CRITICAL UPDATES at end of article.
It's now all over the headlines: "Israeli Soldiers Kill at Least 10 Protesters on Boat Carrying Supplies to Gaza."
But with all stories, there are indeed two sides.
As international outrage mounts, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancels Tuesday's scheduled meeting with President Obama, it is crucial that news outlets here offer an accurate, fair and balanced assessment of exactly what transpired in the Mediterranean Sea early Monday morning.
The left-wing activists on board a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip tried to lynch the Israel Navy commandos who stormed their Turkish-flagged ship early Monday, Israel Defense Forces sources told Haaretz.
The commandos, who intercepted the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara after it ignored orders to turn back, said they encountered violent resistance from activists armed with sticks and knives. According to the soldiers, the activists threw one of their comrades from the upper deck to the lower after they boarded.
Activists attacked a commando with iron bars as he descended onto the ship from a helicopter, the army said. The IDF said its rules of engagement allowed troops to open fire in what it called a "life-threatening situation".
The soldiers said they were forced to open fire after the activists struck one of their comrades in the head and trampled on him. A senior field commander ordered the soldiers then to respond with fire, a decision which the commandos said received full backing the military echelon. [...]
The military said in a statement: "Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval blockade (of the Gaza Strip) ... During the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the protesters, who attacked them with live fire." [...]
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists were on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators.
Israel's Ynet reported Monday:
Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.
However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.
One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows. The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other "don't shoot, don't shoot," even though they sustained numerous blows. [...]
The forces hurled stun grenades, yet the rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandoes who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter. At one point, the attackers nabbed one commando, wrested away his handgun, and threw him down from the top deck to the lower deck, 30 feet below. The soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost his consciousness.
Only after this injury did Flotilla 13 troops ask for permission to use live fire. The commander approved it: You can go ahead and fire. The soldiers pulled out their handguns and started shooting at the rioters' legs, a move that ultimately neutralized them. Meanwhile, the rioters started to fire back at the commandoes.
"I saw the tip of a rifle sticking out of the stairwell," one commando said. "He fired at us and we fired back. We didn't see if we hit him. We looked for him later but couldn't find him." Two soldiers sustained gunshot wounds to their knee and stomach after rioters apparently fired at them using guns wrested away from troops.
Ynet further reported:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that the organizers of the flotilla to Gaza were responsible for the deadly Israel Defense Forces raid of the ships, which left at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists dead and dozens injured.
Speaking at a joint press briefing with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navy Commander Eliezer Marom, Barak said, "We express our regret over the injuries, but the sail's organizers and its participants are fully responsible."
He added that a violent incident took place on only one of the six ships involved in the sail.
"The State of Israel appealed to the organizers before the ships set sail and during the sail and invited them to arrive at the Ashdod Port and transfer the aid to Gaza after security checks," he said. "All of our appeals were turned down. The soldiers were attacked after arriving at one of the ships. Some were injured by serious physical violence on the part of the protestors. [...]
"In light of the life-threatening situation, the soldiers were forced to use crowd dispersal means and firearms," he said, adding that some of the casualties were killed by firearms. According to Barak, 10 soldiers were injured in the incident, some from firearms and some from cold arms.
"The IHH organization, which was behind these unruly ship, is a violent and radical organization acting under the cover of humanitarian activity," Barak argued.
"This is the time for responsibility and I call on everyone to act with restraint and common sense and not let an anarchistic organization and radical elements seeking to undermine the public order to take advantage of this unfortunate incident for violence."
To be sure, these are reports from Israeli news agencies. However, readers are reminded that Barak used to be Israel's Prime Minister that was highly-regarded by our press due to his dovish positions.
That said, some American outlets are already offering Israel's side of the story.
Here's a video report from the Associated Press:
CNN.com offered the following Monday:
An Israeli commando said upon descending into a boat with ropes, he was immediately attacked by a group of people.
"They beat us up with metal sticks and knives," he said. "There was live fire at some point against us... They were shooting at us from below deck."
Some of the soldiers were tossed from the top deck to a lower deck by the activists, and jumped in the water to save themselves, he said.
Unfortunately, the article's title was, "Israeli Military Gives Version of Flotilla Incident." The word "version" does imply a bit of skepticism on the part of CNN, wouldn't you say?
Which makes the reporting of this incident so crucial in the coming days. Netanyahu has already canceled his scheduled meeting with Obama as a result of what transpired Monday morning:
Netanyahu and Obama were set to discuss, among other things, the recently completed U.N. conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to an earlier statement from the Israeli government.
The final document released by participants in the month-long conference, which ended Friday, called for a 2012 conference of all Middle Eastern states to move forward on a 1995 proposal for a nuclear-free Mideast. The document also called on Israel to sign the treaty and place "all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards."
Israel is not a member of the NPT and has neither confirmed nor denied that it has a nuclear weapons stockpile.
The Israeli government said in a statement the conference's document is "deeply flawed and hypocritical" and said it "ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world." The statement also complained that Israel is singled out in the document and Iran, which is a signatory to the NPT, is not mentioned.
As readers are likely aware, relations between America and Israel are currently more strained than they've been in decades as Netanyahu was largely snubbed by Obama when he was here in March.
This makes it imperative for America's normally pro-Palestinian media to be as diligent as ever in how this flotilla incident is reported.
As Ed Morrissey noted Monday:
The world will blame Israel for this, but the blockade exists to keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas, which continually attacks Israel despite the latter's withdrawal from Gaza years ago. It's a legitimate and necessary military response to Hamas' terrorism, and the flotilla knowingly sailed itself into a military conflict - and carried arms into it as well
Taking this further, NewsBusters reported last month that anti-Semitic acts of violence around the world more than doubled in 2009.
As this flotilla incident is already sparking anti-Israeli sentiment across the globe, the press need to exercise great caution in making sure they don't consciously or unconsciously fan the flames of discontent that are already spreading.
If this incident was indeed precipitated and/or inflamed by pro-Palestinian activists aboard that vessel, it is incumbent upon America's media to make sure its reports convey the truth.
Our future relations with our greatest ally in the Middle East might depend on it.
*****Update: As media report this incident, they might want to give some background about one of the groups participating in this aid flotilla.
1. Prominent among the coalition organizations participating in the aid flotilla scheduled to arrive in the Gaza Strip in the coming days is the Turkish IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi, IHH, "humanitarian relief fund"). It is a radical Islamic organization which was established in 1992 and formally registered in Istanbul in 1995. [...]
3. In practice, besides its legitimate humanitarian activities, IHH supports radical Islamic terrorist networks. In recent years it has prominently supported Hamas (through the Union of Good). In addition, the ITIC has reliable information that in the past IHH provided logistical support and funding to global jihad networks.
4. IHH's orientation is radical-Islamic and anti-American, and it is close to the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas' parent movement). IHH supports Hamas and does not hide the connection between them. Hamas also considers its links to IHH and Turkey to be extremely important, and regards Turkey as a target audience for its propaganda network (Palestine-Information, Hamas' main website, has a Turkish version, and as of the end of 2009, the website of its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has also appeared in Turkish).
5. In recent years, especially since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, IHH has supported Hamas' propaganda campaigns by organizing public support conferences in Turkey. At those conferences, which featured the participation of senior IHH figures, the heads of IHH expressed their support for Hamas and its strategy (including the armed struggle it favors), in defiance of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival.
6. IHH is a member of the Union of Good, an umbrella organization of more than 50 Islamic funds and foundations around the globe, which channels money into Hamas institutions in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories. As a Union of Good member IHH has connections with other worldwide Islamic funds and foundations which support Hamas. Among other things, the support includes initiating and conducting joint projects whose objectives are to bolster the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip and Hamas' civilian infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, which also supports terrorism (the infrastructure is under pressure from the Palestinian Authority security services). IHH, which has become an important factor in global fund-raising for Hamas, transfers significant amounts of money to Hamas institutions in Judea and Samaria, including the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron and the Al-Tadhamun Charitable Society in Nablus (Hamas' two central "charitable societies," both outlawed by Israel). [...]
9. Israel outlawed IHH because of its affiliation with the Union of Good and because it is an important factor in Hamas' global fund raising. It was included in a decision made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in 2008 which outlawed 36 associations which belonged to the Union of Good (IHH appeared as number 36 on the list4). [...]
11. The ITIC has reliable information indicating that in the past IHH had links with global jihad and Islamic terrorist elements in the Middle East. As part of its connections with the global jihad it supported jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
12. That was manifested by logistic support for the transfer of weapons and money. This information verifies findings of a study conducted by a Danish research institute into IHH's past links with Al-Qaeda (See below). [...]
14. In 2006 a Danish research institute called the Danish Institute for International Studies conducted a study which reported that in the past IHH had connections with Al-Qaeda and global jihad operatives.5 The well-documented study was conducted by Evan Kohlman,6 an American researcher who specializes in Al-Qaeda and related subjects. It deals with the involvement of Islamic charity funds and foundations in supporting terrorism. [...]
19. IHH is prominent among the many pro-Palestinian organizations in Turkey participating in the aid flotilla, which will reach the Gaza Strip in the coming days. Its participation is part of the massive aid it gives Hamas and its desire to make propaganda capital for Hamas and itself.
Will America's media share these details with the public?
*****Update II: Al-Jazeera on Friday broadcast a piece called "Freedom Flotilla." MEMRI has published a rather disturbing clip of this program filmed aboard one of the vessels apparently involved in Monday's incident (video available here, transcript follows, h/t Weasel Zippers):
Reporter: Despite the Israeli threats and some unexpected obstacles, the arrival of the ships at the rendezvous, in preparation to set sail to Gaza, has kindled the emotions and enthusiasm of the participants.
Crowd chanting: "Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Muhammad will return."
Reporter: Through songs about the Palestinian Intifada, the participants expressed their longing to reach Gaza.
Participant 1: The brothers here are shouting and are full of enthusiasm. They are waiting to leave soon, with the ships around us in the sea. Allah willing, we will make our way to Gaza.
Participant 2: We are now waiting for one of two good things - either to achieve martyrdom, or to reach Gaza.
We are waiting for either martyrdom or to reach Gaza.
Sound like these folks were expecting hostilities?
Video was also made available by PalWatch.org (h/t Gateway Pundit):
*****Update III: Prime Minister Netanyahu appeared on Canadian television Monday to explain what happened with this flotilla (h/t Freedom's Lighthouse) --
*****Update IV: Defense Minister Barak spoke Monday with Fox News --
*****Update V: The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles has posted some facts about this incident that should be must-reading for all citizens of the world --
Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, more than 10,000 rockets and mortars have been fired on our civilian population. As a result, Israel had no other option but to impose a naval blockade in order to stem the flow of such munitions.
Israel appealed to the convoys of ships to dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod so that humanitarian supplies could be delivered to Gaza via land through existing crossings after being checked for dangerous materials. The flotilla rejected the offer, and one of the organizers themselves said that issue was not about the delivery of humanitarian aid, but rather about breaking the 'siege'. All attempts at dialogue and reaching an understanding were rejected, leaving no doubt that this was as an act of provocation having nothing to do with a genuine concert for the wellbeing of Gazans. Ships forcing their way into Gaza will do nothing to aid the people there.
International Maritime Law
Israel said that it would use all means at its disposal to prevent the vessels from violating Israeli and international law.
Under international law, a maritime blockage is recognized as a legitimate tool during a time of armed conflict. A blockade may be imposed at sea, including international waters, so long as it does not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral states. International maritime law clearly states that when a maritime blockade is in effect, no boats - including both civilian and enemy - can enter the blockaded area. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured over even attacked under international law.
When it became clear that the flotilla of 6 vessels intended to break the blockade, Israel attempted to intercept the boats and then boarded the vessels to escort them to Ashdod. Due to the large number of vessels, there was an operational need to undertake measures to enforce the blockade a certain distance from our shores.
Five of boats proceeded to Ashdod without incident, while active resistance was encountered on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara. Aboard the ship, Israeli forces were savagely beaten with lead pipes, knives and pistols prepared in advanced by the crew. Several Israeli soldiers were wounded as result of the confrontations, including one who is in critical condition.
Israel will continue to act decisively to protect its sovereignty and right to protect itself. No other nation would accept a violation of this sort.
Humanitarian situation in Gaza
There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Thousands of tons of food, goods and equipment are transferred to residents daily by Israel and international organizations such as the United Nations.
Since January 2009, more than 1 million tons of humanitarian aid have been transferred. That is approximately one ton of aid for each man, woman and child in Gaza.
During the first quarter of 2010 alone, almost 100,000 tons of supplies have been provided, including: 48,000 tons of food products; approximately 550 of milk powder and baby food; 2,700 tons of rice; 40,000 tons of wheat; 185 tons of aggregates; 2,000 tons of clothing and footwear; 20 tons of iron; 25 tons of cement; and more than 1,000 tons of medicine and medical equipment.
In a typical week, 15,000 tons of supplies enter Gaza including truckloads of meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, fish, vegetables, milk powder, baby food, wheat and other essential goods.
Similarly, fuel and electricity needs are being met, and hundreds of Gazans receive medical treatment in Israel.
*****Update VI: Stratfor's George Friedman provides a must-read analysis of this incident and its consequences.