On the Flotilla cover-up

June 10, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Before civilian blood hit the deck of the ill-fated Mavi Marmara, the Israeli government, IDF and right-wing press had already launched their PR offensive.

The propaganda battle had begun the previous Friday with official statements characterising the activists as violent terrorist sympathisers. To steal a word from Israeli military jargon, such statements were directed at ’delegitimising’ the flotilla’s passengers, who, stripped of their rights as people, could now expect the brutality routinely directed at Israel’s perceived enemies.

Phase two followed on Monday before the attack. Media and communication channels from the boats were scrambled, preventing all but one Al-Jazeera journalist from broadcasting live footage. Mobile phones were later jammed for the duration of the attack. Phones and laptops were confiscated and remain impounded.

As reports of the massacre hit the wires, prompting outrage around the world, the navy revealed their version of events. At this time there could be no contradiction, as all activists and journalists were being quietly herded to Ashdod without means of communication to the outside world.

Before they arrived stories of the lynch mob had been widely disseminated. Foreign Ministry Deputy Danny Ayalon terrified the world’s media that morning, announcing the aid flotilla was in fact an “armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organization. The organizers are well-known for their ties to Global Jihad, Al-Qaeda and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror.” Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu continued in the same vein, “they were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. Our soldiers had to defend themselves”.

The IDF information channels were full of accounts from the real victims, Israeli commandos. One frightened young man, still in a state of shock and disbelief reported “we came to talk, but they came to fight”. One Naval Special Forces Commander stated on Tuesday that “there were terrorists who wanted to kill us. I cannot explain it any other way.” Meanwhile a steady stream of videos was released by the IDF to bolster their story. 13 videos have been uploaded to the their YouTube channel.

Meanwhile journalists not on the flotilla have been banned from entering the interrogation facility at Ashdod port. The Independent reports IDF officials fanned out through the crowd of reporters outside and on Jonah’s Hill overlooking the facility, recounting the military’s version of events.

But for all the speed and efficiency with which the military built their defence, holes began to emerge. First the Free Gaza movement released a statement that “under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck.”

This is confirmed by video reports from journalists aboard the flotilla during the attack, who detail the use of teargas and stun grenades as well as live ammunition, making no mention of violence from the activists. Al Jazeera confirmed that Israeli commandos continued to fire even when a white flag had been raised. IDF claims that passengers used live rounds were not backed up by any independent sources aboard the ship.

Report of live fire against the army initially suggested the ships’ passengers were armed. The IDF later admitted this was untrue, subsequently claiming two handguns had been taken from soldiers and used against them. This morning the IDF released a video of soldiers taking fire “from all directions”. The video does not show the origin of the shots, but the volume generated is clearly incompatible with two hand guns. The dialogue between two soldiers is a little too on message.

Scaling down the claims of live fire, army spokesmen have taken to broadcasting pictures of the tools found aboard. Among them are bags of marbles and an angle grinder, allegedly a weapon “used to saw off metal railings used to hit soldiers”. Little to suggest the ensuing massacre was a proportional response. Stretching credibility, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor told us “we havent inspected the ship yet”, despite soldiers turning up any object that could conceivably have been used in violence, including parts of the ship itself. Palmor suggested more serious weapons could yet be found, recalling memories of Saddam’s WMDs. Palmor was unwilling to contradict the claims of ’Free Gaza’ activists that “every item on board each ship had been inspected by port authorities and manifests issued”.

The focus now is on establishing links between global terror networks and the flotilla. To this end most of the attention has been directed toward the Turkish humanitarian group IHH, drawing on the supposedly independent NGO ’Intelligence and Information Centre’, which is funded and staffed by army officials. The group have published a report in which Danish security services accuse the IHH of funding terrorist groups.

Given that the Afghan groups referred to have taken funding from a colourful array of sources (the White House and Downing Street) and that Hamas has itself been funded by Israel in the 1980s against the Palestinian Authority, it would be unwise to dismiss these claims out of hand. But even the Danish report describes only a fractional minority of the IHH to have any links whatsoever with these groups. Given that IHH members made up a small percentage of the Mavi Marmara’s 600 passengers, which included hundreds of unaffiliated citizens from dozens of other nations, Palmor’s claim “terror elements were not a minority” is poorly founded. When asked if he believed the flotilla intended to supply arms to Hamas he commented “that is the reason we were concerned. They are establishing a supply line to Hamas. If there were not weapons on this ship, they will be on the next one.” So pity the Rachel Corrie, still en route to Gaza, carrying such dubious individuals as Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire and former UN diplomat Denis Halliday.

Smearing of the IHH has been undermined by today’s debunking of another piece of army fiction. The IDF had claimed the five ships other than the Mavi Marmara were re-directed peacefully. Greek activist Dimitris Gielalis from the Sfendoni vessel disagrees, “they came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used”. Similar accounts have emerged from the other ships.

Within Israel chinks have emerged in the united front. While Netanyahu and Barak have praised their armed forces, dissenting Knesset members have made their voices heard “The crimes of the pirate government in killing some of the sail’s participants put the government beyond international and human law. Tyrants like Bibi and Barak will find themselves in the suitable place in the garbage can of history”, said MK Barake of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. Even the staunch nationalists of the Jerusalem Post agreed the navy had “erred strikingly” and would now be “overwhelmed in the media”. MK Haneen Zoubi, on board the Mavi Maria reported “the army wanted many deaths to terrorise us”.

As facts emerge from those onboard the flotilla, more holes are shot through the official version of events. As the façade crumbles, the cover up grows more obvious. Israel may finally be held to account for its crimes. This time it wont go away.