Almost four years ago after the Israeli 22 day attack on Gaza that killed 1440, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless, in late January, 2009, I travelled to Gaza and witnessed the terrible destruction.
Now 4 years later, the Israelis have mounted another major military attack on Gaza that so far has killed 97 and wounded at least 780 Palestinians.
During these past four years I joined international citizen activists in many projects to educate our fellow citizens about the frequent Israeli military attacks on Gaza, the land and sea blockade of Gaza, the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians, the illegal settlements built by the Israeli government in the West Bank and the apartheid walls that separate children from schools, farmers from their land and workers from their employment.
One of those projects is to break the naval blockade of Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement attempted to sail 8 boats to Gaza in 2008 and 2009 and five ships made it into Gaza. After the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, ships attempting to enter Gaza were rammed by the Israeli navy. So in May, 2010, a flotilla of six ships was formed to attempt to break the naval blockade at the same time. The name of the flotilla was the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
After receiving no punishment for the violence wrecked on the Palestinians in Gaza in 2009, the Israeli political leadership and military had no qualms about using violence on the international passengers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla who were challenging the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Israeli commandos brutally attacked all six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine, wounding 50 and assaulting many more passengers. After the attack ended, passengers were then taken against their will to Israel, put in prison for several days and then deported from Israel for “entering Israel illegally.” Turkish Airlines flew most of the passengers from Israel to Turkey and then on to their home countries.
Most of us passengers had not seen each other since we left Turkey two and one-half years ago, until last week (November 6 and 7, 2012) when hundreds of us returned to Istanbul as witnesses in in the first court hearing concerning the Israeli attack on the ships, one of the few judicial looks at Israeli violence toward either Palestinians or internationals. Flotilla passengers from South Africa, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Palestine and Lebanon as well as many passengers from Turkey testified in the court hearing.
The court hearing was held in Seventh Criminal Court in Istanbul. The former chief of staff of the Israeli military, General Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Naval Forces commander, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, the former military intelligence chief, Major General Amos Yadlin, and the former head of Air Force intelligence, Brigadier General Avishai Levy, had been indicted on May 28, 2012, of charges including premeditated murder, attempted premeditated murder, aggravated assault, assault, aggravated looting, hijacking or illegal seizure of train or sea craft, aggravated criminal damage to property, torture, unlawful detention and imprisonment. All four officers have retired from the Israeli military. None appeared at the court hearing.
The 144 page indictment includes the autopsy reports of the 9 persons killed by Israeli commandos and reveals that 5 of those killed were shot a close-range, execution style.
After numerous investigations including two by the Israeli government, one by the Turkish government and one by the United Nations Human Rights Council, this is the first judicial proceeding concerning the Israeli attack on the six ships.
Joe Meadors and I were the only two out of 17 Americans who were on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla who were able to attend this session of the court. Joe is a survivor of TWO Israeli naval attacks. 45 years ago, in June, 1967, he was a sailor on a US naval ship, the USS Liberty, in which 34 Americans were killed in the nine-hour Israeli attack on the ship off the coast of Gaza. Another 171 sailors were wounded. Then, in 2010, Joe volunteered to be on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which was challenging the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
Joe was on the Sfendoni vessel with 30 other passengers. He was hit by a paint bullet and witnessed others being assaulted and beaten by Israeli soldiers.
Joe Meadors interviewed outside the Istanbul court building
With history repeating itself, just as the United States government did not hold Israel accountable for its attack on the USS Liberty, now 45 years later, the US government has not held the Israeli government accountable for the death of an American citizen Furkan Dogan, one of the nine who was assassinated/executed by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara.
Furkan’s father testified at the court hearing, telling the Turkish court that the United States government has not held an independent investigation of the murder of his son, but instead US State Department officials told him that the United States government would rely on the investigation done by the Israeli government. He testified that the autopsy of his son revealed that he was shot five times and three of the shots were considered lethal including two in the head at very close range. The autopsy conclusion was that Furkan was killed by bullets that caused fractures of his skull, his ribs and limb bones that caused internal bleeding, cerebral hemorrhage and brain tissue destruction.
I, as a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq, had travelled to Gaza in 2009 after the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza. I had helped organize 3 trips to Gaza in 2009 for concerned international activists and also assisted with the Gaza Freedom March that brought 1,300 Palestinian supporters to Cairo in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza in December, 2009, one year after the Israeli attack on Gaza.
I was on the Challenger 1 vessel with 17 other passengers. Our boat was off the port stern of the Mavi Marmara and we witnessed the percussion grenades hitting the ship and heard pings that later turned out to be live rounds fired by Israeli commandos into the ship.
On the Challenger 1, the Israeli commandos fired percussion grenades into the windows breaking them out and sending glass flying onto the deck. Commandos tasered a woman journalist and fired paint balls directly into the face of another woman passenger, barely missing her eye, and causing her nose to bleed profusely. Commandos threw two women passengers onto the deck, smashed their faces into the glass, then put hoods on their glass-pocked faces.
At the airport, we had to run a gantlet of uniformed military and police officers from the bus in which we had been imprisoned for five hours with no water, food or toilet facilities. As we began climbing the stairs into the airport, one of the police leaned out from their crowd and slapped one of our women passengers causing a near riot.
But it was the testimony in the court of passengers on the Mavi Marmara that told the story of the murders of nine and wounding of 50. Journalist Hassan Ghani told of seeing the body of Cevdet Kiliclar, who oversaw the press room of the ship. He had been shot a point-blank range through the forehead and with fellow passenger kneeling beside Cevdet trying to put his brains back into his skull. Canadian Kevin Neish told of finding a “hit” list that had fallen from the backpack of an Israeli soldier and of helping carry the injured and wounded down the stairways to the tiny medical office.
Laura Aura of Spain told of passengers having to kneel on the outside deck for hours in the intense sun with helicopters hovering overhead sending salt water spray onto them. Commandos refused to let passengers use the bathroom and many had to soil themselves.
Summaries of many other witnesses who testified in Turkish are found at: http://www.ihh.org.tr/taniklar-israil-saldirisi-ve-sonrasindaki-ihlalleri-anlatti/en/
If the Turkish court convicts the accused, then international arrest warrants can be issued and INTERPOL would be required to arrest them if they leave Israel, for virtually any country other than the United States. The Turkish judgment could also be used as a basis for further judicial proceedings in the International Criminal Court, although Israel, like the United States, is not a signatory to the ICC.
The next court hearing in Istanbul is February 21, 2013.
However, the fact that a court has looked at the evidence of the events on the Mavi Marmara that resulted in the deaths of nine and the wounding of fifty is a major step in attempting to hold accountable those who planned the attack.
Today, as Israel continues to attack the people of Gaza, on behalf of the civilian populations, we plead for governments to use their influence on the Israeli government to end their attacks and we plead with the militants in Gaza to stop firing rockets into Gaza.
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a US diplomat for 16 years in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.