Now that Israel has been forced by Turkey to release the Gaza flotilla detainees, some of the r accounts of the events that transpired on the Mavi Marmara are circulating in the press. Reuters carries this story of an Al Jazeera cameraman who was on the boat:
Al Jazeera television cameraman Andre Abu Khalil, who was on the Mavi Marmara, said that after the initial Israeli assault on the vessel, four Israeli troops, suffering from “fracture wounds”, were held below deck by the activists.
He said other commandos, trying to scale the ship, opened fire to break up a human chain of about 20 Turkish men, who were using slingshots, water hoses and metal pipes to try to hold off the boarding party.
Abu Khalil said the line disintegrated after the troops shot one of the men in the neck and the other in the head. In all, the cameraman counted 40 wounded passengers, many with bullet wounds to the legs, apparently to disable them. Others were shot in the eyes, stomach and chest.
On the lower deck, Abu Khalil said, someone using a loudspeaker told the Israelis: “Your soldiers are fine and they’ll be released if you provide us with medical help for the wounded.”
An Israeli Arab legislator [Hanin Zoabi] who participated in the flotilla acted as a mediator. She raised a white flag and wrote in Hebrew on a piece of cardboard, according to the cameraman.
As a commenter here noted, the entire tragedy has the aspect of a Rashomon-like story with no one individual seeing things exactly as another does. Everyone has their own angle both political and topical, everyone to a certain extent sees what they want to see and disregards the rest, as Paul Simon wrote.
But I did find this report interesting because it accords with several things I actually saw as I watched the live feed that night and subsequent video footage. Many of us have seen the IDF-offered videos of the passengers launching stun grenades and hosing down the Israeli commando boat as it attempted to attach a grappling hook to the Mavi Marmara. So it wouldn’t at all surprise me that the IDF chose not to show the footage that came after when the hosed down, frustrated, angry commandos took it out on their nemeses by firing on those who resisted them on board.
Also, given the beatings we saw meted out by the resisting passengers to the IDF commandos after they rappeled on board, it wouldn’t surprise me that they would’ve taken some of the unconscious ones below decks either for medical attention or to act as hostages (a foolish notion given the overwhelming force arrayed against them). On that fateful night, I listened for hours to the live feed and heard the same female voice saying repeatedly: “Your troops are OK. They will not be harmed. There are many here in grave condition and require a doctor.” So in this Rashomon predicament, I find much of what Abu Khalil says to be plausible both from what I saw on the live feed and video I saw afterward.
Regarding the shooting of two passengers described above, this sounds very much like what is described in this Turkish account of the same incident:
In a shocking account, Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) President Bülent Yıldırım, who returned on Thursday, said a photographer, whose first name was Cevdet, was shot in the forehead by a soldier one meter away from him. “Our Cevdet [Kılıçlar], he is a press member. He has become a martyr. All he was doing was taking pictures. They smashed his skull into pieces. We soon made out that these were real bullets they were firing. Rubber bullets also kill because you shoot at very close range, between one-and-a-half and two meters.”
Kevin Ovenden of Britain, an activist on the ship that arrived in İstanbul on Thursday, also said a man who had pointed a camera at the soldiers was shot directly through the forehead with live ammunition, with the exit wound blowing away back of his skull.
Even if we partially discount this story as it originates with the director of the Turkish aid group which sent the ship, it still matches up well with the earlier account in important particulars.
I hope the commandos who participated in this botched raid will view the image displayed above and wonder which one of them put a bullet through Cevdet Kılıçlar’s brain. While they’re at it, let them leaf through his Flickr account to see the humanity shining through in every image she shot. This man’s death is a crime, literally.
This report also raises some troubling possibilities which have occurred to me earlier. Israel has not released an accounting of everyone killed (though the Turks at least have now released the names of the nine of their nationals killed). We still don’t know for sure who was killed and how many were killed. IHH is reporting that not all of those who boarded the boats have been accounted for:
There were also claims that Israeli official reports on the number of people killed are untruthful. Yıldırım said, “Until now they have returned nine dead bodies, but our list is bigger. There are people missing.” Speaking to journalists at Atatürk International Airport shortly after his return, Yıldırım said: “We saw 38 injured who were brought back to us by doctors after the attack. Now they are saying there are 21 people who have been injured.” Yıldırım was on the main passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara, which the Israeli navy attacked at the start of its raid.
Another witness, Yücel Köse, who was on the ship Gazze repeated Yıldırım’s allegations of missing people. “The Mavi Marmara was bombed right in front of our eyes. They threw the wounded into the water,” he said. Köse said the soldiers were upset when some of their men were held by activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.
Again, let’s discount at least part of this account as possibly exaggerated. But the fact remains that Israel has still not released the names of all those killed and injured. It hasn’t told us who it still holds and whether they are being held because of the severity of their injuries or because they are political detainees, hostages or whatever.
What IHH must now do is release its passenger list and compare it to those it knows were released. If there are discrepancies they need to tell us the names and allow the world to discover where these people are and whether they are missing or not. I have a sneaking suspicion that more than 9 people were killed that night. I could be wrong. But something doesn’t smell right about Israel’s response or lack thereof.