When Israeli naval personnel descended onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara (31 May 2010), their mission was to prevent the flotilla from violating the maritime blockade on Gaza. The soldiers thought they would meet up with peaceful protestors and had come prepared to talk. Unfortunately, the mob came prepared for battle.
The violence on the vessel was not the result of a verbal conflict that escalated. Nor was it caused by a heavy-handed Israeli approach (the soldiers openly carried only paintball guns used for crowd dispersal). Rather, it was a premeditated act, starting before the naval personnel set foot on board.
Each soldier was attacked as they slid down from helicopters on ropes. Groups surrounded them and proceeded to beat them with clubs and stab them with knives. Two soldiers were shot. The gangs were organized and ready for a fight: their weapons and tactics had been prepared in advance. The perpetrators tied one of the helicopter’s steel cables to the vessel’s antenna, attempting to crash it into the Marmara. This was no spontaneous demonstration; rather it was a planned ambush.
The calculated nature of the attack can be seen in the quotes of flotilla organizers and participants in the days leading up to the horrific incident:
• "If Israel wants to board this ship, it will meet strong resistance." [IHH leader Bulent Yildirim, Turkish state television channel TRT 1, 30 May 2010]
• "They [the Israelis] are going to have to forcefully stop us." [Flotilla organizer Huwaida Arraf, Haaretz, 31 May 2010]
• "We will definitely resist and we will not allow the Israelis to enter here."
[Bulent Yildirim, Turkish television channel NTV, 30 May 2010]
• "Khayber, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Mohammed will return!" [Flotilla participants referring to slaughter of Jews by Muslims in the 7th century, Al-Jazeera, 29 May 2010]
• "Right now we face one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza." [Flotilla participant, Al-Jazeera, 29 May 2010]
Despicably, Yildirim made his comments holding a small child in his arms while a child was kept on the bridge to be used as a human shield.
Perhaps the violent attacks shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the Turkish group’s history. IHH, a flotilla organizing group, has an extreme anti-Western, particularly anti-American, orientation. While it does conduct legitimate humanitarian activities, it also engages in providing support for radical Islamic networks such as Hamas. Evidence provided by American and European sources shows that – at least in the past – the IHH has supported global jihad elements, including al-Qaeda, by acquiring forged documents, enlisting operatives and transferring weapons.
The entire flotilla operation was a provocation aimed at obtaining a political goal, and not at providing humanitarian aid. Indeed, flotilla organizers made their motives clear in comments to the press. One spokesperson stated that "this mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege." [Greta Berlin, AFT, 27 May 2010]. Their plan was to open up a sea-corridor to Gaza, an objective that would allow Hamas to freely import weapons and terrorist operatives.
Others on the flotilla had a more nefarious goal. They gathered on the Mavi Marmara with the aim of provoking a violent confrontation. By attacking Israeli soldiers with calculated lethal force, they achieved that objective. Whether they achieve their further ambitions of delegitimizing Israel and its inherent right of self-defense depends on the rest of the world. Will it correctly identify the instigators of this premeditated violence or will it fall into the trap of automatically condemning Israel for bloodshed not of it making?
The organizers of the Gaza flotilla announced in advance (May 30) their intention of using violence against Israeli forces if the latter tried to prevent the ships from reaching Gaza. This intention was expressed in interviews given by the head of the IHH, Bulent Yildirim, to Turkish television stations on the last night of the voyage, as the ships approached the coast. Following are two examples. The interviews can be find in the archive of the IHH website:
Interview with Bulent Yildirim, head of IHH
Interviewer: Welcome; we have a small guest as well.
Bulent Yildirim: We’ve now entered the critical hours. What we’re really talking about here is humanitarian aid, and this small child will always remember this journey in the future. The boy’s picture will certainly pique Israeli public opinion.
Interviewer: What makes this voyage so critical?
Yildirim: Israel is using its naval fleet against women, children and elderly people. Civil rights organization representatives are here, and the whole world will see what’s happening here. We will definitely resist and we will not allow the Israelis to enter here.
(see the first three minutes of the video)
2. Interview on the Turkish state television channel TRT 1, broadcast the evening of 30 May 2010:
Bulent Yildirim: The Israelis think that the more soldiers they send, the less casualties there will be among the activists. On this ship there are also women and children. The whole world knows this. We’ll show them what is means to board the ship. If Israel wants to board this ship, it will meet strong resistance.
(see min. 96:00 of the video)