Like everyone else, I saw the footage of the mob attacking Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara, hitting them with clubs and rods, throwing one of them over the railing to the lower deck. Like everyone else, I saw it a million times, and that’s all I saw from the May 31 raid. Afterward I wrote: “I don’t blame the commandos for killing those people; they were defending themselves. I blame my country for putting them on that ship in the first place.”
Now, after reading this week’s UN Human Rights Council report on the raid and its aftermath, I doubt that the commandos were so innocent.What’s more, I’m convinced that after everyone was taken off the six ships of the flotilla and held in detention, they were routinely brutalized and humiliated by Israeli soldiers and police.
Yes, the UNHCR has a pattern of singling out Israel for condemnation while ignoring the far worse abuses by its many Muslim and Third World member states. But the inquiry into the flotilla raid wasn’t headed by Muammar Gaddafi. It was headed by a former International Criminal Court judge from Trinidad and Tobago, who was joined by a British war crimes prosecutor and a women’s rights activist from Malaysia.
They interviewed 112 activists, medical personnel and crew members in Geneva, London, Istanbul and Amman; they took written testimony from others on board, and they viewed the extremely limited live footage and photographs that weren’t confiscated by Israeli authorities.
The report makes horrific reading. It leaves you demoralized. It tells of the mob attack on the unarmed commandos sliding down the ropes, but also about what happened after other commandos, this time carrying guns, boarded the ship. It tells a whole lot of stuff we didn’t hear from the IDF Spokesman’s Office, or even from the government, about the nine deaths and 24 serious injuries meted out by these troops.
“Israeli soldiers,” the report says, “continued shooting at passengers who had already been wounded, with live ammunition, soft baton charges (beanbags) and plastic bullets. Forensic analysis demonstrates that two of the passengers killed on the top deck received wounds compatible with being shot at close range while lying on the ground.
“Israeli soldiers,” it continues, “fired live ammunition both from the top deck at passengers on the bridge deck below and after they had moved down to the bridge deck. At least four passengers were killed, and at least nine injured (five with firearms injuries) during this phase. None of the four passengers who were killed, including a photographer who at the time of being shot was engaged in taking photographs and was shot by an Israeli soldier positioned on the top deck above, posed any threat to the Israeli forces. There was considerable live fire from Israeli soldiers on the top deck and a number of passengers were injured or killed whilst trying to take refuge inside the door or assisting others to do so.”
AGAIN, THE first commandos were unarmed and attacked by a mob wielding deadly weapons; they were seriously injured, and three were captured and later released. This was not an unprovoked, wanton Israeli assault by any means.
But according to those on board, neither was it a case of the soldiers having no choice but to fire at an advancing mob or be torn to pieces, as Israelis are happy to assume. What took place after the endlessly broadcast mob scene, says the report, was a case of armed Israeli troops shooting at terrified people who were not attacking them, who were mainly trying to hide.
Because of the mob attack, because of the capture of the three soldiers, because of the Islamist ideology of the attackers and because of the “fog of war” and “heat of battle,” I think the navy commandos are entitled to at least some benefit of the doubt. While I don’t think they can be considered innocent of any wrongdoing at this point, neither can they be considered cold-blooded killers. They were thrown into a violent, chaotic, extremely hostile situation.
However, once the raid was over and everyone on the six ships were in detention, the soldiers and police in charge were under no threat. Nothing mitigates the beatings and humiliations that the report says were inflicted on the detainees in the days before they were put on flights home. The worst, by far, they say, came during their final processing at Ben-Gurion Airport.
“These accounts were so consistent and vivid as to be beyond question,” says the report. “An intimidating number of armed soldiers and police were present inside the terminal building. Some passengers said that these officers were ‘spoiling for a fight.’
“Some passengers in the passport checking area saw an older passenger being roughly treated after receiving what appeared to be a beating. When other passengers, including Irish and Turkish, protested at this treatment, they were charged by soldiers using batons. In the foray, around 30 passengers were beaten to the ground, kicked and punched in a sustained attack by soldiers. One Irish passenger was seen being particularly badly beaten around the head and held in a choke position to the point of near suffocation.
“One Turkish passenger involved in the fight said that he was subsequently taken by soldiers, handcuffed with metal cuffs, picked up by the cuffs, taken to a small room and beaten and kicked by five more soldiers while others shielded the scene from outside. The police intervened to stop the violence in this case.
“A number of women were pushed around by soldiers, one of whom was beaten with fists. They were also subjected to sexual taunts...
“One medical doctor gave a detailed account [that] on arrival at the airport, the officer accompanying him jostled him and tried to trip him up on the stairs. He was then subjected to verbal insults as he passed through a checkpoint. An officer slapped him on the back of the head and when he protested he was set upon by a group of uniformed officers, knocked to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked. He was then dragged out of sight of other passengers where the attacks resumed. Attempts were made to break his fingers...
“One passenger was seen having his arm twisted behind his back by police to the point that the arm broke. Another was kicked and hit by some 10 soldiers, handcuffed and taken by vehicle to another place... where soldiers abused him for up to two hours. When he returned to the airport, he was bleeding from the head.”
ISRAEL REFUSED to have anything to do with the UNHCR investigation and the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed the report as “predetermined.” (The government, however, says it will cooperate with another UN inquiry.) Meanwhile, as the Turkel Commission goes on with its occasional hearings, the most definitive official statement on the raid came from former National Security Council chief Giora Eiland, who headed the first in-house probe. “I am glad to say we found a long list of praiseworthy things,” the retired IDF major-general announced.
Who says Israel can’t investigate itself?
I understand that the activists from the flotilla are not impartial; obviously, they have a very heavy ax to grind. But I don’t believe they made all this up out of nothing. I assume that anywhere from a substantial minority to the great majority of the testimonies are true. I think that’s a fair assumption about every major human rights report on Israel, just as it is about every major human rights report on every other country in the world.
Israelis, as a matter of course, believe human rights reports about
other countries, just not about their own, which is an outgrowth of the
worldview that’s brought us to where we are today.
This country doesn’t care about the UNHCR report or any of these
testimonies. By now, that sort of thing doesn’t even upset people.
Nobody exerts any effort to deny the claims; there’s nothing to deny.
Accusations like these don’t register in the Israeli mind.
It doesn’t matter if the report is written by a judge from Trinidad, or
by a Zionist judge from South Africa, or by IDF combat soldiers –
they’re all lying, don’t pay any attention. It’s nothing new; we’ve been
hearing this for decades.
Yes we have. And the easier it gets to deny the crimes, the easier it gets to commit them.
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