The Guardian publises a chilling report that raises the distinct possibility that many of the nine (so far) dead aboard the Mavi Marmara may’ve been shot execution-style by the IDF commados who assaulted the boat:
…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.
…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.
…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…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.”
What the Guardian reporter was too careful to point out was the obvious conclusion that most of the dead were murdered execution style; or that they may’ve been wounded in an initial mêlée, but afterward were “finished off” by shots to the head.
After reading thousands of words of reporting and eyewitness accounts and watching videos released by both sides, I’m coming to the conclusion that what happened was that the Israeli commandos initially fired stun grenades and rubber bullets from helicopters in order to disperse the crowd on board before they landed. Either some passengers interpreted this as an all out assault on the ship or they were spoiling for a fight.
The initial group of commandos were overrun, beaten and some dragged below decks either to be used as hostages or for medical attention. I speculate that when the IDF command saw their comrades overrun on board and discovered they perhaps had been taken hostage, an automatic, instinctual blood-lust took over. They not only had to liberate their comrades at all costs, but they had to eliminate whatever threat they had faced.
So, I don’t necessarily believe the IDF went into this planning for a massacre (though senior IDF officers were quoted in the Israeli press as saying they were prepared to use lethal force if necessary). But when events spun out of control and did not follow the scenario they’d planned, soldiers began acting on impulse and in completely disorganized fashion, which is fatal to a complicated operation such as this.
In the end, it WAS a massacre. A massacre caused by missed cues and obliviousness on both sides as to how aggressive behavior might be viewed by the other side. Of course, the preponderance of blame is on the Israeli side both because they initiated the encounter and because they had the overwhelming advantage in lethal force.
Lest anyone misunderstand, I am not trying to defend or whitewash the Israeli attack by understanding or explaining how it might’ve gone wrong. I am coming closer and closer to believing that most of the nine (and perhaps as many as 15) were executed after they were subdued and wounded. If anything close to this is the truth, then war crimes have been committed, which Israel will have to answer for. In fact, on the very first night when I wrote my first post I named the Israeli navy commander and said he should be prepared to answer for such crimes along with Ehud Barak. I continue to believe this.
And I continue to say in no uncertain terms that our president (see comments below) is doing an immense disservice to human decency, morality and long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East by continuing to triangulate–expressing understanding of Israel’s security concerns and hoping to “ameliorate” conditions for the Gazans:
I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out, how can we meet Israel’s security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians…
In addition, Jewish groups like J Street which cheerlead this limp approach are also doing a disservice to truth and Israel’s long-term interests:
Now nearly 5 days after the Gaza Flotilla disaster, we still don’t yet know [!] the full scope of the damage to the peace process, to Israel’s international reputation, and to multilateral efforts to convince Iran to change course on its nuclear program.
Yet there is real hope that the Obama Administration will act to turn this tragedy into an opportunity – most importantly for truly bold action to resolve the conflict through a two-state solution. There is also real hope that the counterproductive closure of Gaza may be modified so that weapons are kept out but sufficient humanitarian aid is allowed in.
You can’t fudge this one. It’s bad, very bad. Saying it’s bad but not as bad as you might think or that we can tinker with things and just squeak by or that this poses an “opportunity,” as both Obama and J Street have done, is inexcusable considering that outright murder may’ve happened here.
We must demand more from our elected officials. And if liberal Jewish organizations that seek our support can’t adjust to the circumstances, they will be swept away by the tide of events and lose their political relevance. Are you listening Jeremy Ben-Ami?
We need J Street and all other Jewish organizations and Barack Obama to demand an international investigation (NOT an Israeli investigation). We need an immediate end to the Gaza siege. We need an accounting of all the dead from Israel. We need Israel to agree to pay reparations to the victims.
For a journalistic version of the Obama/J Street “too little-too late” approach see Ethan Bronner’s report in the NY Times. Sample blather:
In truth, the chaos and deaths on the ship, known as the Mavi Marmara…were not a result of lack of planning.
Al Jazeera reports that South African has recalled its ambassador.
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- You: Gaza flotilla activists were shot in head at close range (guardian.co.uk)
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.