Thursday, June 3, 2010 ISTANBUL –
Funeral prayers are held in Istanbul for eight of the nine people killed on a Gaza aid flotilla as families around the country mourn their dead. At least three activists are still missing, the group that organized the flotilla says, vowing to send larger convoys to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
At least three members of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli commandos are still missing, the group that organized the convoy said Thursday as funeral prayers were given for eight slain activists.
“We have a longer list. There are still people who are missing,” Bülent Yıldırım, the head of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, one of the main organizers of the flotilla, told reporters at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport.
“Our doctors handed over to Israel 38 people who were injured, but they told us there were only 21 injured when we were returning.”
The İHH leader also said the group would send larger convoys to end the embargo on the besieged Gaza Strip.
Yıldırım and hundreds of other activists returned early Thursday to a hero’s welcome in Istanbul. About 1,000 people, some chanting anti-Israeli slogans, packed the city’s airport in the middle of the night to greet the planes carrying them back from Israel.
Seven planes were used to deport 527 activists to Turkey and Greece, said Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad, adding that seven other activists remained in Israeli hospitals for treatment of wounds suffered during the Israeli raid. Another plane brought 31 Greeks, three French nationals and one American to Athens.
The first plane contained the bodies of eight Turks and a U.S. national of Turkish origin. All were shot dead in the Israeli raid, according to forensic experts. The nationalities of the victims were determined after post-mortem examinations at a forensic institute in Istanbul, the Anatolia news agency reported. Forensic experts found bullet marks on all the bodies and determined that one was shot at close range.
The exact circumstances of the activists’ deaths are expected to become clear in a ballistics examination that will take about a month to complete.
The 19 wounded activists deported from Israel also suffered from gunshot wounds, according to the chief doctor of the Ankara hospital treating them. “The patients generally have serious injuries to their chests, abdomens and limbs. What we have is mostly gun wounds,” Metin Doğan said in televised remarks.
Israel charges that the passengers on the boat attacked its soldiers, but organizers of the flotilla say Israeli forces started firing as soon as they landed on the ship.
Funeral prayers for eight of the nine people killed onboard the Mavi Marmara were held at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on Thursday. The coffins of Cengiz Akyüz, Ali Haydar Bengi, İbrahim Bilgen, Furkan Doğan, Cengiz Songür, Çetin Topçuoğlu, Fahri Yaldız and Necdet Yıldırım were wrapped in Turkish flags. The crowd at the funeral chanted anti-Israel slogans before and after the prayers. The funeral prayer for journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar, an İHH member, will be held at the same mosque Friday.
Families of the victims also mourned in various provinces of the country. Photographs of Bilgen, who was a mayoral candidate from the Saadet, or Felicity, Party in the March 2009 local elections, were hung over busy streets in the eastern province of Siirt.
In Adana, Cumali Topçuoğlu, the brother of 54-year-old victim Çetin Topçuoğlu, said family members were happy because their brother had become a “martyr.”
In Diyarbakır, a condolence tent was erected in front of the Ulu Mosque for Bengi, the father of four children.
An official from the İHH identified 19-year-old Doğan, originally from the central Turkish town of Kayseri, as the U.S. national among the victims. Doğan, who held an American passport, had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest, according to the İHH’s Ömer Yağmur. The bodies were handed over to the victim’s relatives after the autopsies.
The United Nations and the European Union have harshly criticized Israel after its commandos stormed the six-ship flotilla in international waters, setting off the clashes. About 700 activists – including 400 Turks – were trying to break the Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade by bringing in 10,000 tons of aid.
Two Swedes aboard the aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces this week said they had witnessed “premeditated murder.”
“We were witnesses to premeditated murders,”
historian Mattias Gardell told Swedish public radio Thursday upon arrival in Istanbul.
“This was a military attack on a humanitarian aid operation far out in international waters,” said Gardell, a Swedish activist who was on the Mavi Marmara along with his wife, fellow historian Edda Manga, during the attack. “It was a very surprising and aggressive overreaction by Israel.”
Kuwait citizen Ali Buhamd said he saw a wounded Turkish citizen getting shot in the head. “The soldiers also left another Turk to bleed to death despite [his] calls for help,” he added.
Shane Dillon from Ireland, from the crew of the ship Challenger 1, said he witnessed some volunteers being beaten up and a Belgian woman’s nose being broken.
Of five Australians on the Gaza flotilla, two – journalists Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty, who was injured by a stun gun during the Israeli raid – have returned to Turkey, daily The Australian reported on its website Thursday. Three others – Ahmed Luqman, who was shot in the leg, his wife, Jerry Campbell, and his sister Maryam Luqman – are reportedly still in Israel
June 18, 2010
By Ellen Davidson
A near-capacity crowd packed House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn June 17 to hear speakers from the MV Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza that was boarded by Israeli commandos May 31. Nine passengers were killed and dozens wounded in the raid.
Only a half-dozen or so people attended a counterdemonstration called by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC), an umbrella group for many Jewish organizations in the city. The counterprotest was kept across the street and down the block, thus avoiding the hostile confrontations that sometimes arise at actions in support of the Palestinian people. One of the scheduled speakers was not allowed into the country. Former Turkish Member of Parliament Ahmet Faruk Unsal, an activist with the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, a Turkish group that was one of the main forces behind the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, was not allowed to board the plane from Turkey. Several New York politicians had called on the State Department to investigate the visa applications of the scheduled speakers (see “New York Politicians Peddle Israeli Propaganda About Gaza Flotilla”).
The crowd at House of the Lord Church was welcomed by the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a longtime activist for peace and justice. “Wherever members of the human family, irrespective of the religious persuasion, irrespective of the political ideology, irrespective of the pigmentation, irrespective of the geographical location on this globe, wherever there are human beings suffering, that’s where I want to be,” said Daughtry.
City Councilman Charles Barron, who took part in an overland aid delegation to Gaza last year, addressed the crowd as well. Saying he has been getting “a lot of heat” lately over his stance in support of the Palestinian people, he recounted how he received a call from a rabbi who said he was “outraged.” Barron asked him whether he just wanted to “cuss me out and hang up” or whether he wanted to engage in an “intellectual discussion.” Barron proceeded to enumerate some of the points such a discussion would entail. “Who are the terrorists? What is terrorism? How do you define terrorism? How do you define acts of piracy? Is it just for Somalians who are trying to protect their coastline and their fishing industry and stopping boats from coming into Somalia and dumping toxic waste? Are those pirates? Or are there pirates who take boats in international waters and murder people with no justification?”
“Any experience that deliberately sets up a people to die because they can’t get water, can’t get medicine, is a death camp,” Barron went on, “and if you don’t like me using those words, too bad. That’s what it is. You can’t purposely set up people to die, inflict genocide on other people and think that you’re the only one that has a monopoly on suffering. You have no monopoly on suffering. Every people has a holocaust. There’s been an African holocaust.” Millions of black people died under the apartheid regime in South Africa, with its partner Israel, Barron pointed out, “so don’t talk to me about your outrage.”
“We know that when we liberate Palestine, we liberate Africa,” said Barron. “When we liberate Africa, we’re going to liberate the Caribbean and Latin America, and Central America and Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant and the United States of America. This struggle is important for us to win.”
“You only go around once in life so you might as well live it with some spine,” he concluded.
Kevin Ovenden, national coordinator of Viva Palestina and a passenger on the Mavi Marmara, spoke of his experiences aboard the boat when it was attacked by commandos from the Israeli Defense Forces. Viva Palestina has organized several successful missions to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Ovenden described being held in an Israeli prison in the Negev desert, remembering
“the brother who was shot through the leg, just one meter in front of me; the one shot through the abdomen 50 centimeters to the right of me. Where we were, there were no Israeli commandos within the immediate proximity. It is simply unfeasible for anyone to maintain that the people who fired those shots from above, not within our line of sight, in any sense could feel threatened by the two men who were shot either side of me. Simply unfeasible. A complete and utter lie. It’s also a lie in the shooting dead of Cevdet Kiliçlar, a young man who left a wife and two children, a photographer, he was holding a stills camera, again, not one Israeli commando within the immediate vicinity, but he was shot through the forehead, the high-velocity bullet blowing away the back third of his skull, cradled by a friend of mine, as the last two seconds of his life passed away.”
“Their blood is now lapping on the shores of Gaza,” said Ovenden, “but their blood was not shed in vain because the tide has turned and we must seize this tide to make a lasting change for the people of Palestine, the Middle East, and around the world.”
Backed by the United States and Britain, Israel has refused to allow an international investigation of the attack on the flotilla, instead appointing an Israeli body to look into the incident. “This is a whitewash inquiry. The thing about whitewashes, which any painter or decorator will tell you, is that if you slap whitewash on too thick and too quick, it begins to peel as soon as you put it on. The British establishment has just found this out. Thirty-eight years ago they commissioned a shotgun inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre that killed 14 people, the Widgery whitewash, and it’s just been overturned by the Saville inquiry and the truth is out and the apologies are coming. Thirty-eight years too late, but justice will not be denied forever, and justice in this case will not be denied.”
Filmmaker and activist Iara Lee was also a passenger on the Mavi Marmara. She had visited Gaza in December with the Gaza Freedom March and “was appalled to see the destruction of infrastructure and the effects of the use of white phosphorus, how fishermen could not even fish off their waters. And I thought it was our moral obligation to continue this fight, so we supported the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I went as a filmmaker, as an activist, as a humanitarian aid worker.
“We had over 600 passengers on our boat, representative of over 40 countries. During the journey I got to see that they were coming from all walks of life and our common goal was to break this illegal siege, bring our token, even if it was 10,000 tons, it was still token [compared to] the humanitarian aid they needed, because at the end of the day, they want to have trade, they want to live like normal people.”
She showed footage that she and her crew had smuggled off the Mavi Marmara; the footage is unusual, because most of the video that has been released has come from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and has been severely edited. “The first thing they [the commandos] did is to confiscate all our footage,” explained Lee, “because they didn’t want the world to know. And despite the danger, my crew and I decided that we were going to film and try to get this footage out. … We are still trying to restore some of the corrupt data, and we will be able to have a little bit more, to show before the raid how people were a peace boat, not a hate boat, and that we were not there to lynch Israeli soldiers. We didn’t even know they were going to come and start killing us.”
Many believe that, like Operation Cast Lead, the three-week attack Israel mounted on Gaza in 2008-09 that resulted in more than 1,400 dead and thousands wounded, the assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla will serve to shift world opinion against the Israeli siege of the territory. Egypt has already eased its role in the blockade, saying it will now open the Rafah crossing into Gaza, which had previously been tightly controlled and only accessible for a couple of days a month.
Said Ovenden: “Because the tide has turned, this is the meaning of the massacre of the Mavi Marmara. It is that the miasma of defeat that had settled, sedimented, for so long in the minds of people throughout the Middle East and even upon many of our own minds in this room tonight is finally lifted and we can see through the disappearing fog the way forward and how we can start to take some steps forward to victory. The question is not will this siege be lifted. The question is how rapidly it will be lifted and how this siege will be ended… Across the world, now, all those who’ve been moved by this issue need to step into the front rank of the movement alongside those in Turkey who’ve lost their loved ones. From Vancouver to Lake Van, from Casablanca to Kuwait, from all four points of the compass, we must mobilize now, to head back to Gaza and through Gaza towards the liberation of Palestine.”
• Victims found with up to six gunshot wounds
• Israel ‘about to lose a friend’ warns Turkey’s US envoy
The autopsy results released today by the Turkish authorities after the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla reveal in chilling detail the intensity of the military force unleashed on the multinational convoy.
Each of the nine victims on the Mavi Marmara in international waters off the coast of Israel in the early hours of Monday morning was shot at least once and some five or six times with 9mm rounds.
The results also reveal how close the fighting was. Dr Haluk Ince, chair of Turkey‘s council of forensic medicine (ATK), said: “Approximately 20cm away was the closest. In only one case was there only one entrance wound. The other eight have multiple entrance wounds. [The man killed by a single shot] was shot just in the middle of the forehead with a distant shot.”
The details emerged as Turkey warned that it may reconsider its diplomatic ties with Israel unless it receives an apology.
The deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, warned: “We may plan to reduce our relations with Israel to a minimum.”
Namid Tan, the ambassador to Washington, warned that Israel was “about to lose [a] friend”. He repeated calls for an independent investigation of the raid and end its blockade against Gaza.
Asked if Turkey might break off relations, he said: “We don’t want this to go to that point.” But he added: “The government might be forced to take such an action.”
Speaking at the funeral of the youngest activist, prime minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of betraying its religion. “You killed 19-year-old Furkan Dogan brutally. Which faith, which holy book can be an excuse for killing him?” he asked.
According to the scientists at the ATK, Dogan, who held US and Turkish citizenship was shot five times – from close range in the right side of his nose, in the back of the head, in the back and twice in the left leg.
The oldest victim was 60-year-old Ibrahim Bilgen, a Turkish politician, engineer and activist who was married with six children. He had been shot once in the right temple, once in the right side of his chest, once in the back and once in the hip.
Cetin Topcuotlu, a 54-year old former Taekwondo champion who worked as a coach for the Turkish national team, was shot three times – once in the back of his head, once in his hip and once in his belly. His wife, Cigden, who was with him on the Mavi Marmara said at his funeral on Thursday she would take part in further flotillas to Gaza with her son.
The detail of the wounds came as yet more survivors returned to the UK and gave their account of the attacks.
In a hastily arranged press conference in central Londonshortly after his Turkish airlines plane touched down at Heathrow, Ismail Patel, the 47-year-old chairman of the Friends of al-Aqsa, condemned what he called “the cold-blooded murder and killing of our colleagues”. He said: “These deaths were avoidable and I lay the blame squarely with the Israelis.”
Israel has previously said its troops had been left with no choice after they came under attack from activists armed with knives and iron bars when they were dropped by helicopter on to the ship.
Patel claimed that as soon as the Israeli Defence Force helicopter appeared above the Mavi Marmara,
“it started using immediately live ammunition” without any warning being issued.
After the first victim fell the white flag was raised, he said, but Israeli forces continued firing. “I think the Israeli soldiers were shooting to kill because most of the people who died were shot in the top part of their bodies,” he said. He believed that later victims were injured in their legs after a “tactical move” by the commandos to wound rather then kill.
Alex Harrison, a Free Gaza activist who was on the smaller Challenger yacht, which was crewed mainly by women, said the Israelis used rubber bullets, sound bombs and tasers against them.
“Two women were hooded, they had their eyes taped,” she said, describing how the yacht was quickly overwhelmed. “We stood and tried to obstruct the armed, masked men and maintained no other defence and still they used violence.”
Harrison, 32, from Islington, north London, also witnessed the Mavi Marmara being stormed from above by helicopter and said the Israelis started firing before their troops touched down on the boat.
“I have 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 are 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,” she said, adding she was pleased her colleagues on the Rachel Corrie, an Irish vessel, were continuing to Gaza this weekend.
“I am thrilled they are going,” she said. “They know exactly what risks they face. They are doing what our government’s haven’t and I thank them.”
Both Harrison and Patel criticised the British authorities for failing to provide sufficient consular assistance while the activists were detained in an Israeli prison in Beersheva.
Patel said he was not visited by anyone from the British mission and Harrison said the consul told her that Israeli officials had prevented him visiting captured Britons.
“I did see the British consul,” Harrison said. “He told me that he had 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.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that a total of 34 of the activists on the aid flotilla were British, with all but two of them having been sent to Turkey by the Israeli authorities.
In Gaza City, the de facto Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, told crowds of worshippers at Friday prayers that Israel’s blockade was in its final stages.
“Now not only Gazans speak of the blockade, but also the [UN] security council and the international community. Everyone is demanding the siege be lifted.”
The nine victims
Cengiz Alquyz, 42
Four gunshot wounds: back of head, right side of face, back, left leg
Ibrahim Bilgen, 60
Four gunshot wounds: right chest, back, right hip, right temple
Cegdet Kiliclar, 38
One gunshot wound: middle of forehead
Furkan Dogan, 19
Five gunshot wounds: nose, back, back of head, left leg, left ankle
Four gunshot wounds: left chest, left leg, right leg twice
Aliheyder Bengi, 39
Six gunshot wounds: left chest, belly, right arm, right leg, left hand twice
Cetin Topcuoglu, 54
Three gunshot wounds: back of head, left side, right belly
Cengiz Songur, 47
One gunshot wound: front of neck
Necdet Yildirim, 32
Two gunshot wounds: right shoulder, left back
9 June 2010
In the aftermath of Israel’s raid on the flotilla delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza on 31 May, journalists released from custody are providing first-hand accounts of abuse, interrogation and confiscation of equipment by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). One journalist was killed in the deadly attack. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have edited and distributed portions of video footage taken from foreign journalists.
At least 60 journalists from across the globe were on board. All the journalists who were detained have now been deported from Israel, and many are talking about what they endured. Accounts of mistreatment during the raid reveal that journalists were prevented from doing their jobs in the most brutal fashion.
Journalist Muna Shester, working for Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), reported to RSF that one photographer who spoke up and criticised the soldiers was beaten. “I could hear his cries,” said Shester. “Cameramen, press photographers and reporters were mistreated because they were filming or taking photos of the raid.” Journalists were searched, handcuffed and left in the sun for five hours, she said.
Al-Jazeera photographer Issam Za’atar said that as he was filming the raid, an Israeli soldier hit him with a stun gun. Za’atar suffered a broken arm and his camera was damaged. Once in detention, he told CPJ he endured a “long and exhausting interrogation.”
But the worst violence was inflicted on Turkish journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar who was killed by a shot to the head, and Indonesian cameraman Sura Fachrizaz who was shot in the chest and seriously injured, report IFJ and RSF.
Paul McGeough, “Sydney Morning Herald” chief correspondent, said reporters were treated with “absolute disrespect.”
“Our job requires us to get the stories, and to reveal things that are not otherwise being revealed,” McGough said in a phone interview that appears on the paper’s website. “As Israel’s appalling handling of the flotilla demonstrates, you need journalists there to bear witness, to reveal what is happening out there.”
Israeli soldiers confiscated cameras, tapes, satellite phones and mobile phones, said Othman Battiri, a senior producer at Al-Jazeera.
The IDF released edited sections of seized video on its YouTube channel on 2 June. “Israel has confiscated journalistic material and then manipulated it to serve its interests,” said CPJ. The Foreign Press Association in Israel called it a “serious violation of journalistic ethics.” IFJ and its affiliate, the National Federation of Israel Journalists (NFIJ), as well as other IFEX members have urged authorities to return confiscated equipment.