Issue 254, Friday 25 June 2010 – 12 Rajab 1431
Israeli commandos used ‘shoot to kill’ policy in high seas
By Elham Asaad Buaras
Dr Hasan Uysal assisted by IHH member Murat Akinan treating an Israeli commando (left) protestor displays photo of one of the aid worker killed by Israeli forces (right) injured Turkish aid workers return home. (R-bottom) Israeli commandos aim their weapons on aid workers
The Israeli Government is facing mounting international pressure to lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip following the killing of 9 Turkish humanitarian aid workers by Israeli commandos in international waters.
The six aid flotillas, carrying 663 aid civilians from 37 countries were attempting to deliver the much needed aid and break the 3 year Israeli blockade affecting 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.
Most of the passengers were Turkish, but it also included aid workers from the US, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Malaysia, Algeria and elsewhere.
Israeli commandos boarded all the ships, however on the lead ship, MV Mavi Marmara, 9 aid workers were killed; 48 were injured and 6 are still missing.
The Israeli forces’ aim was to prevent the aid from reaching the impoverished people in Gaza. However, renowned Swedish author Henning Mankell, 62, who was on board the MV Mavi Marmara said the Israeli navy had no right to demand a change of course.
“We were in international waters this was an act of pure piracy and taking our ships to Israel was kidnapping.
“If they really wanted to stop us, why did they not wait until we were close to their territorial waters, and say ‘You can’t go any further’?”
He added that Israel could have used less confrontational methods: “They could have very quickly taken out the rudder and the propeller of our ship. We would have been stuck. No one would have been hurt.”
The sequence of events is disputed. Passengers insist the Israelis opened fire before boarding, while Israelis say that they started firing after their soldiers were ambushed as they were landing on to the ship from the helicopters, and have released a video that shows events of the landing to back up their assertion.
However, aid workers maintained ‘selective’ footage was released by the Israeli officials and they also rubbished Israel’s claim of measured self defense. The autopsies of the victims revealed they were shot a total of 30 times; 5 were killed by gunshots to the head.
Ibrahim Bilgen, 60, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. Fulkan Dogan, 19, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot 4 times, and 5 of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, according to Chair of the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK), Haluk İnce, who carried out the autopsies.
An unnamed Israeli staff-sergeant in the Shayetet 13 Naval Special Forces unit told the Jerusalem Post he was immediately attacked when he reached the deck from a helicopter. He said he had not expected to find a “battlefield”.
However, British-born Al-Jazeera Producer, Jamal Elshayyal, said violence erupted when the Israelis opened fire before landing.
“One man was shot in the top of the head from the helicopter. He collapsed on the ground. I snatched a microphone from one of the Turkish reporters to say one man had been killed. As I did that another man was shot. Those people died instantly,”
Israeli commandos’ statements were refuted by all the aid workers on board including journalists, NGO members and even a former ambassador.
UK-based Friends of al-Aqsa Chair, Ismail Patel, who witnessed some of the fatal shootings, told The Muslim News Israel had operated a “shoot to kill policy”.
Patel who is British, calculated that during the altercations, Israeli commandos shot one person every minute. One man was fatally shot in the back of the head just two feet in front him and another was shot once between the eyes.
He added that as well as the fatally wounded, 48 others were suffering from gunshot wounds.
Patel said the deaths were avoidable. “We condemn the cold blooded murder” committed by the Israeli commandos, he said.
The Israelis attacked the ships using sound bombs, tear gas bombs, stun grenades, rubber bullets and live ammunitions at dawn just after fajr (morning) prayers at 4.30am on May 30.
Another British Citizen, Alex Harrison, who was on the smaller US flagship, Challenger ship, told The Muslim News when the Israelis approached their boat, they used sound bombs, fired at them with rubber bullets, and
“we were treated with violence immediately. Women were thrown brutally around, our windows broken and we were thrown face down onto the broken glass.”
Their hands were tied with plastic clips and
“two women were hooded, they had their eyes taped.”
“We did not use violence.”
Harrison, 32, from Islington, North London, also challenged claims by the Israeli navy that their commandos were acting in self-defense once on board, insisting the Israelis started firing before their troops touched down on the boat from the helicopters as she witnesses from her boat.
“I’ve seen some selective footage that the Israelis have chosen to put out suggesting that we responded with violence,” she said. “You must remember that these were unarmed civilians on their own boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. People picked up what they could to defend themselves against armed, masked commandos who were shooting. The violence was initiated by the Israelis on a massive scale”.
Both Harrison and Patel slammed the British authorities for failing to assist while they were imprisoned in Be’er Sheva in Israel. Patel said he was not visited and Harrison said the consul told her that Israeli officials had prevented him visiting captured Britons.
Harrison said the British Consul told her that he had been sitting outside the prison all day asking for access and not been given it. “I see that as an insult from Israel to the British that they were denying the British consul the right that citizens have. I also see it as a sign that the British don’t have the strength to stand up to Israel.”
The information about the manner and intensity of the killings undermines Israel’s insistence that its soldiers opened fire only in self defence and in response to attacks by the passengers.
Passengers admitted fighting with the Israeli commandos and wresting away their guns, but defended their actions as self-defense saying the soldiers had opened live fire indiscriminately, but it was they who measured their reaction.
Former US marine Ken O’Keefe, who was on the MV Mavi Marmara, told Turkish and Israeli newspapers that he had helped disarm the commandos,
“The lives of the three commandos were at our mercy, we could have done with them whatever we wanted.”
The passengers also highlighted the fact that none of the Israeli commandos captured were killed, on the contrary, images released show the wounded Israeli’s being treated by the passengers.
Guns that were taken from the officers were emptied from their bullets and returned to them.
They also say the Israeli authorities confiscated their video equipment cameras and erased memory cards, which would have backed their version of events.
The Foreign Press Association have strongly condemned Israeli military’s use of photos and video material confiscated from foreign journalists.
New York-based Serbian cameraman, Srdjan Stojiljković, said Arab aid workers suffered “far worse treatment than us, from Europe or the West,” adding he had filmed the scenes, but the Israelis “took everything but documents” from journalists.
Retired American army colonel and former US Diplomat Ann Wright said, “They’ve probably stolen over a million dollars’ worth of cameras, computers, cell phones.”
“One woman was hit in the face, in the nose, with one of the liquid-filled balls [The Israelis] were very excessively rough, excessively forceful,”
Canadian citizen Kevin Neish said a Turkish man, who was holding a camera
“was shot directly through the forehead. The bullet, the exit wound, blew away the back third of his skull.”
Free Gaza Movement, (who organized the flotilla) rep on Mavi Marmara, Lubna Masarwa, said the Israeli navy had also refused calls for immediate aid to the seriously wounded:
“We were then held for several hours with four bodies and dozens of wounded some in critical condition. Blood was pouring from the bodies of the dead and the injured.
“One Turkish woman was crying and saying goodbye to the body of her dead husband, petting his face and reading the Qur’an over him. Another man had a bullet wound in his head and was dying.
“From 5am on, we were begging the Israeli navy to provide medical assistance to the wounded and dying but received no response.
“We made the request in English and Hebrew through the loud speaker and also wrote a large paper that said, ‘SOS, people dying, in need of immediate medical attention’ in Hebrew and put it on the window in front of them. They ordered the people with the sign to get lost,”
The convoy members insisted they had behaved more humanely and had given medical help to the commandos when they still had control of the flotilla.
Images of the disarmed commando being treated by Dr Hasan Huseyin Uysal along with other photo taken show bloodied and disarmed commandos in the custody of passengers inside the ship contradict Israeli suggestions that the aim of the passengers was to kill the soldiers.
Dr Uysal said that he had treated three Israeli commandos and argued that this proved that the passengers had no intention of killing them:
“First of all it’s illogical that these soldiers would not be killed but instead be taken to the medical center if the intention of the activists was to kill them. If people on board were so eager to hurt them, why would they not just shoot them to death once they had taken their guns? Why bother carting them inside for treatment? It just doesn’t add up.”
Despite claims by Israel Officials that the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) members had initiated the violence, Murat Akinan, the man seen standing next to Dr Uysal in the photos of him treating a commando said that the captured soldier had been entrusted to him by IHH Director, Bulent Yildirim, who instructed him to
“make sure that he’ll be safe. Be careful, don’t allow anyone to touch him.”
Dundee, Scotland, student Ali El-Awaisi, 21, was held in Be’er Sheva jail in Israel for 3 days after spending 12 hours on the captured boat. He said: “What happened on the boat was just horrific. Israeli soldiers were shooting people in the head from point-blank range.
“The walls of the ship were like waterfalls of blood and there were guys shot in front of my eyes.
“One Turkish man was shot between the eyes with a handgun from a few feet away, and when we docked in Ashdod the Israelis left his body in the sun for several days and then took photos of his decomposed corpse and gave them to his wife who was on the flotilla as well.”
He said those once they were captured,
“We were tortured. We had to kneel down with our hands tied behind our back for 12 hours under the sun and the soldiers would hit you with the rifle butts if you moved.”
Two of the aid workers detained by the Israeli forces have accused Israeli officers of using their credit cards.
Former US nurse and aid worker Kathy Sheetz has provided bank statements proving her bank card, taken by the Israeli forces during the attack, has since been used in Tel Aviv.
“It looks as though they tried to use it without the PIN code and could not, but they could use it in a vending machine and had multiple accesses to my card to buy beer, according to the statement,” Sheetz said.
“What it means is that I witnessed the Israeli Navy going and killing people and at the end buying beer with my card,” she added.
Italian journalist Manolo Luppichini discovered that while he was confined in Be’er Sheva and after he was back in Italy a day after his deportation – purchases were made with his credit card, which the Israeli authorities had confiscated.
One purchase was from a vending machine in Tel Aviv for about NIS 10 on June 2, he says. Another purchase, for NIS 240, was made in Gedera’s Village Market, while Luppichini himself was in Italy.
Luppichini has written a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, the Foreign and Defense Ministers and to Israel’s Ambassador and consuls in Italy on the matter.
The passengers were mistreated and humiliated throughout. When they were taken on land in Ashdod, Israel, “we were treated roughly, manhandled, pushed around and we were treated with no dignity; we were mocked and laughed at. We pushed against our will by jeering soldiers who laughed and insulted us,” said Harrison.
She said that they were kept in prison vans for six hours to be taken to the airport, a journey that should take only half an hour. “Women were beaten unnecessary by soldiers, and whe they were being moved from place to place, they were being pushed around. On one occasion, they smacked two women around the head.”
She related how the Israeli soldiers at Ben Gurion airport beat up the passengers. “When we were at the airport, people were beaten for speaking. We were trying to speak to our male colleagues. I tired to speak to one of them Ken O’Keefe, who was tackled to the ground and held down by a dozen soldiers.”
The UN Security Council condemned “those acts resulting in civilian deaths,” demanded an impartial investigation of the raid, and called for the immediate release of civilians held by Israel. However the resolution was watered down by US objections. The resolution did not ask for an independent investigation.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Israel to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent” investigation that complies with international standards and get the facts but refused to allow international independent investigators.
US Vice President, Joe Biden, offered the US’s strongest defence of Benjamin Netanyahu Government saying, “Israel has an absolute right to deal with its security interest.”
Appearing on US TV Biden defended Israel’s actions as “legitimate”. After suggesting the cargo of aid could have been unloaded elsewhere, Biden dismissed international criticism, asking: “So what’s the big deal here? What’s the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza?”
According to the British Foreign Office, 37 British nationals, including 11 dual-nationals were passengers in the flotilla.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told the Parliament that the raid was “completely unacceptable”. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner fell short of calling for an international inquiry.
The pair issued a joint statement after meeting Paris: “We think it is very important that there is a credible and transparent investigation. We believe there should be an international presence at minimum in that inquiry or investigation.”
Hague called on the Israeli Government to open the crossing to unfettered access for aid to enter Gaza.
At least four Scots were caught up in the raid prompting Scotland’s First Minister to dub Israel’s actions as “insupportable”.
Alex Salmond said the Scottish National Party’s opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza has the support of an overwhelming majority of Ministers in the Scottish Parliament: “This Parliament should speak with, certainly the overwhelming majority, in saying that the Israeli action is unacceptable, is insupportable and should stop forthwith. I’ve written to the Israeli Ambassador in the strongest possible terms.”
Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, said: “Such actions against a civilian ship are unacceptable…These actions in neutral waters raise special concerns and, undoubtedly, demand a thorough investigation.”
Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gül said, “Israel has made one of the most glaring mistakes in its history, for which it will repent”. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to hold Israel to account over its “state terror” as tens of thousands protested in Turkey against the deadly raid on Gaza-bound aid ships.
Erdoğan said, “We object to those who force the people of Gaza to live in an open-air prison… We will stand firm until the blockade on Gaza is lifted, the massacres cease and the state terror in the Middle East is accounted for.” Despite the strong rhetoric by Gül and Erdoğan; Turkey is not severing its ties with Israel.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said the country’s long economic and military ties to Israel were “on the table for discussion” but refused to promise a definitive break with Israel.
“To assume everything involving another country is stopped in an instant, to say we have crossed you out of our address book, is not the custom of our state,” said Arınç.
Turkey’s defence ministry, which is in the middle of the purchase of 10 Heron drones, said it would continue to take delivery of Israeli weapons shipments.
Muslim Aid joined many charities in calling for Israel to allow international NGOs into Gaza. A spokesman for the UK-based international relief agency told The Muslim News, “Just as charity workers and NGOs are rightfully required not to mix their humanitarian work with politics, and states should act responsibly by recognizing the work of aid workers and enabling them to reach the people to meet their legitimate humanitarian needs.”
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