The Gaza Flotilla: a minute-by-minute reconstruction of what really happened
It's taken three weeks to collect enough information to piece together what really happened when Israel enforced it's blockade of Gaza by boarding the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.
The story that emerges is of clashing perceptions of the same events. But the conclusions are inescapable.
Here, collated from news sources around the world too numerous to mention, is the full story of that event, in the actual words of the participants where possible.
You will see how:
* while most passengers slept, a relatively small group of men intent on Islamic martyrdom planned to escalate the expected confrontation with the Israelis beyond anything imagined by the rest of those who signed on to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza.
* the taking of three Israeli commandos hostage was the tipping point that plunged the takeover of the Mavi Marmara from a police action to a bloody military rescue mission
* a single commando could dispatch six of the 9 "activists" who were killed during the takeover
There had been 8 prior attempts to break the blockade by sea and 2 by land (from Egypt) since August 2008.
Israel tried to avert a confrontation with the six ships that were planning to run the blockade this time. Israeli diplomats approached Turkey and other governments in the region to get them to stop the challenge-by-sea of its cordon around Gaza. The New York Times reports the Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv told Israeli his government "could do nothing because the boat was sailing under the auspices of a private group".
Three days before the confrontation, Israel's most widely circulated newspaper, Ma'ariv, carried "leaked" details of how the navy intended to handle the situation.
Here is a posted translation of part of the article:
Maariv, 5/28/10 P. 4
"Head to Head in the Heart of the Sea
" From the moment that the ships will pass the “red line” on their way to Gaza, the fighters of Unit 13 will take control and transfer 800 passengers from their boats back to where they came from. And special arrest units were set up.
" If the people aboard the boats will not agree to turn around, the operation will transfer to the stage of force. “We are afraid that there will be a terror attack by the boats,” said a high ranking officer. “If terrorists have gotten on the boats or if there is an intention to use hot weapons against our forces, we will use full seriousness and caution. We want to avoid using force but as soon as there will be danger to the life of our forces we will be forced to use live fire as a last resort."
Military officials had to have expected the warning would fall on deaf ears. Only three days before, the flotilla backers had staked out their position and it was the direct opposite of Israel's.
Freedom flotilla ready to break the Gaza Strip blockade
Published 25 May, 2010, 23:06
Nadezhda Kevorkova for RT, Larnaca
All the nine ships, their passengers and cargo go through meticulous customs inspections in every port of departure.
If Israel stops the flotilla before it reaches Gaza, they will form a “floating island” in neutral waters, said Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish charitable foundation IHH.
Israeli MP Hanin Zoabi believes the Israeli army and police cannot prevent the Freedom Flotilla from breaking the siege without damaging the country’s reputation.
“The flotilla will go ahead even if they open fire,” she said.
However, the Freedom Flotilla has prepared a surprise for Israel. The list of its passengers includes many people whose arrests will greatly damage Israel’s reputation. The people to whom I managed to talk to ruled out tough actions by Israel.
Indications are that from the beginning, this was planned as a confrontational challenge to the Israeli blockade.
Hussein Orush, an official of the Turkish pro-Palestinian group Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), one of the flotilla organizers, talked to the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera TV about the desire for martyrdom among the Turkish activists. "Everybody wanted and was ready to become a martyr... Our goal was to reach Gaza or to die trying."
"One of the martyrs was 19 years old. We've just found his last diary in his suitcase. The last lines he wrote before the attack were: 'Only a short time left before martyrdom. This is the most important stage of my life. Nothing is more beautiful than martyrdom, except for one's love for one's mother. But I don't know what is sweeter – my mother or martyrdom.' This was the last thing that the martyr Furkan wrote, and the last thing said by our brothers."
Journalist Saleh Al-Azraq, talked to the U.K.-based Al-Hiwar TV about the religious fervor among the passengers of the Mavi Marmara prior to its setting sail. "It made you feel like you were going on an Islamic conquest or raid."
A video posted on YouTube shows passengers chanting "Remember Khairbar, Khaibar, O Jews. The Army of Mohammed will return." This was a reference to the historical capture of the last Jewish settlement in Arabia. The Jews in that oasis were killed and their leader was beheaded. His wife was forced to become one of Mohammed's "wives."This is what the 'peace mission' was celebrating en route.
As the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla, approached Gaza, Israel made contact. At 11 p.m. Sunday Israeli ships were spotted on radar. Then they radioed the captain of the Turkish ship.
The warning message sent by the Israeli navy [to the Mavi Marmara] was as follows: "You are approaching an area of hostilities, which is under a naval blockade. Gaza coastal area and Gaza Harbor are closed to maritime traffic. The Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in Gaza Strip and invites you to enter Ashdod port. Delivery of supplies will be in accordance with the authorities' regulations and through the formal land crossing to Gaza and under your observation, after which you can return to your home ports." The reply was: "Negative, negative. Our destination is Gaza."
According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel retains control of a 40-kilometer strip of water off the Gaza coast.
Hanin Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament: “I went into the captain’s room. He was asked by the Israeli Navy to stop. He said that we are a Turkish ship at a distance of 130 miles. That was at 23:30."
Mahmut Coskun, a Turkish doctor on board: "We knew something was going to happen because the Israelis had radioed our ship’s captain about four hours before to ask where we were going and so on."
Huwaida Arraf, chairman of the Free Gaza Movement: "At 11:00 pm Cyprus time and in international waters off the coast of Israel, the boats were contacted by the Israeli navy. "Who are you and where are you going?" Our reply was that we were part of a flotilla and we were going to Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies."
Hasan Nowarah, chairman of the Justice for Palestine Centre in Glasgow: ""They were communicating with our captains, through the radios, warning us to turn back. "We never replied to them at some points; at others, we explained to them we were in international waters and were not attacking Israel."
Ms. Huwaida Arraf (Free Gaza Movement) on NPR: "Midway, about a hundred miles... of Gaza, the Israeli Navy started radioing us and threatening us, ... that we turn back. And we kept letting them know, we let them know the name of our vessel, whos captaining it and that we are unarmed, we constitute no threat."
Fiachra O Luain of Ireland: “The Israelis first made contact by radio at 11.05pm exactly. They identified themselves as an Israeli navy warship and threatened to use force, claiming it would be the responsibility of the captains onboard. We reminded them we were a humanitarian convoy in international waters and they said they would use any mean necessary."
Sarah Colborne (Campaign Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign): "(We) tried to issue a distress signal and "were trying to broadcast messages that we were a humanitarian aid flotilla. That we were peaceful, that we had no weapons, that we were being threatened by the Israeli Navy in international waters and that we were calling on the international community to come to our aid. Israel had been blocking the satellite transmission and so it was difficult to get the message out."
“Israeli boats were detected on the radar at 11pm on Sunday evening. The decision was made to move further back into international waters. An emergency medical room was assembled and we put our life jackets on."
Kevin Ovenden, a representative of Viva Palestine, a British-based registered charity set up in January 2009 to run a humanitarian aid convoy to the Gaza Strip: “We knew the Israelis were going to attack, or intercept us in some way...We were 90 miles north of the Israeli coast, and 22 miles away from the buffer zone that Israel has set from its shores.
“We had tight organization procedures in place and people were prepared. “The captain and the most experienced activists on board said that people should rest. Many people did while others stayed on the look out."
Kevin Neish of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid : "After that, I thought nothing was going to happen, I thought, well, I'm going to go down and put my feet up and have a few hours sleep and start off fresh when daylight comes. But I woke up because of all the noise, and what not, not the attack but people doing things. I heard grinders going which was bothering me and it turned out they were grinding the chains that they hang up around the lifeboat stations. They were grinding these chains off the middle posts as weapons within sight of the Israelis coming...."
Ship's Captain Mehmut Tuval sent his first mate to investigate the grinding noise. He found Turkish activists cutting up the ship's railing to create clubs. The mate says he seized what he found and threw the clubs into the ocean.
IHH activists elsewhere were arming themselves with knives from the six cafeterias on the ship, as well as axes from fire extinguishers.
The "activists" have since denied outright that their side was armed with weapons, or else have made excuses for the deadly weapons.
German MP Norman Paech, 72, speaking to reporters in Berlin:"We had not prepared in any way to fight. We didn't even consider it," he added. "No violence, no resistance -- because we knew very well that we would have absolutely no chance against soldiers like this. "We wanted to show that we were peaceful."
NPR Host: "On the Turkish flag vessel, it appears that there were people aboard who were armed at least with sticks and knives. Is that a misrepresentation or are you surprised by the, let's say, less than passive resistance, less than civil disobedience that was exhibited elsewhere in the flotilla?"
Ms. Huwaida Arraf ( Free Gaza Movement): I, what I know, we had agreed with the coalition that we are not going to use any violence. However, I can't guarantee or say that some people didn't try to fight back. But we didn't have any guns. And I know that's because even when I myself at one point had to transfer to the Turkish ship because our ship was having mechanical problems. As soon as we entered, they took us to the side, checked us to make sure that we were not carrying weapons.
Mohamed Vall, Al Jazeera reporter: "I have been shown the picture of a Yemeni man, and this is ridiculous, who was on the ship and most people know that every Yemeni in the world has a Yemeni style knife, that is a cultural thing and does not have anything to do with violence."
Israeli military officials say they had already considered ways to halt the boats — through sabotage of propellers or engines, the use of ropes or chains — but all were rejected as dangerous or impractical. Disabling a huge boat like the Mavi Marmara could lead to its sinking or to days of towing it to shore, they concluded.
Hanin Zoabi, Israeli MP : "We saw four Israeli ships that maintained a distance because we were in international waters. At 4:15, we saw the ships approaching.”
Farooq Burney, the Canadian director of Al Fakhoora, a Qatar-based charity for fostering education in Gaza: " I went to sleep, but got up at 3:30. The attack began happening at about 4:10.
"The first thing that happened was that someone on the Israeli boats threw gas bombs or something from the boats onto our deck. There was a very loud bang, a huge bang, and a lot of smoke. Some of the women started screaming when they heard the bang."
Kevin Ovenden, Viva Palestina: : “At 4.25am the attack began...There were two motorised dinghies, carrying 14-20 commandos, on either side of the boat.
“It was clear they were armed – it was the equivalent to an SAS raid. They were all wearing paramilitary style balaclavas.
“The attack opened with percussion grenades.
“These don’t just make a noise but send shockwaves of heavy vibration. They were trying to create terror and panic.
Mohamed Vall, Al Jazeera reporter: "During that hour and half in the early morning everybody on board the ship thought that no-one would survive the Israeli attack because we saw about 30 war vessels surrounding this ship and helicopters attacking with very luminous bombs, the sound of them makes you think you are dead."
Kevin Neish, a self-described human shield and one of three Canadians on the ship: "What woke me up was flash grenades about 15 feet from the back of the ship. There were a huge explosions and flashes and then it was just a big cloud of tear gas and I could see people running through the tear gas with gas masks on because they had brought a large collection of gas masks, brand new ones."
Abbas Al Lawati, an Omani Journalist with Gulf News: "When smoke started appearing, an activist handed me a handful of cut onions to smell, saying it would help in resisting the tear gas. I had no idea about the trick but continued sniffing on onion from one hand as I held my camera in the other."
Paul McGeough, Fairfax Media Chief Correspondent in Istanbul: "Suddenly sound bombs and tear gas were exploding on the main aft deck, where prayers were held five times a day. The life-jacketed passengers on the rails at first seemed oblivious as those behind them donned the few gas masks that were on board and others, wearing asbestos gloves, sought to grab the devices and hurl them back at the Israeli commandos before they exploded."
"The defense of the boat was quite well organized," said Espen Goffeng, a 38-year-old activist from Norway. "There was a plan to keep soldiers off the boat."
Ken O’Keefe, former US Marine who has given up his American citizenship: "When I was asked, in the event of an Israeli attack on the Mavi Mamara, would I use the camera, or would I defend the ship? I enthusiastically committed to defence of the ship."
Andre Abu Khalil, a Lebanese cameraman for Al Jazeera TV: "Twenty Turkish men formed a human shield to prevent the Israeli soldiers from scaling the ship. They had slingshots, water pipes and sticks. They were banging the pipes on the side of the ship to warn the Israelis not to get closer."
Abbas Al Lawati , Gulf News: "I saw some impressively effective resistance. Men tasked with guarding the boat had resorted to using hosepipes to push trained Israeli commandos that were trying to climb the ship. Some were thrown into the sea by the pressure of the pipes. The pipes also briefly pushed away Israeli navy speedboats that had been firing tear gas canisters and smoke bombs."
Kevin Neish : "Before the attack, I walked around the ship about an hour before and what they had was nuts and bolts and pieces of pipe around the edge of the ship to throw at the Israeli Zodiacs. That's the weapons I saw [with] the activists: I saw links of chain and nuts and bolts, wooden links."
Espen Goffeng: "I looked over the rail and saw the Zodiacs. It seemed hopeless for the Israelis - they tried to lock on their grappling hooks but they were hit by the fire hoses and their own projectiles going back to them."
Nidal Hejazi, a 26-year-old Palestinian at a news conference in Oslo:. “Two boats came from behind and up along side our ship. We were the first to stop the soldiers from coming onboard the ship... We only used our hands”.
Lebanese activist Hani Suleiman: "The Israelis started shooting at our vessel, the Mavi Marmara, from helicopters and sprayed us with tear gas. We were prepared to defend ourselves, and some of us tried pushing the soldiers off the ship. We were also armed with sticks and whatever we could find on board, but we did not have any weapons."
Srdjan Stojiljkovic, a cameraman hired by the flotilla's organizers to film the project: "They came silently and tried to climb on board, throwing deafening bombs as the crew turned on lights on them, as well as fire hoses."
"The boats withdrew, but soon a helicopter appeared, with commandos descending one by one from a helicopter."
The passengers had successfully kept the Israeli boarding parties off the ship for about 10 minutes. The decision was made to use helicopters to land commandos to seize control of the Mavi Marmara. As they rappelled to the deck, the commandos fired warning shots at the people below.
Espen Goffeng,: "The first ammunition I heard striking the ship sounded like paint balls.''
Hasan Nowarah, watching Israeli soldiers storm the Mavi Marmara before they boarded the ship he was on: “We looked at the Marmara ship, we can see the Israeli helicopters dropping soldiers and screaming and shouting, bullets firing all over the place. Within seconds we can hear ‘tick tick tick’ around our ship. It turned out they were using paintballing guns they were shooting at us."
Hear the sound of paintball guns for yourselves:
Nidal Hejazi: “A little later, a helicopter came over us, and soldiers were dropped down. The four soldiers who first came down started shooting at us immediately. They started with rubber bullets. I was hit with a few bullets.”
Instead of scattering under the barrage of missiles and stun grenades fired at them, the activists stood their ground, something that baffled the Israeli commandos and which, in hindsight, suggested the men were trained in combat.
“They didn’t even flinch,” said one commando. “Regular people would move.”
Dr. Mahmut Coskun, the Turkish doctor on board, said the first commandos down the ropes appeared disoriented and frightened. He said they called out in English, noting that few Turks understood English. But Koskun didn't understand what he was seeing.
Ron Ben-Yishai, military correspondent for Yediot Aharonot, embedded with Israeli Navy: "The commandos 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."
As each Navy commando hit the deck he was attacked by men armed with steel bars, wooden clubs, and slingshots firing glass marbles. He would be swarmed and beaten savagely.
Dr. Coskun: "They ran at them without pause or hesitation."
Canadian Farooq Burney: "People rushed the first commando and they overpowered him."
Globe and Mail: "How? Did they use wooden clubs or metal rods or anything?"
Burney: "No, it was just basically hand-to-hand combat. You have to realize there were about 25 or 30 people fighting with this guy, and they overpowered him and disarmed him. Then they threw him onto the deck below."
Captain R., Israeli commando: "I was the second to be lowered in by rope. My comrade who had already been dropped in was surrounded by a bunch of people. It started off as a one-on-one fight, but then more and more people started jumping us. I had to fight against quite a few terrorists who were armed with knives and batons."
"... I saw people holding knives who were approaching me and attempting to stab me, I took out my weapon and shot one bullet."
Then he was overcome and his pistol taken from him.
K., the fourth commando down told Israeli reporters he saw his "team leader" on the deck of the ship, with a gun to his head.
"The fourth commando, K., saw his team leader on the deck, with a Turkish activist holding the pistol he had grabbed from him and pointing it to his head. K. jumped from the rope and managed to shoot the activist holding the gun. This happened 20 seconds after the first soldier landed on the deck. (Navy: Activists tried to kidnap 3 commandos during Gaza aid flotilla raid, By Amos Harel, Ha'aretz, Published 04.06.10)
The mob was not deterred by the gunfire.
Capt. R.: "At that point, another twenty people starting coming at me from every direction. They jumped at me and hurled me to the deck below the bridge."
"A great amount of people threw me down to the main deck, to the lower deck. As I was thrown down, a group of another 10 people jumped on me, stabbed me with a knife in my stomach." (JERUSALEM, June 2, 2010, Flotilla Accounts Begin to Clarify Israeli Raid, Stories from Israeli Commandos, Defense Officials, Activists Start Explaining Events Aboard Gaza-Bound Ship, CBC News)
Even as they fought for their own lives against the enraged mob, one or more commandos saw their commander thrown over the side of the ship. At this point, they radioed for permission to use their 9mm. guns.
LONDON TIMES - "Operation calamity. The Israeli commandos who stormed a flotilla of aid ships were expecting a cakewalk – but then the bullets began to fly
"The first Israeli to understand the situation was a young soldier monitoring live images from the scene. “They are smashing the fighters,” he was heard shouting. “They’re giving them hell.”
An officer in the command room asked: “Who is smashing whom?”
“The Arabs ... the terrorists ... these people ... they are giving hell to the fighters.” He paused. “They threw him [a soldier] from the upper deck!”
On his speedboat, Marom heard over the communications system the tense voice of one of his commando officers on board: “They are using real arms, I repeat, they are using real arms. Request permission to use handguns.”
(Navy chief Eliezer Merom and the head of the naval commandos, Lt. Col. A., were in the boat next to the Mavi Marmar ...ed.)
Two minutes after the helicopter landing had begun, the head of naval commandos gave the okay to start using live ammunition.
The situation was dire for the Israelis. The first helicopter landing had barely begun before the ship's passengers seized one of the commandos were using to rappel down and tied it to a mast to tether the helicopter and make it crash. Someone in the chopper cut the rope free, leaving the helicopter's second rope the only way for commandos to get down to the ship---and turning them into sitting ducks for the mob below.
By the time the 15th and last commando reached the deck, at least half of the first team had been incapacitated. Three had been captured, two had been shot, one had a fractured skull, and another had a broken hand or arm. The commandos on the ship and in the helicopters above began firing to drive the mob off the top deck.
Many people aboard ship are convinced the switch to real bullets was related to the landing of the second team of commandos.
Andre Abu-Khalil, Al Jazeera cameraman
"First they [the Israelis] tried to come by helicopter and tried to come down on the main deck. But the Turkish people were gathering on the rooftop and they managed to grab three of the soldiers, which led to a second helicopter to come and start shooting live bullets on the people."
Lebanese activist Hani Suleiman, a member of the National Committee against the Gaza Embargo: " When the military saw that their soldiers were overcome by the crowd, they started shooting at the vessel from the helicopters and zodiacs. I was one of the first people to be injured [ bullet pierced both of Suleiman’s legs] while I was helping one of the other victims."
Osman Çalık was shot in the knee, and he credits Israeli MP Hanin Zuabi for saving him another bullet. “While I was lying on the ground after my knee was injured, he was about to shoot a second time. Israeli deputy Hanin Zuabi, one of the volunteers aboard, shouted at the soldier in Hebrew to stop. And he did not shoot at me again,” he said.
20-year-old Ahmed Luqman Talib wasn't so lucky. "I saw a man who nearly got shot – I could see the red dot of the laser weapon sights on his knee, but he moved in time."
"I felt it slice through my leg – blood was squirting from my right leg and then a second bullet sliced across, just above my knee." His femoral artery nicked, he was gushing blood as he was carried down two decks to the temporary first-aid post.
His wife Jerry Campbell was treating four gunshot victims in the nursing station. "I looked up as I was caring for a wounded Indonesian and saw my husband being carried in."
She might have been nursing Indonesian cameraman Sura Fachrizaz who was shot in the chest and seriously injured.
British activist Kevin Ovenden: “I was on the second deck. A man standing a metre in front of me was shot in the leg, the man to the right of me in the abdomen. There was pandemonium and terror.
Some of the shots were targetted.
Kenan Akçil: "I was on the deck when our ship was raided. We only tried to protect humanitarian aid materials in the ship. We did not have any weapons. I was shot in my back while trying to throw a soldier into the sea.
Suat Coşmaz: "Sure, we were protecting ourselves, with fire hoses. We were trying to spray pressurized water at the Zodiacs. That's when they shot me."
More gunfire came from commandos in the Zodiacs beside the ship.
Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Elshayyal: "After I finished filing that last report and I was going down below deck, one of the passengers who was on the side of the deck holding a water hose — trying to hose off, if you will, the advancing Israeli navy — was shot in his arm by soldiers in the boats below."
Fatima Mohammadi, Chicago lawyer and national organizer for Viva Palestina, said she was the only woman on the top deck when the firing began: “They started with rubber bullets and stun grenades and then it switched at some point. The cameraman next to me was shot once with a rubber bullet and once with live fire from one of the boats. Blood was pouring out as I worked on his arm.”
Al Jazeera television cameraman Andre Abu Khalil said "other commandos, trying to scale the ship, opened fire to break up human chain of about 20 Turkish men, who were using slingshots, water hoses and metal pipes to try to hold off the boarding party. The line disintegrated after the troops shot one of the men in the neck and the other in the head."
Cengiz Songur, 47, was killed by one gunshot wound to the front of the neck, according to an autopsy. But his death went almost unnoticed. The death that shook the mob and gave the Israelis the initiative happened on the top deck.
Ali El-Awaisi, from Dundee, said his friend was hit "right between the eyes" and "didn't stand a chance".
Press TV Correspondent Hassan Ghani : "It was a friend of mine a person that had helped the press get Internet access on the ship, it was his job to help setup laptops on the ship. He was shot straight in the forehead by an Israeli bullet...I have been told that my friend was taking pictures at the time."
Ebrahim Musaji, 26: "They brought the body and put it just close to my feet. He was just taking a picture. He was not armed or anything.
"He was shot from the helicopter and he was shot right in the head. You could see some of his brain coming out of his head."
Dead was Cevdet Kiliclar, one of 60 journalists on board the Mavi Marmara, and because of that he was accorded more attention than the ordinary passengers. His death has become legendary in the post-flotilla propaganda campaign to illustrate the alleged brutality of the Israelis.
Why shoot a photographer doing his job? The answer probably lies with this snippet from Ha'aretz:
"By that time, helicopters thrummed and commandos rappelled to the deck. One of the Mavi's guards, who gave his name only as Halit because he feared retribution, said he and others shook the dangling helicopter ropes and subdued the descending Israelis.
"They were firing noise bombs and plastic bullets," he said. "We used sticks and bars and slingshots. As soon as the soldiers came down, we took their guns and beat them with only our hands.... One activist running with me was shot in the forehead, another in the leg."
The only person among the dead who was shot in the forehead (often described by witnesses as between the eyes) was Cevdet Kiliclar who was "running with us", "us" being the mob attacking the commandos.
His death stunned the flotilla organizers who were forced to reassess their strategy.
Abbas Al Lawati, a graduate of Montreal's Concordia University: "I saw a number of people carrying a dying man down the stairs. His face was unrecognisable, covered in blood. He was apparently one of the first to go down, after an Israeli gun targeted the centre of his forehead from a helicopter, spilling his brains into the hands of another activist who was trying to look after him.
Upon seeing his body I felt nauseous and had to take a step back and walk into the press room nearby. The Palestinian member of Israel's Knesset, Haneen Zoubi, walked into the press room, where everyone was ducking to avoid the windows as Israeli guns kept firing. Haneen had been on the deck outside where the battles were ongoing.
"What's going on outside?" I asked?
"What's going on? War is going on," she said."
The Turkist leaders had big plans for their hostages.
Salah al Ahmed, 45, a Kuwaiti on board the ship said Turkish passengers who had captured the three Israeli soldiers “called them Shalit One, Shalit Two and Shalit Three”.
Gilad Shalit is the Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas three years ago and has been held hostage ever since. The Turk leaders must have been salivating at the possibility they could use their hostages to force the Israelis to back off, and maybe even deliver the three to Hamas in Gaza. What a propaganda coup that would be.
Instead, however, the Israelis were shooting to kill and there was nowhere to go with the hostages. Bummer.
Dr. Arief Rachman: "The bullet that had entered between the victim's eyes, I suspected, had gone right through his head, destroyed his brain and left a big gaping hole on the back of his head.
I asked several volunteers to get a stretcher, and it was then that I spotted Fahmi Bulent Yildirim, the president of the Turkish humanitarian organisation Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) who organised the Freedom Flotilla, standing behind me. His face was stony, and he tried to go towards the captain's deck but he was prevented from doing so by many people around him.
Bulent took off his white shirt. Someone tied it to a wooden stick and began to wave it..."
Bulent Yildirim, the president of the Turkish organisation Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) which organized the flotilla: "I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people."
When that didn't stop the Israeli commandos, Yildirim went to Plan B.
Murat Akinan, the man seen standing next to Dr. Uysal in the photographs of him treating a commando: "said that the captured soldier had been entrusted to him by Bulent Yildirim, the director of the Turkish aid organization I.H.H., who said: “Murat, take him and make sure that he’ll be safe. Be careful, don’t allow anyone to touch him.”
So, Mr. Akinan said, “I took him downstairs yelling, ‘Stop! No one will touch this man entrusted to me.’ ”
He added: “I called the doctor on board and asked him for treatment. Two more soldiers came. People were reacting. I had all three treated. I said to two to three wise people around me that we would not allow anyone to touch them.”
According to Mr. Akinan, during his subsequent interrogation in Israeli custody, he was shown a photograph in which the soldier he was leading inside the ship was hit despite his efforts.
“I told them that I couldn’t stop everyone”.
When the hostages turned into a liability, Yildirim tried to negotiate a ceasefire. But when that failed, he quickly realized he had better treat the captured commandos a lot nicer. Starting with a fast trip to the doctor.
Here's how the Turks treated their captives at first:
Alexandra Lort-Phillips, 37, an activist from Hackney: described seeing an Israeli soldier taken down into the stairwell below the deck where the soldiers landed.
“I went down the stairwell and there was a massive crowd of people and lots of shouting,” she said, after being deported to Istanbul.
“They had got a soldier who had boarded the ship from the roof. There was a sense of ‘My god, we’ve got an Israeli soldier’. I don’t think we really knew what we were going to do.”
“I saw a gun being taken. His gunbelt was removed and someone, I don’t know who, ran past me with the weapon and disappeared. They could have shot him but didn’t.” She said around 25 people were gathered around the soldier, who was held by his legs and stripped to his underwear as he was restrained.
Abbas Al Lawati, Staff Reporter, Gulf News: "...I learned that two Israeli soldiers had been disarmed and held captive.
I felt a sense of euphoria upon realizing how big a news story this would be, but then had a sense of reality and realized that events on the boat had taken a horrible turn.
As I saw angry activists drag one of the Israeli soldiers down the stairs and punch him, lost my journalistic objectivity and found myself urging the activist to stop hitting the soldier. Seeing the anger in the activist's eyes, I thought that he would kill him."
(Part 2 tomorrow...)