Will the media report accurately and fairly as anti-Israel activists violently resist an IDF naval boarding with tragic results?
In the early hours of Monday 31 May, Israeli naval commandos boarded a flotilla of vessels heading for Gaza. What happened next has created a major media storm as, according to latest reports, nine anti-Israel activists died as a result of Israeli soldiers defending themselves.
Israel’s critics have been quick to condemn the incident, using it to inflame anti-Israel sentiment. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already termed what is undoubtedly a serious incident as a “massacre”. Will this be the latest in a long list of incidents that have been distorted and misrepresented to cause Israel the maximum amount of damage to its image?
Connected to Terror: Who is Behind the Flotilla?
The organizations and passengers behind the Gaza flotilla have been variously described as “peace activists” and “humanitarian organizations”. This could not be further from the truth. The primary objective of this flotilla was not to deliver aid packages to Gaza but to spread anti-Israel propaganda in cooperation with Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Playing a central role in the flotilla is the Turkish IHH organization, which besides its legitimate philanthropic activities is also, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a supporter of radical Islamic networks, including Hamas, and at least in the past, even global jihad elements.
Amongst the other organizations involved in the flotilla is the International Solidarity Movement. The ISM has a shameful record of placing foreign nationals in danger through encouraging ‘direct action’, which resulted in the death of American citizen Rachel Corrie. In 2003, ISM’s extreme ideology was underscored when terrorists, originating from the UK, used ISM as a cover to attack Mike’s Place bar in Tel Aviv, murdering three people. More recently, ISM has been a leading force in the violent protests against the security barrier at Ni’lin, while an ISM activist has been jailed in the US, charged with “giving about $20,000 to a group he knew supported Hamas.”
An Al-Jazeera report from May 28, translated below by PMW, shows activists on board before departing for Gaza, chanting Intifada songs aimed at Jews and praising martyrdom. Chants include “Intifada, intifada, intifada! Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews! The army of Mohammed will return!” relating to a seventh century massacre of Jews in Khaybar by early Muslims.
“Peace” Activists Used Deadly Violence
Despite claims that the activists on board were only prepared to resist the IDF peacefully, the reality was quite the opposite. Upon boarding the Marmara, owned and operated by the extremist IHH, Israeli naval personnel were attacked by activists who had prepared themselves with weapons including knives and clubs. This, despite the following statement from a Free Gaza spokesperson:
We were not going to pose any violent resistance. The only resistance that there might be would be passive resistance such as physically blocking the steering room, or blocking the engine room downstairs, so that they couldn’t get taken over. But that was just symbolic resistance.
Is the clip below showing an IDF soldier being attacked with a crowbar “symbolic resistance”?
In addition, IDF forces apprehended two activists holding pistols. The activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines. This goes some way to explaining the number of casualties as live fire was exchanged as IDF forces found themselves under severe threat as evidenced by the number of injured Israeli soldiers and the types of injuries.
One soldier suffered a serious head injury, two others were injured by gunshots and one more was stabbed. A total of seven soldiers were wounded – four soldiers were moderately wounded, of which two were initially in critical condition, as well as an additional three soldiers who were lightly wounded.
A First-Hand Account
Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai gives a first-hand account of the incident:
Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.
However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.
One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows. The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” even though they sustained numerous blows….
During the commotion, another commando was stabbed with a knife. In a later search aboard the Marmara, soldiers found caches of bats, clubs, knives, and slingshots used by the rioters ahead of the IDF takeover. It appeared the activists were well prepared for a fight.
Read the full account here.
See the IDF video footage taken from above the boarded vessel, showing Israeli soldiers under attack by clicking on the image below.
See more at the IDF’s YouTube channel.
Propaganda Not Humanitarianism
If there was any doubt that these organizations were unconcerned with universal human rights, this was confirmed by the rejection of a request from the family of Gilad Shalit for activists to pressure Hamas to allow international organizations to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier in exchange for the family’s support for the international expedition’s attempt to dock in Gaza.
In fact, Israel offered to transfer the supplies on the flotilla to Gaza from Ashdod port through official channels, an offer that was rejected in favor of confrontation on the part of the anti-Israel activists. As flotilla organizer Greta Berlin stated: “this mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege.”
The flotilla was clearly warned by the Israeli Navy in advance of the boarding and the offer repeated by the IDF.
A Legitimate and Legal Operation
IMRA asked Hebrew University international law expert Dr. Robbie Sabel about the legality of the IDF action in international waters.
Dr. Sabel explained that a state, in a time of conflict, can impose an embargo, and while it cannot carry out embargo activities in the territorial waters of a third party, it can carry out embargo activities in international waters.
Within this framework it is legal to detain a civilian vessel trying to break an embargo and if in the course of detaining the vessel, force is used against the forces carrying out the detention then that force has every right to act in self defense.
Dr. Sabel noted that there is a long history of embargo activities in international waters.
Indeed, according to the San Remo Manual that governs international humanitarian law, it is permissible under rule 67(a) to attack neutral vessels on the high seas when the vessels “are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture.”
Will the Media Report Fairly?
The initial pictures and reports of this incident (supplied mainly by the less than objective al-Jazeera and Turkish media) do not paint Israel in a positive light, not helped by the fluidity of the situation and conflicting information.
It is the duty of the international media to report fairly and accurately. We have been here before, from incidents ranging from the al-Dura affair, the Jenin “massacre” and many other libels perpetrated by a media all too willing to take the side of those who seek to harm Israel.
We hope that the media will not repeat its past mistakes. While a clearer picture of today’s events may eventually emerge, the damage has already been done in the first few hours of reporting. Retractions and corrections will do little to soften the blow.
Will the media take at face value the statements and anti-Israel propaganda of groups who were committed to causing an incident of this nature? Will the media join in the automatic knee-jerk anti-Israel reaction that is all too often the norm?
Keep an eye on your local media to ensure that the facts behind this tragic incident are not drowned by a wave of anti-Israel sentiment.
At the time of writing, the situation remains fluid. This material will be updated as and when new information becomes available. Keep checking this page for the latest information on this breaking story.
UPDATE – June 2, 2010:
In some of the latest video footage released by the IDF, it is clear that the Israeli naval commandos were certainly unprepared for the violence they encountered, including being attacked with live fire.
– Real weapons, real weapons!
– They have real weapons?
– Yes, yes, real weapons. They are firing on us!
It’s not too late to counter the wave of anti-Israel sentiment unleashed by the events surrounding the boarding of the Turkish Mavi Marnara ship and the deaths of nine of its passengers. For the claims of so-called “peace activists” that they were unarmed and non-violent victims of Israeli brutality is laughable in the face of the openly available video evidence taken during the incident.
Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz explains the powerful effect of the IDF’s video footage:
for some of the foreign press, who had been less willing to accept [IDF Spokesman] Benayahu’s improbable account of commandos overpowered by civilians, the footage was a revelation.
“I saw it, and I realized I had done Israel an injustice,” one of my foreign colleagues said on Monday, with admirable candor. “At that point, and only at that point, I understood what the Israelis had been saying.”
The IDF videos reveal the truth about what took place. But we can’t rely on the media to spread the word to the general public. We must make every effort to forward the videos and updates to our networks and post them across the Internet.
Media Unable to Ignore the Evidence
When confronted with the compelling video evidence, many media outlets (though not all) have been unable to bat away the images of Israeli soldiers attacked with clubs, iron poles and knives.
The UK’s Channel 4 News invited a British naval analyst and counter-terror expert to analyze IDF footage:
Peace Activism or Military Preparations?
Activists even threw stun grenades as this footage shows.
In addition, large quantities of cash were found on board ready to be transferred to Hamas upon landing in Gaza. The Turkish IHH organization responsible for the Mavi Marnara is an open supporter of Hamas and has been implicated in the recruitment and funding of Islamic terrorism, including al-Qaeda. (See here for more information.)