My jaw was broken, the flesh was torn and the bone was slipping from here, and I was fixing it with my hands so it wouldn’t fall on the floor.”
34 old Murat Taskhin is a father of three. He was left for dead as Israeli soldiers opened fire on board the Mavi Marmara. It was one of six aid ships heading for Gaza when the attack began in the early hours of the 31st of May 2010.
“The soldier pulled out his gun and fired into my friend’s head.“
Nine passengers were killed onboard the Mavi Marmara. The attack on the Freedom Flotilla shook the world. But In the rush to pass judgment over the mission's intentions, much of the international media failed to investigate the real story behind the flotilla and the people onboard.
We’ll speak directly to those who witnessed the events first hand – and I’ll retrace my steps on that fateful morning.
Istanbul is welcoming home the Mavi Marmara.
For these people, and millions around the world, the ship has become a symbol of resistance against oppression. But the Israeli government claims it posed a very real threat to Israel’s national security.
The story is one that’s been told from many different angles. But most of the narrators have never even set foot onboard the ship.
Hassan Ghani Ptc:
“Unlike many other Western based journalists, who’ve claimed neutrality on the issue but whose coverage has as far as I’m concerned been subjective, I’m ready at the outset to declare my interests.”
For me, like the other passengers, the ship was a home. I witnessed the attack first hand, and was one of the journalists broadcasting live from the deck as the Israeli soldiers were opening fire above. I knew two of the dead.
I’d already provided extensive coverage of previous efforts to break the siege of Gaza. The small territory is home to 1.7 million Palestinians, but Israel tightly restricts who and what can get in or out, and maintains a land, air and sea blockade. The United Nations has described the blockade as collective punishment and illegal. But Israel disputes this, and describes the restrictions as a necessary security measure.
Organizers of the freedom flotilla wanted to open a direct route to Palestine.
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“The only way to go to Gaza without any interference from Egyptians or Israel – the sea. All the laws say that this siege is illegal, and the Israel doesn’t have any right to make a siege around Gaza. It is illegal, United Nations said this, and all international bodies requested from Israel to end the siege. But only verbally, physically they’re doing nothing, unfortunately.”
The previous voyages by sea to Gaza had all been small scale, but 5 out of 8 were successful. This time, cargo ships carrying thousands of tonnes of aid were prepared with medical supplies, construction material and power generators, along with clothing and toys. The IHH was one of several charities supporting the effort.
“There were huge generators for hospitals in Gaza, because the fuel supply makes the power supply intermittent. Huge water tanks. The massive amount of basic equipment, construction material, that I could see going onto the ships, made our aid from the UK look tiny.”
But it was clear from the outset that transporting humanitarian supplies was not the flotilla’s sole objective.
“On the boat and before the boat, we have openly announced to the world – we have two missions. The first, bring humanitarian relief to Gazan peoples. The second, to announce and to publicize these siege problems, and to end the siege on that region. These two were our right, and we don’t believe that requesting the end of the siege is a political issue – it is also a humanitarian issue. Because of this siege people are suffering.”
The Mavi Marmara, A Turkish vessel under the IHH’s leadership, was the flagship of the fleet. With 600 passengers onboard, it carried representatives from communities around the world that had donated money towards the aid loaded onto the Turkish ships. They were joined by parliamentarians and academics. But there were also Palestinians who had no other way of visiting their homeland.
Archbishop Antalya Hilarion Capucci:
“I’m happy to be going to Gaza so that I can take my children into my heart, and through them all Palestinians in occupied land. Jews as people are our brothers, we all believe in one God. We are against Zionism but we’re not against Jews or Judaism.”
The elderly archbishop was joined by another senior Palestinian, 81 year old Haji Ismail Nashwan.
“The non-Muslim people here have come with the humanity in their heart. Everyone with some feeling in their heart has to help.”
But one of the passengers were so young; he was oblivious to the storm brewing around him. Alongside passengers from nearly 40 nations, there were also dozens of news teams preparing for the journey. But there was a marked absence of any major western media outlets.
“It was really amazing and surprising that you had forty international media from all over the world, even from Latin America, and you didn’t have that from Europe or even from the United States. Those big media, BBC, CNN, French television, Spanish television, they weren’t there. But the worst thing is not just that they weren’t there, the worst thing is that they weren’t covering the story. They knew it could be a huge story, it was already a huge story.”
Hassan Ghani PTC:
“This ship has become an international village floating on the Mediterranean Sea. And now its flanked on either side by its sister ships.”
As PressTV’s correspondent onboard the flotilla, I was to file reports and provide live coverage of the journey. The IHH’s technical team had set up a satellite broadcasting system onboard the Mavi Marmara to facilitate media reporting.
“One of the main reasons the flotilla set off was to lift the embargo, as well as taking aid to the people. So we wanted to show people the journey and how it is not easy to reach Gaza. And if there was any incident, we wanted the world to see. In this context the Satellite broadcasting system was really one of the most important systems on the ship, nearly as important as the ship’s engines. It was our way to communicate with the world.”
But, all was not well. Israel was warning in the strongest possible terms that a breach of its blockade would not be tolerated.
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“We really have all determination and political will to prevent this provocation against us. And we hope that the international community will understand us. I think that we’re ready at any cost to prevent this provocation.”
“They said it’s a security problem. What is the security problem? They claim we are carrying something against them in our cargo. We requested from the media, from all international bodies including United Nations and all countries – we are ready to give permission for a commission to check what we have on the boats. And also we announced all these materials have passed through the Turkish customs by X-ray machines.”
But Tel Aviv demanded the flotilla hand over its aid to the Israeli authorities. It pledged to deliver the aid to Gaza, after removing any banned items. But many of the items on the ships, such as the thousands of tonnes of cement, or the boxes of plastic toys, were prohibited.
“Unfortunately these people have rejected our proposal to transfer the humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”
And with reports in the Israeli media that the military was being dispatched to intercept the flotilla, the mood onboard was defiant.
“We assure you that we don’t have any weapons, we don’t have anything that can cause harm to them. But if they force us, maybe we have to defend the ship with our bodies, Inshallah.”
“We have an absolute right in law to proceed direct to Gaza. We’re equipped to do it, and we see no reason not to carry straight on with it. It does seem to me that Israel’s behaving more and more like a psychotic patient, in that they’re making what they perhaps see as a reasonable offer in a world of their own imagination. It’s not the world that we all live in.”
“I saw it simply as threats to be honest with you. And all the way through the flotilla I thought that they wont attack us – they may try and block us, they may try and push us, but they wont attack us, they wont board the ship because of the media that was onboard. The world’s press would know and it would look bad for them.”
“The Israelis could have chosen many different scenarious. Maybe they could have chosen the path of letting the flotilla go to Gaza, and show the world that ‘because this is humanitarian aid we will let them go. We’re still fighting against Palestine, but we let these people go, so we don’t have all this bad press in the world.’ But of course if you look at history, their history, they don’t care so much about what the world thinks about them.”
The Mavi Marmara has been anchored at sea for three days, awaiting the arrival of the other vessels in the flotilla.
“The atmosphere onboard the ship was one of huge optimism that we were going to make it to Gaza. Alongside the images of Israel’s preparations on their coast, Gaza has prepared for us to arrive. They’d had to work to make the port more accessible to ships of this size.”
At around 4pm, the six ships of the freedom flotilla begin their journey to Gaza from their meeting point, South of Cyprus, in the Meditarranean Sea. IHH leader Bulent Yildirim, aware of the Israeli threats, issues a warning to the Israeli military against attacking the ship.
“If you send your commandos here, we will throw them off the ship, and you will be humiliated in front of the world.”
The ships continue on their path south, and within a few hours, at around 10pm, the first signs of Israeli contact.
Hassan Ghani PTC:
“We can visually see one significantly large Israeli warship, and there are three altogether on radar. I’m not sure whether this is an attempt to scare the convoy volunteers, or whether this is a serious threat at this stage..”
Tensions rise on board the Mavi Marmara, and passengers put on life jackets, in fear of being thrown overboard by an attacking force.
“A lot of people became worried. People didn’t really know what was going to happen.”
“The Israelis have rammed a Free Gaza boat in the past and made a big hole in the side of it, so that was a concern.”
Then a warning. Israeli radio “Mavi Marmara, you are approaching an area of hostilities, which is under a naval blockade. The Gaza area, coastal region, and Gaza harbour are closed to all maritime traffic. The Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, and invites you to enter the Ashdod port.”
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“Negative. Our destination is Gaza.”
But, with the flotilla remaining in international waters, the organisers are still hopeful that Israel will not attack.
“Israeli navy, this is the freedom flotilla. We are comprised of six motor vessels carrying only passengers and humanitarian aid, destined for the Gaza Strip. We do not carry anything that constitutes a threat to your armed forces. Therefore you are not justified in using any force against us. The blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law, we have permission from the Gaza port authorities to enter.”
Several hours on and lights have been spotted in the sky above the Mavi Marmara. The flotilla’s six vessels have come closer together for safety, and volunteers keep watch for any further signs of the Israeli military. Some, fearing a military assault, have removed tools from the ship’s workshop, and sawn off metal bars for use in defending the ship.
“The only form of self defence we had onboard was to hold a railing, and if somebody came towards you with a gun perhaps you would have been able to protect yourself. It didn’t seem very hopeful in the circumstances.”
Just after 4am, the Muslim passengers on board the ship begin the morning prayer.
“In the most peaceful moment in our day, in this time they wanted to attack us.”
“It was as though they were going to war, and they were all armed with several weapons. You could see them on their backs, on the front, in their holsters. And as soon as they approached the ships they began to fire, without any warning. They were then throwing sound grenades, flash grenades, tear gas was landing.”
“The whole stern of the ship just erupted into fire and smoke and flame and bullets and tear gas.”
“A number of people started throwing whatever they could grab hold of, whether they were bottles, or tables or chairs, whatever was on the side of the ship, just trying to repel them, just to try and keep them off the ship, and obviously to try and push them back.”
Failing to board the ship from sea level, the Israeli military sends in helicopters laden with soldiers. Volunteers on the ship, having already been attacked from below, fiercely resist the second wave of soldiers now coming down from above.
“We start wrestling with them, trying to stop them from coming.”
Ahsan Shamruk, a British Palestinian, felt it was his duty to join in the fight to defend the ship.
“The time I was here I felt it was home, 45 nations, we were really united, a really good family.”
Ahsan says was shot in the back of the head from a helicopter while he was struggling with asoldier. The bullet passed through his face. His friends consider his survival a miracle.
“Three or four soldiers, commando soldiers, they jumped on me, they put me on the floor, andthey tied me back. When I was on the floor they start kicking me – remember I speak Hebrew verywell – and I heard one of the soldiers saying ‘he’s the leader, kill him’.”
The roof of the ship is home to the satellite broadcasting system which is beaming out images ofthe attack to the world. In protecting it, the men on the top level believe they’re saving lives.
on protecting antenna UMIT:
“We needed to show everything the way it was, plainly. If we couldn’t show what was happening,Israel would have been free to do what it liked and probably many more people wouldn’t be alivetoday. If we couldn’t broadcast the live footage to the world’s television networks then wewouldn’t have been able to explain the incident to anyone. Israel would have shown the incidentin a completely different way and all of us would have been labelled as terrorists.”
In the chaos I witness two Israeli soldiers being dropped down from the roof onto the deck, and film as passenger disarm them.
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“When I saw the Israeli on the ground, we got to him. I saw his weapon and immediately went to try and get the weapon off of him, it was a 9mm pistol. The whole objective was to disarm him, that was it. By that point I had already seen one dead body, they were not there simply to subdue us, they were prepared to kill. So I was successful in getting that pistol into my possession, and I ejected the bullets – they were live rounds, these were not rubber coated bullets, these were regular lead bullets.”
In total, three Israeli soldiers are captured, disarmed and taken inside the ship. Israel claims the passengers wanted to kill them.
“These terrorists used knifes, they used clubs, they used metal rods. They had only one goal – to kill and lynch IDF soldiers.”
But the soldiers aren’t lynched. Instead, they’re given medical treatment and later released.
“If they wanted to kill those soldiers they wouldn’t have left the outer deck alive. But the aid workers protected the soldiers, disarmed them, neutralised them, and took them downstairs for their own protection.”
“You need to understand the scene. There are people on the floor, you have seen yourself, everywhere is blood, you don’t understand what’s happening, and you don’t have any capacity. And many people have been killed. And in this scenario, three soldiers are coming, who are the killers of our brothers – we don’t allow anyone to do something against them. And afterwards we treat them, our doctors give time for them, and we release them outside.”
The IHH claims a number of people, including a doctor, are shot while escorting the soldiers to freedom. Meanwhile me and other journalists, unaware of whether or not the satellite uplink is still working, try to alert our channels and the world to what’s taking place. All other communications have been jammed by the Israelis.
Sound up of broadcasts (Hassan):
“We’re being attacked from every single side, this is in international waters.”
Soon after this broadcast, I watch as Cevdet Kilicilar, a photographer, is pronounced dead. He’s been shot in the centre of the forehead.
“He was using a camera. He had the most dangerous weapon for Israel, which is that photographic evidence of their crimes.”
Sound up of Jamal:
“Tens of people have been injured, two people have been killed.”
“When we tried to go upstairs, and the helicopters were still above us, I saw them firing.”
Israel denies this and claims its soldiers only fired in self-defence on the deck. But the laser sights from the helicopters searching for a target can be clearly seen.
Me and several others witness the raising of a makeshift white flag, in full view of the helicopters, and the soldiers who now control the roof. But the sound of heavy gunfire continues to envelope the ship.
“They were shooting people in the doorways, people with chains and broom handles. They were picking them off in the doorways. They’d drop, they’d be pulled out of the way, and somebody else would step up and take their place.”
Some of the injured are still trapped on the roof.
“They left me for two hours on the floor bleeding. One Turkish brother, I think his name is Murat, he had five bullets in his shoulder, he had one bullet in his leg, and the soldiers hit him on his jaw, they broke his jaw.”
“After they tied my hands, an Israeli soldier came close and asked “Arab or English?” I was lying on the floor, over here. I replied, “I’m a Turk”. A soldier was standing on my left began to kick me repeatedly in the face, and my nose was broken into pieces and I was partially blinded in my left eye.
There was also a friend on his knees, there was blood gushing out of his back. He was screaming “I’m finished! I’m done!” One of the soldiers that was by me told him to shut up, but he didn’t understand. Then the soldier pulled out his gun and fired four times into his head.”
Israel denies that its soldiers carried out executions, but one camera captures what appears to be the killing of a wounded passenger lying on the floor.
The order is given to everyone on the decks to retreat inside. And as we make our way down the stairs, the full scale of the violence becomes apparent.
There are four bodies on the floor of my cabin. Next door doctors are desperately trying to save the lives of passengers who’ve been seriously injured, but they don’t have the right equipment.
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“I had to walk through the second deck lobby, what became the medical deck, and it was full of bodies. It was.. I mean, I stopped and looked and took pictures. There were three people being given CPR at the same time. There was a gentleman propped up against the wall, and I guess they just left him to die. He had a big hole in his chest, and I guess they just decided to save someone else, because he was beyond being saved. So I took his picture, and he died in front of my eyes.”
Israeli soldiers are now in full control of the ship. But desperate pleas over the radio and PA system, in English and Hebrew, for medical help are ignored. It’s two hours before medical evacuations begin. By the end of Israeli operations, nine passengers are dead, and at least 54 injured. The Israeli military has fired at least 650 rounds of ammunition; around half of them live bullets. A united nations international fact-finding mission describes the actions of the Israeli soldiers as demonstrating levels of totally unnecessary and incredibly violence, and perpetrating an unacceptable level of brutality, which constitute grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. Israel’s own investigation exonerates its soldiers, and states that they acted lawfully in selfdefence, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.
“It shows that the blockade of Gaza is legal. It shows that the enforcement of the blockade last May was legal. And it shows that the Israeli soldiers who boarded the Marmara acted legally, and in self defence.”
Ken O Keefe:
“This is all I have, this is it. My blood, these bloody clothes, that’s all I have. Israel has taken everything else.” It denies that any executions or human rights abuses took place, and denies the numerous allegations from injured passengers that they were abused in custody.
“The organisers are well known for their ties to global jihad, al qaeda, and Hamas.”
In part two I’ll examine Israel’s attempt to dominate the media coverage of what took place. I’ll look at the forensic evidence largely ignored by the Western mainstream media. And I’ll ask the IHH what it makes of Israeli claims that it supports terrorism.
These decks were the scene bloodshed and death, as the passengers of this ship tried to fight off Israeli soldiers from storming onboard. By the time it was over, nine passengers were dead, and dozens more were seriously injured.
One year on, the bridge still bears witness to the ferocity of the attack, scarred by bullets fired by Israeli soldiers as they burst in.
Hassan Ghani PTC:
“In the aftermath of the attack on the Mavi Marmara, Israel began its second phase of operations. As part of a media war, it started to disseminate footage and images that supported its narrative of the story. This, while passengers from this ship were taken to prison.”
“The organisers are well known for their ties to global jihad, al qaeda, and Hamas.”
“This group decided on confrontation, they decided on violence.”
“They had only one goal – to kill and lynch IDF Soldiers”
“We were on international waters, and they came, your soldiers came, with bombs, helicopters, submarines, half of the Israeli navy was there against civilians. And now you are asking us about small sticks and knives.”
These images dominated coverage of the flotilla in the aftermath of the attack. Released by the Israeli military, they contain helpful onscreen text instructing the viewers as to how they should interpret the footage. With all media materials seized by soldiers onboard the ships, there was little else for the world’s news networks to go on.
Alex Lorty Philips:
“The first action that I saw a soldier do when they finally came into the salons, was walk to the camera in the corner of the room and pull the cable out. They didn’t want any of this to be recorded, broadcast, witnessed, shown to the world. And that’s why our media in the UK saw these repeated images of just the Israeli military video of people in combat on the top of the ship.
There were lots of other recordings made, but perhaps they didn’t portray what went on in the same line of discourse that the Israelis were giving out.”
“They cut the communications with the satellite phones, and the internet. But they failed in one thing – their electronic warfare, they failed to cut the live broadcast by rhe satellite. So there was a camera, there were several cameras who were broadcasting live the attack. Then when they took over the ships, they took away from all of us, including journalists and all the people who were in the ships, all our footage, all our photographs, all our work.”
The soldiers forcibly seized all of PressTV’s footage, and even destroyed our camera to get at a tape that remained inside.
See and hear ptc:
“When we were searched onboard the ship, the soldiers snatched a tape out of my pocket, on which we’d documented the entire attack. I’m an accredited member of the British press, and when I showed my press card and demanded the tape back, the Israeli soldier’s response was to throw me down the stairs.”
While the passengers were effectively silenced for up to three days, Israel paraded its soldiers in front of the press.
soldier with face to the wall:
“We came in order to stop the boat, peacefully and quietly, and we dealt with people who came to attack us and not to defend themselves.”
“The Canadian government TV, they interviewed me from Istanbul. The first words out of the mouth of the reporter from Canada was ‘why did you attack the Israeli soldiers?’ That was the first question out of her mouth. I said ‘well, we didn’t attack anybody! Where are you getting this from?’ She said ‘Oh we have film, we have film from the Israelis showing you attacking the Israeli soldiers’. I said ‘that’s crazy, you’re believing the aggressor’.
“The asked me the same question when I came back because what they’d seen, what the press had seen for three days was the Israeli media pumping out images of Israeli soldiers being beaten with sticks. But what they’ve never seen is the images of the Israelis shooting at point blank range and killing and wounding. They haven’t seen any of that, because some people did take images of that, but those images have been taken away, and Israel still has those images.”
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“The joke of it is, is that I took photos, and then I gave them to IHH. They released a couple of my photos, three of them to the media. The Israelis have taken those photos, reprinted them in their media, and as a caption they say ‘Israeli soldier being tortured’. And it was the exact moment when they were actually protecting that soldier from being killed. It just turns it right on its head.”
Israeli officials singled out the Mavi Marmara for criticism, claiming that passengers on the other five ships had walked off unharmed since they didn’t put up the same kind of resistance.
“As anyone knows you have a right to self-defence. And that’s all that, as I understand it, the soldiers were doing when they were coming down from helicopters being attacked with iron bars and knives. They didn’t come with any intention to kill.”
But a United Nations investigation found that when passengers on three of the other vessels used passive resistance, by placing their bodies in the path of soldiers, they were attacked with stun grenades, plastic bullets and tasers, leaving a number of passengers injured with burns, bruises and factures.
“We were held at sea overnight, humiliated, roughed up, dragged from out ship, lost all ourpossessions. And then in prison treated with utter contempt.”
One year on PressTV and other broadcasters are still unable to access their own footage. But Israel did give one broadcaster access to some of the material.
Hassan Ghani PTC:
“The BBC didn’t bother to send any of its crews onboard the flotilla to provide coverage. But in the aftermath it was given exclusive access to some of the soldiers who stormed the ships – a privilege not even granted to the United Nations during the course of its investigation.”
So how did the BBC portray events? BBC Voiceover: “Self defence, or excessive force? What really happened that night?”
BBC reporter Jane Corbin sets the tone towards the start of the programme.
“But did Israel fall into a trap? And what was the real agenda of some of those people who call themselves peace activists onboard the free gaza flotilla.”
The documentary purports to find out the truth about what happened. But its broadcast has led many, including some of those interviewed by Panorama, to question the real agenda of the BBC in covering Middle East.
“Militants have fired thousands of rockets at civilian targets in Israel in the past few years.”
Little context is provided about the blockade, its impact, and the fact that Palestinians see themselves as fighting a war of resistance against an occupier. Rockets fired from Gaza have killed dozens of Israelis in the past decade. But the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during the same period through Israeli military attacks runs into the thousands, and this isn’t mentioned.
Jane Corbin sets about investigating what happened onboard the ship through the examination of footage and interviews. But why did the BBC feel the need to add credibility to a controversial and disputed audio recording released by Israel, by dubbing it over another recording?
“Israel says this was the radio response from the flotilla. Part of it was defiant and abusive.”
“Shut up – go back to Auschwitz. We’re helping Arabs going against the US. Don’t forget 9/11 guys.”
Here’s the original video, as released by the Israeli military.
“Negative. Our destination is Gaza.”
“On the Mavi Marmara that night, at least one man openly boasted he’d be prepared to die as a shaheed, a martyr, fighting the Israelis.”
Ahsan BBC video:
“If the Israelis dare and try to fight us, we’re going to give them a real good fight. But if I die, as a shaheed, I just want to tell my children and my wife, that I love them a lot. Their father died for a really good cause.”
“I think the Israelis want to show people that I’m a terrorist. I grew up in Israel, most of my friends were Israelis and they know who I am, I always like to help. And if I had to die to protect the ship, and to protect the old people, the young people there, I will do it. I want to protect my ship exactly the same way I’d protect my house. All that I did, I went to save people’s lives, and that’s what shaheed means in Islam, because I know what I’m doing is going to save people, going to give people medicine. If you attack me, I have to defend myself.”
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Time and time again BBC Panorama asked whether the Mavi Marmara passengers’ actions could “..lead to confrontation.” Or were ‘.. a provocation’.
But both sides didn’t face the same level of scrutiny. The Israeli military wasn’t asked if it was a provocation to throw stun grenades onto the deck of the ship in the first few minutes of the interception.
“We think that no one can be that crazy against people on international waters.”
The IHH says it stands by those passengers who chose to resist.
“We were on international waters. We didn’t carry anything, weapons, against the Israelis. But when they came to our boat, they came to my home. When they came, of course I need to defend myself. It was my right. We believe that if we resist, they will not come. But they came and they have killed.”
And I’ve yet to meet anyone from the near 600 passengers who feels differently.
Alex lorty Philips:
“If we hadn’t been intercepted, there would not have been a confrontation. I wanted us to resist being taken over. I felt the mission was very precious. What can you do in that situation, are you allowed to defend yourself? Because that’s what they were doing, they were trying to defend us and defend the ship.”
Panorama repeatedly questioned the motives of the aid workers and activists, but failed to question the motives of the Israeli military in using lethal force to storm a civilian ship. In her exclusive interviews with some of the soldiers, Jane Corbin listens as they detail the extent of their injuries.
BBC Israeli soldier:
“I looked down at my abdomen, and saw it was a knife, and pulled it out. The beating was continuous, and the cries of Allahu Akbar.”
Hassan Ghani PTC:
“But there is little comment on the deaths of the nine Turkish civilians. One would expect, when trying to establish the facts of what took place, that the forensic evidence would take precedence.”
The autopsies, published in the British press a month before the BBC aired its documentary, show that some of the victims were shot up to six times, including several who were shot in the face and head. They present a key challenge to Israel’s claims that its soldiers only fired in self-defence. But they are completely ignored by BBC panorama.
“Israel held onto the Mavi Marmara for months following the attack. But some signs of the bloodshed still remain.”
Markers now stand where the 9 men are thought to have fallen.
The UN investigation has provided detailed findings into their deaths, based on forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony, although supporters of Israel dismiss the investigation as biased. The autopsies show that many of the dead were shot in the head and upper body.
UN report voiceover:
38 year old Cevdet Kiliclar, a photographer, was killed while attempting to take pictures of Israeli soldiers on the deck above. He was shot in the forehead between the eyes.
60 year old Ibrahim Bilgen received a wound in the chest consistent with being shot from the helicopter above. He received two more bullet wounds when he was shot from behind, and was then shot at close range in the side of the head with a beanbag round that penetrated his skull and lodged itself in his brain. 42 year old Fahri Yaldiz was shot five times in the chest and legs. One bullet hit his heart and lungs, causing rapid death.
38 year old Ali Heyder Bengi was shot six times. Several eyewitnesses claim some of the shots were fired at close range while he was lying wounded on the deck.
41 year old Cengiz Aykuz was shot in the back of the head and in the face, and 46 year old Cengiz Songur was shot in the neck. Both shot at from above as they were sheltering from the firing and attempting to move inside.
54 year old Cetin Topcuoglu had been helping to bring injured passengers inside. He was shot three times, in the head, groin and lower back. 31 year old Necdet Yildirim was shot in the shoulder and back.
And 19 year old Furkan Dogan, a Dual Turkish and US national, was killed after being shot five times. He’d been filming with a small video camera. Forensic analysis shows that one of the shots,
aimed at his face, was delivered at point blank range while he was lying on the floor, already wounded.
The UN investigation describes at least six of these deaths as summary executions. The nine men were shot a total of 30 times. Five of them were shot in the head.
A 10th man, 46 year old Ugur Suleyman Soylemez, remains in a coma, after having also been shot in the head.
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BBC Panorama skims over the nine deaths. There’s no reference to the findings of the autopsies, and no reference to the important fact that Israeli soldiers continued firing after the passengers had raised a white flag. Instead, it focuses on the testimony of the Israeli soldiers.
BBC documentary Jane Corbin:
“Do you know if you killed anybody, or injured anyone?”
BBC documentary Israeli Soldier “I don’t know. I think I probably injured people because I shot them in the legs.”
Israel’s own investigation concluded that Israeli forces acted lawfully and in self-defence.
“There were elements on that boat who went with thoughts of causing possible bloodshed. And unfortunately they’re the ones who didn’t survive.”
“If I wanted to give my life for the Palestinian cause, I wouldn’t go unarmed on a civilian ship, with humanitarian aid, with medicine and building materials to travel to the Gaza strip, and then confront fully armed Israeli commandos.
Mehmet Ali Zeybek:
“We carried humanitarian aid, we did not go to fight. We had no such intention. If we wanted, we could have shot at them with the couple of guns we got hold of on the deck during the fighting.But we didn’t use them to kill, instead we threw them overboard.”
The Israeli military says its soldiers were only armed with pistols for use in self-defence, a claim repeated by BBC reporter Jane Corbin. In doing so, she ignores this widely available video evidence of soldiers using rifles on the roof. Turkish investigators believe this is the moment when wounded Furkan Dogan was killed.
Passengers on the ship have claimed that live ammunition was being fired at them from inside the helicopters. But Panorama accepted an irrelevant Israeli explanation that:
“The Israelis say it’s not possible to fire while abseiling from a helicopter.”
BBC Doc Israeli Genearl Giora Eiland Head of IDF Inquiry “We have very clear evidence that at least in four cases the other side did use live fire, in some ofthem they did use the Israeli weapons that were stolen from out soldiers, but at least in one case
they did use their weapon. We found bullets and shells of weapons that are not in use in the Israeliforces.”
But there’s no examination of this evidence. The Turkish autopsy reports indicate the use of a hunting rifle by an Israeli soldier with unusual ammunition, but again this information isn’t deemed worthy of Panorama viewers.
Israel refused to allow the UN’s international fact finding mission to examine the medical records of the soldiers it claims were shot by activists. This Israeli military video inadvertently shows passengers throwing objects overboard, potentially corroborating claims that the confiscated weapons weren’t used.
“Really, if any of them had a bullet in him, it’s from fighting each other, because they were panicking. They were shooting like crazy. But I don’t believe they were injured because they came with helmets, they came with their faces covered, bullet proof jackets, they came ready to shoot and ready to kill. So no, we didn’t have guns we didn’t shoot them, it’s all lies.”
“The BBC started that programme, their whole production was geared around turning this into something that it’s not, to make it look like the Israelis were just trying to defend themselves.”
Ken O’Keefe who was interviewed for the programme claims his views weren’t fairly represented.
“They blatantly lied and said that the commandos that we had disarmed and controlled
completely, had escaped.”
“Me and another soldier found ourselves alone and we just jumped off the bow into the water.”
“All three Israeli commandos were rescued.”
“That’s a lie, and it’s an intentional lie, because the BBC portrayal of the events of a portrayal ensinuating that we were terrorists and killers and that the Israelis were simply defendingthemselves.”
“I personally arranged everything, and we released the soldiers. Otherwise it was impossible for them to come inside and take the soldiers. You remember, even after three hours, they couldn’t come inside.”
There are many further omissions in the BBC programme, which serve to skew it in favour of Israel. It discusses the efforts of the flotilla to harness the media to serve its cause, but ignores the Israeli military’s efforts to manipulate coverage of the incident by seizing all journalistic materials onboard the ships.
“So what about the aid the IHH said was the reason for their mission? I found that two-thirds of the medicines are out of date and useless.”
The fact that this is only a tiny proportion of the total sum of aid on the ships, and that most of that aid hasn’t been allowed through, isn’t explained.
Neither is the fact that studies have shown many drugs are still effective years after their expiry dates, and are not ‘useless’. That aside, the IHH denies it sent expired medicine.
TIME CODE: 45:00_50:00
“These medicines are not Turkish. Some other NGO may have brought these medicines a long time ago, and Israel didn’t allow them through. And now they are showing all these medicines as expired medicines. All the individual medicines have been listed and checked by Turkish customs officers.”
The IHH says the Turkish Health ministry has strict regulations in place preventing them from exporting expired medicines. They say they rotate the distribution of drugs between their projects around the world, leaving nothing in storage for extended periods.
In the beginning of 2011 the charity spent 3.2 million dollars purchasing medical and humanitarian supplies for just one of its aid shipments to the people of Libya.
But More generally, the IHH has been accused by Israel of having links to terrorism, an allegation repeated by BBC Panorama.
“We’re asking them publicly, if there is any proof in your hands, seven months have passed and you haven’t shown anything to the world. But now you have said this. From the beginning until now we are asking people, if you want to know IHH, come and see us. It is very transparent. Or you can go to the regions where we are working and you can ask the people from the street, who is IHH, and what have they done in that region. They have links with terrorism? Or they have links with orphans, widows, hospitals, and infrastructure. After 18 years we have reached many places in the world. In this year we have projects in 126 countries. And whatever, and wherever, no problem. There is no discrimination between peoples and places. Of course we have some relation
with Hamas on Gaza, as much as the UN have, as much as Western NGOs have.”
We put the points made in this programme and many more questions of bias and omissions in Panorama’s coverage to the BBC. This is the full response we received.
Voiceover of statement
"We stand by the programme's investigation into what happened on the Mavi Marmara. The BBC has a long and established reputation for editorial independence and it rejects any accusation that the report was not impartial. We also note with interest that Panorama asked Press TV for an interview for this film, so that it could put forward its view of what happened, but the request was declined."
Hassan Ghani PTC:
“It’s true. BBC Panorama did contact me to arrange a meeting while they were filming, and I made a personal decision to turn them down. Given that Ken O’Keefe and some of the others feel they were misrepresented by the programme, I think I probably made the right decision.”
And the BBC is just one of several western mainstream media institutions that stands accused of failing to report the story fairly. See and hear Kevin “I saw evidence of executions. I saw the bodies with the bullet holes in their heads. So I reported
that when I got back. Right after I reported that, no more interviews. They simply stopped talking to me. It’s another blockade basically.”
“Our martyrs were not armed. Their only aim was to make the cargo of humanitarian aid reach the people of Gaza. Dear friends, I have very mixed feelings. I have just seen where my son fell, as a martyr, on the highest part of the ship. What shall I say about Furkan? Furkan spent his life helping and sharing other people’s problems. He would always put others in front of himself. America, Furkan was your citizen. When there’s a human rights report by the UN documenting his death, you shamelessly voted against it. How is it that you allowed American weapons to be used against your own citizen. Your mask of human rights has fallen, and your real face has been revealed. He is
a Muslim, he is an American citizen. You didn’t like that, did you? Didn’t you say there was no difference between different races and colours? Obama, didn’t you become president with those words? 95% of Americans are oblivious to what happened to Furkan, because there is a news blackout. But eventually, the truth will prevail.”
“If they let that border be open, then Gaza is free. And they wont let that happen. They want the Palestinians to give up, they want the Palestinians to surrender. Well, they’re not going to surrender. But we’ll wait and see what they do next time. I think they’ll try to do the same thing again, I think they’ll stop us again. And we’ll have to go again. Like I say, ‘we sail until Palestine is free’.”