Friday, 22 October 2010

"The Bloodstained Mavi Marmara"

Sefik Dinc is a well-respected photo-journalist, working for the Turkish newspaper, Haberturk. Together with 16 other Turkish journalists, he was on board the Mavi Marmara on its ill-fated voyage last May to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. He not only succeeded in photographing the violent confrontation between the IHH and the Israeli military, but managed to conceal his photographs from the Israeli security forces, and then smuggled them into Turkey.

Subsequently Dinc published his eye-witness account of events on board the Mavi Marmara. His newspaper Haberturk carried his first testimony; later he published an even fuller account in his book "The Bloodstained Mavi Marmara."

In the foreword to his book, Dinc writes: “Let’s face it, the Mavi Marmara crisis was a calculated gamble. People on the street said that Israel would not let the siege be broken. The Turkish government, by not preventing the incident, and the IHH, by insisting on entering Gaza, led to a harsh, non-compromising reaction from Israel, destabilizing the Middle East region again”.

In the last week of September, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a 56-page report on the Mavi Marmara incident. Compiled by a panel of international judges and lawyers, the report accuses Israel of a myriad of violations of international law and war crimes perpetrated against the flotilla. Sefik Dinc’s account flatly contradicts the UNHRC report on major aspects of what they claimed to have occurred.

For example, the UNHRC’s report maintains that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used live ammunition from the helicopters before the soldiers landed, and that the IDF abused the male passengers, as well as sexually insulted the female passengers. Sefik Dinc, however, testifies that the IDF soldiers did not fire from the helicopters or while descending to the ship’s deck. The IDF soldiers started to use their weapons after they were attacked by violent activists using metal rods, and after they discovered that IDF soldiers had been taken below deck.

“The Sikorsky helicopter began to approach the ship,” writes Dinc in his Haberturk article. “Coming over the ship, the helicopter began to descend slowly, and I moved to a place where I’d be better able to take better pictures. When it was about three metres away, commandos began to descend on ropes. The three Israeli commandos who descended via rope to the pilothouse began to brawl with the volunteers waiting here on the ship. In the mêlée, one soldier was almost cast into the sea, but some members of the group were opposed to it. With the Israeli troops disarmed, the sound of the gunfire from the helicopters began to change. The rubber bullets fired by Israeli commandos were now real bullets.”

In other words, he testifies that IDF soldiers did not open fire until after other soldiers were attacked and taken hostage. Dinc’s account is consistent with the testimonies of the Israeli soldiers who boarded the Mavi Marmara. They completely contradict the narrative constructed by the IHH (the Turkish Islamist organisation, Insani Yardim Vakfi) about the flotilla events, which relies on the testimony of activists who were on board and were the basis for the flawed report compiled by the UN Human Rights Council.

Dinc’s photographs and his account match a great deal of other information [see my article: “The flotilla incident – cynical and sinister” of 13 June 2010], according to which IHH operatives had devised a carefully prepared plan aimed at fomenting a violent confrontation with the IDF. The author photographed IHH operatives beating IDF soldiers with iron bars and clubs taken from a secret stash, kidnapping three of them, beating injured IDF soldiers after they were kidnapped, and trying to throw one of them into the sea.

In his book, Dinc says that some of the volunteers on board the Mavi Marmara, during lively discussions about the possibility of Israel attacking the ship, expressed their readiness to die as long as the “siege” was broken. While waiting for the confrontation, some IHH operatives began training for a potential Israeli attack. They were also told that, as soon as the ship entered Israel’s territorial waters, additional guards would be deployed and passengers would be given a warning signal. Each person in charge of passenger security was given a specific location to report to when the alarm sounded.

“By the time the soldiers started boarding the ship,” runs the caption to one of Dinc’s vivid pictures, “the passengers had already completed their preparations. They had put on lifebelts and gas masks and began resisting the Israeli soldiers using the iron bars and wooden clubs they held in their hands.”

Dinc has something to say about those iron bars: “They were made from the railing around the ship.” In short, as part of the IHH’s prearranged plan, metal cutting equipment had been brought on board that could sever the ship’s rails in order to construct weapons. In fact, about a hundred iron bars of different lengths were found on board the Mavi Marmara, made from the ship's iron railing. Also found were 50 improvised clubs, as well as standard-issue clubs brought on the ship and hidden inside rolled-up blankets.

Moreover, there is reason to believe that IHH operatives and their supporters fired live ammunition as soon as the first soldiers descended from the helicopter. One Israeli soldier suffered a knee injury from a non-IDF weapon as soon as he came on board the ship. If IDF forces returned fire using live ammunition, it appears that they did so because their lives were at risk.

It would seem that IHH operatives used three weapons against IDF soldiers that had been taken from the Israelis, and that two of them were thrown into the sea, as were one or two non-IDF weapons. At least one of these was used to fire on the commandos descending from the helicopter. The IHH's version that shots were fired from the helicopters at the Turkish operatives is not borne out by Dinc’s account. No shots were fired from the helicopter.

On 24 September Sefik Dinc was interviewed on Israeli TV by Rafael Sadi, the spokesman for the Organization of Turkish Immigrants in Israel.

Sadi: According to your eyewitness account, IDF soldiers only opened fire when they felt that their own lives or the lives of their fellow soldiers were in danger.
Dinc: As you know, I was on board the ship. I saw with my own eyes that when the soldiers came on helicopters and started landing on the ship, they did not fire. It wasn’t until the soldiers were met with resistance and realized that some of their friends’ lives were in danger that they began using live ammunition.

As for the United Nations Human Rights Council charge that the IDF had abused male passengers, and sexually assaulted female passengers:
Sadi: In your book, you describe cases of humane treatment from IDF soldiers [of the detained ship passengers], such as removing their handcuffs, and even an interesting encounter in Israel with a Jew of Turkish descent who gave you his mobile phone.
Dinc: The soldiers uncuffed some people who were having difficulties, particularly older people, women, and people who did not act aggressively. As for the Israeli policeman, his Turkish was excellent. We spoke, and he said that he had immigrated to Israel from Istanbul. He asked me if I contacted my family and whether I had a telephone to make a call. I told him I didn’t, and then he gave me his own mobile phone so that I could call my family. I thank him again.

Meanwhile, in Israel the Turkel Commission, whose members include Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lord Trimble, continues its investigation into the events surrounding the Mavi Marmara incident. Its latest move has been to issue an invitation to any Turkish citizens who were on board to travel to Israel and testify. In the light of the evidence that has come to light, and of subsequent eye-witness accounts like those of Sefik Dinc, their final report is unlikely to reflect the conclusions of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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