“The fact finding mission concluded that a series of violations of international law, including international human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to detention.”
Summary of the report of the international fact finding mission to investigate violations of international law.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — September 22, 2010. On September 22nd the Brooklyn Law School was the site of a most interesting panel discussion on the subject, Flotilla: Fact, Fiction and the Law. The speakers were Fatima Mohammadi, a lawyer who was part of the flotilla and aboard the Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos attacked the ship, Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, news analyst on Washington Journal (C-Span), Majority Report (Air America), and To The Point (Public Radio International), blogger, and Salon.com columnist, and Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. He was also an advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid peace conference (1991) and has been a guest on many TV and radio shows. The event was sponsored by: Network of Arab-American Professionals of NY, Muslim Law Students Association at BLS, Islamic Law Students Association at BLS, National Lawyers Guild – BLS Chapter, Adalah-NY, and Brooklyn for Peace. Months after the flotilla to Gaza was attacked there was still great interest in hearing what these speakers had to say. The auditorium at the BLS Subotnik Center was filled to capacity and people had to be turned away.
Fatima Mohammadi spoke first. She is an activist who has been in Gaza several times and has witnessed the horrific living conditions there. Mohammadi brought a part of the Cultures of Resistance film that was successfully smuggled off the Mavi Marmara when the IDF was searching and confiscating all the photos and videos from the passengers so that there would be nothing to counter the Israeli line fed to the press after the assault. It was a very good copy of the video and she did a commentary as the video was viewed which was very helpful in understanding exactly what was happening at several points. It showed the arrival of the Zodiac boats in the pre-dawn darkness, blood splattered on the walls before the helicopter arrival (Israel claimed that the IDF only shot passengers as the IDF came down from the helicopters), commandos shooting from the upper deck before the arrival of the helicopters arrived, red laser lights from the weapons targeting people on a lower deck, also before the helicopters arrived, and a book with photographs of some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara that was confiscated from an Israeli soldier. It is not known if it was meant to be a hit list or a capture alive list. Passengers could be seen throwing onions at the soldiers and using a sling shot against a helicopter. There were many people bleeding from gunshot wounds. That was the only kind of injury, indicating that they had made no direct physical contact with the commandos. Passengers were carrying them below deck where others were desperately trying to save them. The injured were surprisingly calm. Several had been taking photographs at the time they were shot.
Mohammadi said that the Israelis gave no medical aid to the injured and dying until hours later when the ship docked in Israel. The air conditioning was turned off on the ship and she could smell the blood of those injured in the next room. She sat with the captain’s one year old son sleeping on her lap. A soldier, face covered by the black hood he was wearing, kept looking at the child. She asked him if he had a son too. His response was to point his weapon at the head of the sleeping child.
One passenger onboard, an Australian, who was badly injured was taken to an Israeli hospital for surgery when they docked. He said the doctors there treated him well but the soldier guarding him beat him while he was in the hospital.
At one point she stopped the video – there was too much to see (it can be viewed on line: youtube – Israeli Attack on the Mavi Marmara).
She said that Israel had circulated lies about the events that night. There were no weapons on the ship. People fought the commandos that attacked them with objects at hand – like tools. The purpose of the flotilla was not to anger or provoke Israel. It was to help the people of Gaza and show them that they are not forgotten. It was also to call the attention of the world to what was happening there. When Mohammadi was there last year she spoke to parents who had to walk around picking up their children’s body parts after Operation Cast Lead. One family lost 29 members leaving only 4 little girls, now orphans, alive.
Today people all over the world are raising money to send a ship in the flotilla this fall. In the U.S. fundraising continues. “Do you have any idea of the effect, the symbolism, that will have?”, she asked. It will be a repudiation of the U.S. policy of unlimited aid to Israel. This fall there will be 3 efforts to break the blockade. A convoy going overland through Europe to get aid to Gaza through the Raffah crossing. Then the Viva Palestina convoy which will travel through Europe to Syria where they will take a ferry. Then, finally, another flotilla which the U.S. boat, the Audacity of Hope, flying an American flag, will be part of. The 3 groups will be bringing mostly building supplies and prefab housing so that the homes, schools, hospitals and roads destroyed in Operation Cast Lead can be repaired.
When the people in the last flotilla were released after spending a few days in an Israeli jail they were met by people from their country’s consulates but the Americans were not – no government officials were there for them.
She ended by saying that all had a role to play in this struggle. Put your body on the line by going on a convoy or make a financial contribution, support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, and spread the truth.
Glenn Greenwald spoke next. He said he was going to focus on what it was about this episode that resonated and caused such a strong reaction. The condemnation around the world was more visceral than we’ve seen before. Diplomatic leaders abandoned niceties. It was hard to see a ship with a humanitarian mission be attacked with such brutal aggression. Lives were wiped out in cold blood for no reason. U.S. commentators were struck dumb – they didn’t reflexively defend Israel. In the first few days the pro-Israel propaganda machine was disoriented, stunned by the criticism in the U.S. media but after about 3 days they had their story down: the people on the ship were the true aggressors, they were terrorists. How the Israeli and the U.S. propaganda apparatus responded is a potent illustration for how fiction, or lies, could deceive. It showed how suffocating and false our discourse is and how the pro-Israel propaganda is maintained in the U.S. media.
The legal issues were totally distorted. First, the IDF seized all documentary evidence of what took place. Then they arrested all on board the Mavi Marmara and the other ships so Israel could create their own narrative without contradiction. Israel created a video that began in the middle of the event. It looked like the passengers on the ship initiated the aggression, fighting the IDF when they climbed down from the helicopters (which they would have had the right to do since this was an act of piracy on international waters). The manipulated video didn’t start with the actual beginning of the event – the Zodiacs filled with commandos attacking the passengers. A video can be started at any point in an event to make it look like the other party started the aggression. As unsophisticated as this attempt was, U.S. media kept showing the video without questioning it. Greenwald added, imagine if 2 sides are in a dispute and 1 side gets to hold back and manipulate the evidence. You ought not trust what you are being shown but there was no skepticism. Israel refused to release videos made on the ship and because of that the finger of guilt should have been pointed at them. Instead the lies went unchallenged. Once again they were allowed to present themselves as a victim, as always and without deviation.