For the first time since the Turkel Commission began holding public hearings in
its investigation of the flotilla affair, the panel on Monday heard testimony
from two passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara when it tried to break through the
Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
The witnesses, Muhammad Zeidan and Sheikh
Hamad Abu Dabi, head of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, insisted
that the Mavi Marmara was on a humanitarian mission to the Gaza Strip and wanted
to show the Palestinians living there that the world cared about them.
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Hanin Zoabi, who was also on board the Turkish ferry boat, attended the hearing
but was not invited by the commission to testify.
Both Zeidan and Abu
Dabi denied having witnessed any violence or talk of violence on the part of the
radical Islamic Humanitarian Relief Fund (IHH), the organizer of the Mavi
Marmara voyage, or its leader, Bulent Yildirim.
Both Zeidan and Abu Dabi
denied having heard or even heard about a speech that Yildirim gave before the
IDF operation to seize the boat, in which he warned of violence and resistance
and said the Israeli soldiers would be thrown into the sea.
“I don’t know
anything about it,” said Abu Dabi, when asked about the speech by commission
member Miguel Deutch.
Abu Dabi also denied seeing passengers on the top
deck throwing iron rods and other projectiles at Israeli soldiers trying to
approach and board the vessel from small boats. They were driven off by
the passengers’ violent resistance.
“Personally, I didn’t see anything,”
he said when asked about the incident.
According to both witnesses,
hundreds of Muslim passengers were completing their early morning prayer at 4:30
a.m. when they were ordered to return to their living quarters.
before finishing their prayers, they heard explosions from stun grenades that
Israeli soldiers had dropped in order to scatter the passengers on the top
Zeidan and Abu Dabi were able to see the Israeli boats encircling
the Mavi Marmara from the windows in the large hall on the second deck where
they slept, together with some 250 other passengers. They could not see the
actual seizure of the boat.
Between about 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., the
passengers remained in the hold, on the orders of the ship’s captain. During
that time, Zeidan said 20 wounded passengers entered the hall where they were
staying. Also during that time, a wounded Israeli soldier was brought in by two
of the Turkish passengers.
Zeidan said the soldier was taken into a
separate room where he was protected or guarded by some of the
“What do you mean ‘protected’,” asked Deutch. “You have
probably heard that the soldier was beaten by some of the
“I didn’t see,” said Zeidan.
“But you must have
heard,” Deutch continued. “You were so close.”
“I couldn’t say,” replied
“There was so much commotion, yelling and screaming.”
about 5:30 a.m., the Mavi Marmara had been secured by the Israeli soldiers.
Zeidan and Abu Dabi said some of the soldiers came down to their deck and stood
outside the hall in front of a glass door, pointing their rifles at the
passengers inside but not entering.
They did not offer aid to the wounded
passengers, charged Zeidan, who added that after a while, Zoabi prepared a sign
in Hebrew demanding medical assistance for the casualties. She approached the
glass door on the other side of which the soldiers were standing, and asked them
to intervene. According to Zeidan, the soldiers ordered her to sit down
Deutch asked him whether he was aware that there was live film
footage showing that Zoabi had pointedly refused help from Israeli soldiers when
it was offered.
“I am only telling you what I saw,” he
Abu Dabi did not confirm Zeidan’s story that there were 20
wounded passengers in the room. He said he saw four dead bodies and one
seriously wounded passenger.
Asked to explain the discrepancy between
what he and Zeidan saw, Abu Dabi replied that he was sitting with his back to
the door and that perhaps his vision was obstructed.
Both men denied that
they were aware of the identity of the organizers of the trip. Zeidan said he
had been invited to join the Mavi Marmara by a human rights group in Gaza and
thought that the Free Gaza Movement was behind the voyage. Abu Dabi said he was
invited to participate by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and made all his
arrangements through it.
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ken Watkin tried to pin down
Zeidan on this point but Zeidan refused to cooperate.
“Who were the
organizers?” he asked Zeidan.
“Every action required organization,”
“Of course someone gave instructions, like where to
sleep, when to board the ship. I don’t know who the organizers
“So, unknown people told you what to do,” continued Watkin. “The
IHH flag was flying on the ship. Were its members on board?” “I don’t know,”
answered Zeidan. “I only know there were participants from 40
One of the commission members, former Foreign Ministry
director-general Reuven Merhav, accused Abu Dabi of breaking the law by trying
to enter Gaza, which is off-limits for Israelis, while claiming at the same time
that he was a law-abiding citizen.
“If Turkey declared a closure in some
part of the country because it was at war with Iraq, would you try to go there?”
he asked. “No, you simply took advantage of a democratic country.”