Richard Lightbown looks at the continuing Israeli disinformation about the murder of aid workers aboard the Gaza-bound Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, on 31 May 2010 and challenges the Israelis either to produce the evidence to back up their version of events or to shut up and accept responsibility for their actions.
The inappropriately named Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) is reputed to have links with Israeli intelligence. On 15 September the organization published a report1 that was based in part on information from Şefik Dinç. Mr Dinç had been on the Mavi Marmara for the Turkish newspaper Habertürk and has written a book on the raid entitled The Bloodstained Mavi Marmara. At present the book is only available in Turkish. Although there is no reason to doubt the ITIC translations into English, one can certainly criticize the way ITIC has blended its own material with that of Mr Dinç. As they describe it in Section 5:
In some cases we verify those descriptions against the information we have on the confrontation.
In the words then of the late Iraqi arms expert, Dr David Kelly, the account has been “sexed up”.
Mr Dinç apparently is very critical of the Turkish government for not preventing the incident and blames the Turkish charity IHH for insisting on entering Gaza. There is no criticism in the ITIC version of his account of the state of Israel. In considering this one should not forget the legality here. The government of Turkey along with those of Greece, Sweden and Ireland had no reason to stop any of the ships which were acting lawfully. IHH and its partner organizations were legally entitled to enter Gazan waters since the Israeli blockade is unlawful (see report of the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission – the Hudson-Philips inquiry – plus previous statements from the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, Professor Richard Falk). As Iara Lee, an eyewitness to the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, described it
Under an illegal siege, the delivery of aid to civilians is a prohibited act; the intent of our humanitarian convoy was to violate this unjust prohibition.
The blame then for this tragedy must lie squarely with the government of Israel for applying an illegal blockade and ruthlessly enforcing it with the use of unjustified lethal violence by heavily armed troops against civilians. The International Terrorism Disinformation Center never makes these facts clear. Neither does it acknowledge that the defence of the Mavi Marmara, which was basically cobbled together in only a few hours before the attack, was a legal defence of a ship that was the victim of a well-planned, violent, illegal terrorist attack against the civilian passengers and crew.
The language used in the ITIC report betrays the bias. The defenders on the upper deck are twice described as using ”extreme violence”, but the term is never applied to the soldiers. True, the defenders ignored the stated aims of the flotilla and hit boarding soldiers with iron bars and wooden clubs, and hit them again as they lay on the deck. At least one soldier was stabbed. At least two were thrown onto a lower deck where only the intervention of other passengers prevented one of them from being thrown overboard. But one should remember that by this stage two passengers were already dead or dying from Israeli gunshot wounds and the passenger’s violence was certainly exceeded by soldiers who according to Mr Dinç killed nine civilians and injured 30 in about 20 minutes. ITIC apparently has no problem with this violence, or with the fact that the Israeli military initiated it.
The bias later becomes religious prejudice in a sentence in Section 6 which states:
Eight of them [the martyrs] belonged to Islamist Turkish organizations and not one of them was a peace activist or human rights worker.
(Contrary to this libellous assertion, details of the charitable and human rights work of these martyrs can be read on the IHH website.)
But the two most important points of controversy appearing in the ITIC report are the moment at which the Israeli soldiers began to use live fire, and whether the passengers used live fire at all.
On the first point, Section 4 states:
The author’s [Turkish journalist Şefik Dinç’s] description clearly shows that IDF [“Israel Defence Forces”] soldiers did not open fire until after other soldiers were attacked and taken hostage.
In Section 12 it appears that Mr Dinç is saying that the soldiers did not begin to fire live ammunition until after three of their colleagues had been taken below as captives. In other words soldiers on the deck did not commence firing until after they were attacked. This has never been denied by the passengers as far as I am aware. What has been asserted, and what Mr Dinç has not referred to (or the reference has been edited out), is that live fire began from the first helicopter before any of the commandos rappelled onto the deck. This is the version accepted by the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission, which also gave us the names of the two casualties killed by this initial fire before any soldier had landed on the upper deck.
On the subject of passengers’ use of firearms, Mr Dinç is never quoted by ITIC as offering support for this controversial accusation, which has been categorically denied by the captain along with passengers and reporters. Instead, an ITIC “verification” has been tacked on here in the form of two uncorroborated allegations in footnotes 7 and 8. There is also an allegation that a soldier was shot in the knee. The source for these very important claims is “According to our [ITIC] information…” This is the sole evidence provided for serious charges that passengers had brought at least one firearm on board which had then been fired at the soldiers along with three of the IDF’s own weapons. While this may be sufficient evidence in an Israeli military court on the West Bank, it is entirely inadequate for anyone seeking the truth on the flotilla raid. (Regarding the claim that passengers had fired four firearms at the soldiers, it should be borne in mind that one passenger is an ex-US Marine, and that standard IDF issue Glock semi-automatic pistols have a magazine of 17 rounds which fire as fast as the trigger is pulled. Yet apparently only one soldier was hit in the knee. One might be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood wrote more credible scripts for John Wayne.)
Unfortunately, these unfounded allegations are not new. The IDF has been making these uncorroborated charges since the raid, most notably by Gen Giora Eiland. Gen Eiland headed the nine-person panel of experts that produced a report for the IDF into the raid which reported that the commandos had acted properly. The report has never been released to the public. In a BBC Panorama interview with Jane Corbin, broadcast on 12 August, the general said:
We have very clear evidence that at least in four cases the other side did use live fire. In some of them were Israeli weapons stolen from soldiers but at least in one case they used their weapon, because we found bullets and shells that is not in use in the Israeli forces.
No photographic evidence was produced in support. No details were given. The bullets and shells have never been produced for independent analysis. There is only a scrap of audio material in a video on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website where a voice says in Hebrew that they are receiving live fire and the authenticity of this recording is in dispute. (This has been raised as part of a complaint of bias and lack of balance against the aforementioned BBC Panorama programme.) Gen Eiland’s “clear evidence ... in four cases” remains a phantom, and on the face of it a fraud.
(BBC Editorial Guidelines, under the section Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion, state:
We must rigorously test contributors expressing contentious views during an interview whilst giving them a fair chance to set out their full response to our questions.
Ms Corbin did not ask any supplementary question or make any attempt to cross examine the general on this very contentious view. The programme’s deputy editor subsequently denied that Ms Corbin had conducted a “limp interview”.)
Israel holds vast amounts of photographs and film footage, including its own infrared footage which would pick up gun discharges. Only small quantities of carefully selected material have so far been released. We have been shown photographs of weapons stashes from the Mavi Marmara consisting mostly of a variety of kitchen knives and standard tools such as hammers and pipe wrenches. The time is long overdue for the real evidence on the firearms to be produced. Israel should now put up or shut up.
There does of course remain the possibility (probably remote) that Israel has in fact produced credible evidence to the first international inquiry with which it has ever cooperated. The UN Panel of Inquiry, led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, into the raid is due to report soon (and was originally scheduled to report in late September). Both the Israeli and Turkish governments have been providing evidence to the inquiry and it will be interesting to see how the panel reports. If it criticizes the raid it will be an embarrassment to both Binyamin Netanyahu who has already been lambasted about it by Tzipi Livni, and to Barack Obama who was trying to avoid an unfavourable inquiry by the UN Human Rights Council. If it exonerates Israel, Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s report will be compared unfavourably to the Hudson-Phillips inquiry, which has already declared that there is clear evidence to support prosecution for wilful killing, torture and causing great suffering. Sir Geoffrey’s previous record suggests that he will be taking his remit seriously and will not wish to be seen to impugn his integrity. (But it remains to be seen just how well he will be able to understand the facts from his ivory tower in the UN building in New York.) Either way the fallout could still be problematic for Israel and Mr Netanyahu, as well as certain programme makers at the BBC.