Israeli Commandos Kill as Many as 10-16 Aid Activists,
wound over 50 as they Board, Capture Gaza Aid Flotilla

Wire services are reporting that Israeli commandos killed as many as 16 peace activists and wounded over 50 others as they boarded and commandeered the six ships of the Gaza aid flotilla. Among the ships boarded, on which Israeli troops killed aid activists, was a Turkish vessel, the Marmara, on which there were casualties.

Early on Monday, some 300 Turkish protesters attempted to storm the Israeli consulate but were turned back by security forces. Through Monday, larger and larger crowds gathered to protest the attack on the flotilla. Some news sources were speaking of tens of thousands at rallies in Istanbul, with smaller numbers demonstrating before the Israeli embassy in the capital, Ankara, and in front of the US consulate in Adana.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry angrily condemned Israeli “inhumane practices” and warned that the attack on the Marmara may well have “irreparable consequences” on Turkish-Israeli relations. Turkey had long been one of Israel’s few friends in the Middle East, but since 2002 the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party has been critical of Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian West Bank.

It is being alleged by members of Free Gaza that the aid ships were boarded in international waters and that Israel contravened the UN international convention on freedom of navigation on the high seas. Although the Israeli press refers to the waters off Gaza as “Israeli territorial waters,” in fact Israel has no legal claim to the Gaza coast. It is the Occupying power in Gaza since 1967, but is in severe contravention of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations.

There are two possible reasons for the violence. One is that the Israeli troops boarding the vessels met some sort of resistance and over-reacted. Aid volunteers are unlikely, however, to have posed much real challenge to trained special forces operatives.

The other possible reason is that the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a green light to the commandos to respond with excessive force. That is, the deaths and woundings may have been a brutally frank warning to any future Gaza aid activists that they are taking their lives in their hands if they plan any more flotillas to help the Palestinians. The Israeli far right may have felt that there was otherwise a danger that in a few months there would be an even bigger flotilla and that eventually the blockade of Gaza would be broken.

Although we outsiders would welcome this development because we are concerned about the health and well-being of Palestinian children under blockade, the Israeli Right views all Gazans as terrorists and sees besieging them as the only way to safeguard Israelis from attack. The Israeli Right is being paranoid and inhumane in this belief. There is no reason to think that denying Palestinians enough food or medical supplies or concrete will actually deter the small number directly involved in violence.

It is worth noting on Memorial Day that the Israeli attack deeply complicates the task of the US military in the region. It is a propaganda boon for Sunni extremists and Shiite activists such as Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, and for the Taliban in Afghanistan. It undermines the authority of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, which have US-brokered peace treaties with Israel, treaties that are deeply unpopular with ordinary people in both countries. That some demonstrations are being held in front of US consulates and not just Israeli ones tells us who will get the blame for Netanyahu’s machismo.

The vessels were bringing over 600 protesters of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of its people in contravention of international law, along with 10,000 tons of aid.

Aljazeera English has video:

As I noted early last week, the World Health Organization vigorously contests Israeli officials’ protestations that their siege of Gaza lets through enough food and materiel. In fact, there is widespread unemployment, poverty, lack of medicine and medical equipment, and hunger in Gaza, and 10 percent of residents (a majority of them children) are physically stunted from malnutrition.

The deposed prime minister of the Palestine Authority, elected in 2006 but overthrown in the West Bank by a joint US/ Israeli/ PLO coup in 2007, is Ismail Haniyeh. He is now a leader of the Hamas Party that controls Gaza. He gave a speech carried by Aljazeera in which he ridiculed the idea of good faith peace negotiations with Israel under the shadow of what he called such ongoing atrocities and condemned Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas for agreeing to participate in proximity talks with Israel. He also called on the UN Security Council to meet on the crisis.

An organization of Palestinian-Israelis within Israel called for a general strike, according to Aljazeera Arabic.

I received the following account of the beginnings of the confrontation by email:

‘ (Cyprus, May 31, 2010) At 11:00 pm [on Sunday] 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.

On the radar, the boats could see three Israeli war ships shadowing us, and 15 minutes later, a silent aircraft hovered over the flotilla. One of our Hebrew speakers had found Israel’s strategy and posted it to us. It stated, “You will be boarded by highly trained, very efficient and very SILENT commandos. They will use silent inflatable boats to get to our boats and both try to board our boats directly from the inflatables and by dropping divers into the water to climb onto the boats,” so people were preparing for them to come up and over the sides of the ships.

Our SPOT locator has sent out several HELP messages at www.witnessgaza.com.

Lubna Marsawa, Free Gaza’s organizer on the Turkish passenger boat said in outrage, “Very few times in history has a flotilla delivering humanitarian goods been welcomed by military war ships.”

This is a call to the world from the people on the boats. “We are a civilian people doing what our governments have refused to do, challenge Israel’s right to collectively punish 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza by blockading their right to their own sea. This flotilla is bringing construction and educational supplies the people of Gaza and are being met by Israeli warships.”

Contact: Huwaida Arraf on board the Challenger 0088 216 5207 2093 Ewa Jasciewica on board the Challenger 0088 163 184 7926 Greta Berlin 00 357 99 18 72 75 Mary Hughes 00 357 96 38 38 09 ‘

47 Responses

  1. I was very much afraid this would happen. People don’t seem to understand that those persons presently running Israel have absolutely no regard for others. They have no regard for other peoples rights, mental and physical health, property, ideals, religions or anything else you want to name. This is so reminiscent of Germanys horrific experiment in Nazism that it’s hard to believe the Jews were a primary victim of that black mark on the history of the Human Race.

    I’m afraid their admonition of “Never Forget” rings false in the ears of the rest of the world.

    • “I’m afraid their admonition of “Never Forget” rings false in the ears of the rest of the world.” Whose admonition? The Jews?

      “it’s hard to believe the Jews were a primary victim of that black mark on the history of the Human Race.” What does that statement mean exactly? 6 Million doesn’t make a a group a primary victim?

      I think I get the general idea though: Jews bad.

      • David,

        Not all Jews are evil, and I don’t think davr intended to imply that… although he kind of did by conflating all Jews with the IDF.

      • I think it’s pretty obvious what the statement means. It means that a.) Jews were a primary victim of the Holocaust (obviously _the_ primary victim), and b.) one would expect that the primary victims of the Holocaust would behave in a much more humane fashion.

      • I love how you completely ignore what actually took place and what it is that we are discussing here. Innocent people were murdered. I dont know what the author of the statements you are analyzing intended by them. Who knows? Maybe he or she is hiding some kind of anti-Semitic tendency but why on earth does that matter when we are talking about HUMAN BEINGS who were brutally attacked and murdered? I don’t care if we are talking about Jews, Palestinians or Swedes. The point is that an act of injustice was committed. Why do you and others insist on forcing your own pet issues into a situation like this? Try contributing to the more relevant discussion here. We have witnessed yet another instance in which human beings treat each other with complete indifference and malice. Save your cries of racism for a discussion on the topic (which is certainly valid) and stop trying to steer this whole thing straight into the gutter.

  2. If we want to know if a country is truly democratic shouldn’t we take a look at it’s freedom of press? Not even one tv station dared to report what the associated press is had repoted. CNN had couple of minutes of missinformation about the attack hours after it happened. Someone please tell me if we can say we live in a democratic united states without freedom of press being part of it. Thank you.

  3. Wow. What a massive screw-up on the behalf of the Israelis. Attacking with lethal force a humanitarian aid mission, and in international waters no less. This may prove to be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.

  4. This is a massacre, shocking even to the low israelis standards. First they are starving gazans, then they murder the people bringing them help. It is a despicable reality that my tax dollars are subsidizing this murderous and suffocating Occupation regime.
    As long as both democrats and republicans are supporting this atrocious band of israelis thugs nothing will change but i know for sure none of them will ever get my vote.
    Thank you professor for all your work on behalf of the voiceless and the oppressed.

  5. Keeping in mind that there is a sizable segment of the Israeli population that finds this piracy and murder on the high seas as appalling as the rest of the world; the Likud, Ultra-Orthodox cabal ruling and controlling the Zionist state have exposed the fundamental illegitimacy of the present government and state for the miserable brutish entity it is.

    The ongoing crimes against the Palestinian peoples must be terminated, with prejudice if necessary, and as pariahs for certain. The regime has lost all consideration to be considered a member of the civilized world, a status surrendered with the duplicitous “Cast Lead” slaughter of 1.6 million inmates of the outdoor prison called Gaza, half of whom were no more than defenseless, terrified, and starved children.

    Once the Zionist tradition possessed the integrity and reputation of justice. Those days are long past and shall never return, the stupendous ocean of blood on those hands would turn the stomach of even their god. It is time that the world cast aside the evil these people have become. This state was founded upon lies and will expire from those lies.

  6. I note… No western media … and then they wonder why in the middle-east and generally in the “south” they are considered as biased (obviously for them weather reporting is more important). Kudos to al-Jazeera and PressTV

  7. The extent to which Isreal’s actions create problems for the US in the entire Muslim world are vastly underestimated. This single issue severly undermines any and all outreach the US extends to the Muslims. The Palestine-Isreal issue has almost single handedly created an image of the US as irreconcilably hostile to the Muslims and this is the lens through which every issue is then seen. For example while the problems in Afghanistan are mostly local, the very fact that the US is seen as a generalized enemy of Islam and Muslim makes these problems infinitely more difficult to happen.

    Why the US has seen fit to tie itself so completely with a morally murky Isreal is to me the single greatest mystery of US foreign policy.

    Ali (www.thetallgreencap.blogspot.com)

  8. I meant “infinitely more difficult to solve” not “infinitely more difficult to happen”

    Ali- (www.thetallgreencap.blogspot.com)

  9. Hopefully, this atrocious incident will serve to waken the international community to the Palistinians’ cause and lead directly to the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and its illegal encroachment of Palestinian lands on the West Bank. The world has ignored the plight of the Palestinian people for too long. This must end now.

  10. Prof Cole: What can reasonable people in the US, with a conscience, do under such provocation? Where is the outrage? Where are our “leaders” who get hoarse talking about human rights, when it suits them to do so? What can we ordinary people do?

    (Just a short comment aside. That “It is a propaganda boon for Sunni extremists and Shiite activists such as Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, and for the Taliban in Afghanistan” as you comment, seems somewhat misplaced here)

  11. Israel commits piracy and murder on the open sea and so it goes. Our banal President Obama will say nothing about Israeli atrocity as of course, our banal President Obama is busy on his knees before Bibs Netanyahu. Israel continues the genocidal starvation and deprivation of Gaza and kills peace activists. Yeah, Israel is looking murderously bloody on this fine day.

  12. Prof. Cole:
    What can people with a conscience, in the US, do in the face of such aggression, provocation and disrespect of human rights? Where is the outrage from our citizens, and our “leaders” – especially the leaders who get hoarse talking about human rights when it suits them? What can we do?

  13. The parallels to North Korea’s sinking of the S. Korea patrol boat are striking. I’m waiting for a Security Council resolution and condemnation from Secretary Clinton, but won’t hold my breath.

  14. - Irish radio is reporting that one of the 8 Irish activists is “seriously wounded”.

    – 27 British people were onboard the flotilla (mostly on the Turkish ship that was first raided)

    – Sheikh Rayed Salah the poet and intellectual leader of the Arab Israeli’s is reported to be in emergency surgery after a gunshot wound to the head.

    – According to The Guardian live feed 1,000 protesters formed outside 10 Downing Street with main protests scheduled for 6 o clock. Dozens also outside Dublin’s Israeli Embassy with protests planned for this evening. 10’s of thousands protesting in Turkey and reports from Jordan and Egypt of people taking to the streets. Via Angry Arab peaceful protests in downtown Beirut at noon.

  15. This will be an interesting task for the symmetrists, those that always find an equality between Israel’s power and wealth, the Palestinians weakness and poverty. But surely the menace of a flotilla carrying 600 civilians and 10,000 pounds of aid, threatening to microscopically improve the conditions of the Spartans of Gaza, provides a good starting point.

  16. Professor Cole writes: “The Israeli Right is being paranoid and inhumane in this belief.”

    But it’s not only the Israeli right that believes that: it is most of Israeli society and many (perhaps most) of the Israeli left. Professor Cole’s manichean use of left/right, both in Israel and in the US, undermines his critical approach to both Israeli and American society.

    The left has not inherited all values of humanism and the right has not… the left/right terminology doesn’t do justice to the circumstances.

  17. I liked this bit:

    “We are a civilian people doing what our governments have refused to do, challenge Israel’s right to collectively punish 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza by blockading their right to their own sea.”

    I’m from Australia, whose government *bipartisanly* supports Israel, as does the publicly-funded broadcaster the AusBC, all obviously un-and anti-democratically. In the AusBC forums, the apologists get apparent free rein whilst some reasonable & substantiated comments critical of Israel are not published, aka are censored. So much for democratic free speech and voter influence = zero.

    There will never be peace without justice; Israel *must* be brought to respect the rights of the ELO/Os (erstwhile legal owner/occupiers,) mostly hapless Palestinians. Give the ELO/Os their land/property back!

  18. In the NYT it is being reported that the “Pro-Palestinian Activist” fired on the Israeli soldiers. Could there be any credibility to that report? Will Washington/Obama do more than regret the lose of life?

  19. […] According to longtime Mideast observer and specialist Juan Cole, there are two likely reasons for the violent incident aboard the Mavi Marmara were: “One is that the Israeli troops boarding the vessels met some sort of resistance and over-reacted. Aid volunteers are unlikely, however, to have posed much real challenge to trained special forces operatives. […]

  20. First off, this essentially means that Israel meant it when they declared a blockade. I’m sure the activists didn’t simply expect to be let through? This could mean their objective wasn’t food aid in the first place, but to simply provoke a reaction from the Israelis and generate more hate for them.

    I’d like to leave this vid here, it raises some questions for me on how innocent these ‘peace volunteers’ really are.

    link to webtv.hurriyet.com.tr

    You can clearly see in the video the protestors beating or attempting to beat the commandos with clubs, and
    at 3:33-3:35 or so you see a guy holding what is either a camera or a gun. There are flashes by it which make me think it isn’t a camera, though I’m no gun nut.

    Of course some could say they have all the reason to fight back, but as ‘peace’ protestors wouldn’t they simply being hypocritical to what they say they want? And seriously what unarmed civilian who didn’t have a deathwish would attempt to pick a fight with a man you know is trained by the military, and you see carries a weapon. These aren’t riot police, they are trained to kill, not disable.

    Once again, I don’t think these protestors are innocent unarmed civilians, they fought back against trained commandos, some possibly with deadly force (if that guy was carrying a gun). the Israeli’s fought back as well. there were deaths, and now people who already hate Israelis hate them more. Seems just as planned to me.

    • If every person – sorry, sand nigger – in Gaza starved to death, would you even blink?

      Or would you celebrate?

    • Anon,

      Have yo missed the point that Israeli soldiers attacked and boarded the civilian ship in international waters? This is called piracy and terrorism.

    • The Israelis attacked a civilian ship on international waters.

      That’s not the protocol to follow when inspecting a vessel that is going to cross your border. That’s piracy and an act of aggression.

      Imagine if the peace activists had attacked an Israeli customs officer or some other member of Israeli civilian government, who would have boarded the ship to discuss with the crew and inspect the ship. The outcome would have been more favourable to Israel.

      The operation was a disaster.

      Had the activists denied any access to the ships their progress could have been denied in multitude of ways. Violence is the last resort.

      It’s important that Israel is punished for its actions. The actions of the activists and the action of the Israeli navy are separate cases. The cases should be handled by international court or entity, because the actions took place on international waters, out of Israeli jurisdiction.

    • According to your “logic” the ships being boarded by somalis pirates are agent provocateurs and should be dealt with deadly force….That is too deep. Do you work for the propaganda arm of Tsahal by any chance?

    • Hasbara brigade sighting!

      My take on the IDF video is that the attackers are the crew of the ship. The Israelis must have killed someone in the crew while they raked the ship with gunfire, & the sailors snapped.

      • That is an astonishing claim. How can you possibly say that the attackers were the crew members? The attack began when heavily armed men illegally boarded a non-military vessel in international waters. By your logic we could claim that if an armed man kicks down your door in the middle of the night and you “attack” him then somehow you are the aggressor. This is another example of the obsession with ridiculous details that obscures the bigger picture. We did the same with the Iraq war. We start focusing on the acts of brutality committed by the “insurgents” instead of recognizing that the minute we illegally invaded a sovereign nation we lost what little moral standing we had. Innocent human beings were murdered in cold blood by the Israeli navy. It doesn’t matter who did it or why. Let’s stop the petty analysis and focus on justice here.

    • I don’t see your point here. Other than a desire to appear informed and insightful I can’t see why you would even bother to point any of this out. Why does it matter whether or not this was an act of provocation by the peace activists? Does that somehow justify the actions of the Israeli military? And who cares if it was “planned” as you say. How can that have any bearing on whether or not the actions of the Israeli navy were justified? You go from saying that a particular individual “might” have had a gun to declaring that the activists were not innocent unarmed civilians. What is your definition of innocent? What exactly did these activists do that puts their innocence in question? I have yet to hear of any illegal acts committed by them. That to me is the definition of innocence. You are also denying that they were unarmed by appealing to what you yourself admit is very limited evidence regarding the possibility of ONE man possessing a gun. As far as denying that they were civilians I have no idea how you can even make that claim. Finally, would you seriously call someone who claims to be a peace activist a hypocrite for simply defending themselves? Don’t you think that’s a little harsh? I consider myself a supporter of peace (as I think most people in the world are) but I can guarantee you that I would defend myself with violence if I were attacked. It baffles me how hard people like you try and discredit peace activists by holding them to ridiculous standards. These people were trying to do something kind for their fellow human beings. They may not have been up to your Gandhi-like standards of peace activism but it is clear that for them to take the risk that they did they were sincere in their desire to help others. Try applying your rigorous standards to the Israeli government (or most any government for that matter) and see what kind of hypocrisy you uncover. Somehow I dont think you will take the time to do so.

  21. […] 31 May 2010 8:42 am by Taylor Marsh […] The other possible reason is that the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a green light to the commandos to respond with excessive force. That is, the deaths and woundings may have been a brutally frank warning to any future Gaza aid activists that they are taking their lives in their hands if they plan any more flotillas to help the Palestinians. The Israeli far right may have felt that there was otherwise a danger that in a few months there would be an even bigger flotilla and that eventually the blockade of Gaza would be broken. – Juan Cole […]

  22. I’ve finally figured out what happened, I might be wrong but I don’t think so.

    The Israeli commandos landed on a Turkish boat, where the main fight was. Always unwise to go for Turks; they’re ready for a punchup under any circumstances. Very hard people.

    Now we hear that the two firearms they had were taken off Israeli commandos. That is, unarmed Turks were able to disarm two of the commandos, the finest troops Israel possesses. They were killed of course, but did they put up a fight! While the Israelis blasted in fear in all directions.

    This is bad news for the Israeli military; their best troops have difficulty in winning against even unarmed opposition. It’s another 2006.

    Though I don’t suppose we’ll be hearing of this in the media.

  23. Prof.Cole the headline should read ‘Israeli Terrorists Kill as Many as…’. It’s way past time to cut ALL aid to Israel and start sanctions.

  24. I daresay that because of this massacre all our efforts, the decade-long sacrifice of American blood and treasure, are now all in vain.

  25. Monsieru Gonzo brings up an intersting point at 1.41 pm. “I daresay that because of this massacre all our efforts, the decade-long sacrifice of American blood and treasure, are now all in vain.”

    So, if you had an ally that was consistently scuppering all of your plans, voiding the significance of the the lives and wealth expended in those plans, would you continue to front for that ally at all costs? Send them more money?

  26. “There are two possible reasons for the violence. One is that the Israeli troops boarding the vessels met some sort of resistance and over-reacted. Aid volunteers are unlikely, however, to have posed much real challenge to trained special forces operatives.

    The other possible reason is that the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a green light to the commandos to respond with excessive force. That is, the deaths and woundings may have been a brutally frank warning to any future Gaza aid activists that they are taking their lives in their hands if they plan any more flotillas to help the Palestinians. The Israeli far right may have felt that there was otherwise a danger that in a few months there would be an even bigger flotilla and that eventually the blockade of Gaza would be broken.”

    There are many other possible reasons, such as that the troops just did what violent troops do (we hear about our own troops in Afghanistan killing civilians all the time) without the “green light” of the Israeli government.

    • This really makes the most sense. There were a dozen standard ways to effectively intercept those ships: the Israelis wanted to make a point, and at least in the immediate aftermath I fully expect there was a lot of smug That’ll-Teach-Those-Monkeys, and See-If-They-Try-THAT-s***-Again understandings.

      Big PR chess match going on here, and this was a horrible move by Israel. Still, they’ve been able to dominate the airwaves and are spinning the narrative mightily, against all odds. We’ll see if, as usual, they can sell this bilge to masses in the US. If not, things may actually begin to change, and for the better.

      But its not over yet. Despite the (original, presumed) Israeli smugness, I understand other boats are now enroute. If so, will Israel assert its “special status prerogatives” once again?

      If the Pal’s, Hamas, etal, can refrain from the suicide bombers, etc, and focus on the PR front, they may here have an opportunity they would have otherwise never seen, trying to fight the IDF/Israel on their own terms.

  27. […] but something that was done very deliberately? That, according to U-M professor Juan Cole, is a distinct possibility. Here’s a clip: …There are two possible reasons for the violence. One is that the […]

  28. […] The crisis began when Israel fired on a flotilla of boats carrying supplies to Gaza, killing 10 peop… Israel has a blockade of shipments to Gaza, but the ships were in International waters and one of the ships boarded was the Turkish ship Marmara. Israel is currently holding 480 activists from the flotilla. […]

  29. It always amazes me how complicated the discussion becomes on these forums. It seems that people get so caught up in the details and minutia that they seem to miss the very clear, simple point here; INNOCENT PEOPLE WERE MURDERED! It’s that simple. Enough with the partisanship and blatant biases! We need to take this event OUT of the historical context in which it occurred and judge it for what it is; just another example of the despicable way in which we humans treat each other. I am so sick of people coming out of the woodwork with their pet theories and their armchair political analysis. WHO CARES! Justice for the victims is what is needed here. Not the same old partisan, racist, petty bullshit. I challenge anyone here to justify this atrocity on any grounds whatsoever. To hell with your loyalties and your petty ideologies! We need to start dispensing justice without regard to the “political implications” of doing so. The cowardice of our world leaders is shameful and completely baffling to me. Israel and ANY other nation (including the US) must be taught that this kind of brutality cannot and will not go unpunished.

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