Monday’s raid by Israeli naval commandos on a ship bearing medical, construction, and other supplies for the Gaza Strip resulted in the deaths of at least nine civilians. Many aspects of the episode — the blockade, the run-up to the confrontation, the law governing international waters, etc. — are being fiercely contested. But what about what actually happened when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara?
The Gaza-bound boat was 80 miles from the Israeli coast with nearly 600 passengers on board when Israel soldiers from the naval special forces unit Shayetet 13 boarded the vessel in the dark early Monday morning.
The basic competing narratives are: the passengers mobbed the soldiers with crude but effective weapons, prompting the soldiers to fire bullets in self defense vs. the soldiers fired live weapons indiscriminately, starting from the helicopter above before they even boarded the ship.
But let’s take a closer look at the various written and video accounts.
As a preface, it should be noted that the Israeli government appears to be in control of most of the video taken by both the IDF and the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara (later confiscated by the IDF). Partly because the IDF has not released continuous footage — if it exists — what we know at this point does not add up to a comprehensive account of what happened.
Here we go:
During the raid, 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, a dual U.S.-Turkish citizen, was shot five times — reportedly four in the head and one in the chest — and killed. Eight Turkish citizens were also killed. Dozens of the passengers and six Israeli soldiers were injured during the raid, CBS reported Monday.
The New York Times’ Robert Mackey notes that the IDF has apparently confiscated much of the video taken on the boat and it is now releasing selected, annotated clips. Mackey sums up: “Despite the claims made by each side, none of the clips released so far, which offer only brief glimpses of the encounter, prove which side was responsible for the escalation into deadly violence. … One thing that we know the Israeli military’s footage does not show is any of the shooting of activists by its commandos. If footage of that exists, the military has chosen not to release it.”
Here is video released — and edited — by the IDF showing Mavi Marmara passengers hitting soldiers with rods as they rappel down on to the ship. Subtitles and other text added by the IDF:
- Here’s another video released by the IDF — but filmed from the Mavi Marmara — in which passengers spray soldiers on a small boat with hoses:
- Here is a clip from an Al Jazeera reporter Jamal Elshayyal on board the ship during the raid. It’s not clear exactly when the clip was taken, but the reporter says two people have been killed (the final death toll was nine). He says the passengers had raised a white flag but reports that there is still live fire (shots of some kind are heard in the background):
- The same reporter said in a later interview that “there is no doubt from what I saw that live ammunition was fired before any Israeli soldier was on deck” — that the Israelis had first fired from above. More via The Lede:
It was evident there was definitely fire from the air, because one of the people who was killed was clearly shot from above — he was shot, the bullet targeted him at the top of his head. There was also fire coming from the sea as well. Most of the fire initially from the sea was tear gas canisters, sound grenades, but then it became live fire. 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.
- The AP on Friday posted this video of wounded passengers, taken in the aftermath of the raid:
Huwaida Arraf, a U.S. citizen who was on one of the other boats in the flotilla, told CNN Tuesday that she “saw the Israeli naval boats go up to [the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara] and start firing. We heard a number of explosions … The soldiers were throwing concussion grenades and firing.” She also said the passengers used water hoses on the soldiers.
Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement and a flotilla organizer, has said the Israelis “rappelled down off a helicopter and landed at least on the deck of the Turkish [ship] … looked around and started to shoot at us. “
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Monday: “Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear.” Israeli officials have claimed that two pistols were taken from soldiers during raid and were discharged, according to the Washington Post.
The head of the Turkish group Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) was quoted by the BBC saying that passengers did somehow take guns from the commandos. But instead of using them, he says, they threw them overboard.
The Jerusalem Post today has an interview with an anonymous Israeli commando who says the passengers were “without a doubt terrorists” and that he fired his Glock pistol at passengers only to protect wounded comrades.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted photos online of what it calls “weapons” found on the boat, including kitchen and other knives, small axes, binoculars, and what look like bullet proof vests bearing Turkish insignia.
The Guardian reports on the autopsy results of the slain passengers:
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.”
We will likely learn more in the coming days. As of Wednesday, two days after the raid, Reporters Sans Frontieres reported that 16 foreign journalists, including from the Sydney Morning Herald, the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and several outlets in Muslim countries, were being held in an Israeli detention center after being arrested Monday on the ship.