As one of the activists on the Mavi Marmara, I was overjoyed at the news that Turkey had this month issued indictments against those responsible for Israel’s assault on unarmed humanitarian aid workers sailing in international waters for Gaza two years ago today.
Nine were killed, and 189 injured at the hands of Israeli commandos. The Mavi Marmara has become another moment in history where Israel’s violent response to international solidarity with Palestine exposed the reality of Israel’s crimes, and the resulting growth of solidarity has further strengthened the movement for justice for Palestine.
You don’t send commandos onto a civilian ship, armed with lethal ammunition, unless you intend to use it. Yet if Israel’s intention in attacking the Mavi Marmara and killing passengers was to intimidate solidarity activists, and prevent future acts of solidarity with Palestinians, it very badly failed.
I was approached by activists desperate to participate in a future flotilla. The first Freedom Flotilla became so iconic that Israel felt it had to stop a second flotilla from even leaving port — a combination of sabotage, and sustained pressure on Greece, where the boats were due to sail from.
Symbol of Israel’s cruelty
Today, the Mavi Marmara symbolizes how Israel was so desperate to prevent electric wheelchairs, baby food and computers from reaching Gaza that it attacked boats in international waters and shot, tasered, beat and humiliated passengers, who were kidnapped and thrown into Israeli prison.
Israeli commandos systematically attempted to destroy all footage of the attack, removing all phones, cameras and videos. But despite this, the few images that were smuggled out, combined with the testimony of survivors, exposed Israel’s criminal activities.
The Israeli military is used to attacking Palestinian men, women and children and getting away with it. They were simply using the same techniques against us. But now at least it couldn’t happen unnoticed and without protest.
Terror just as vivid today
After 31 May 2010 I spent months having to bear witness to the attack on the Mavi Marmara, unable to fully express my emotions. Two years on, the memories are just as vivid.
I remember coming up on deck before dawn to see Israeli warships and inflatables bristling with commandos armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry, ready to fire on unarmed passengers. I remember the whirr of the helicopters above the ship, the commandos descending onto the top of the Mavi Marmara.
I remember Cevdet Kılıçlar being carried on a stretcher back to the deck where I was standing — which before Israel’s assault had been the café — one of the main spaces where we sat, drank tea and got to know one another.
Cevdet had been filming the attack when he was shot in his forehead from above by Israeli commandos. I remember the sound of bullets in the air as I was told to go downstairs, and the endless wait while we sat below deck with the dead, dying and seriously injured, while announcements were made from our loudspeakers saying that we were not resisting, and we needed urgent medical help.
We had no response from the Israeli army for 105 minutes — apart from guns with laser sights being pointed through the windows at our heads.
I remember us all handcuffed on the deck in the boiling sun after the Israeli commandos overtook the ship, not knowing how many of us had been killed.
I remember, after the Turkish government’s intervention and the international outrage forced Israel to release us from prison, being driven in a windowless prison van to the airport, seeing the motionless face of my Turkish friend Cigdem, and then her desperate grip on my hand as we sat together and watched others who had been kidnapped and imprisoned with us board the planes for Istanbul. Cigdem was refusing to leave without the body of her husband, who had been killed on the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandos.
Ending Israeli impunity
Our collective memories of what happened before dawn broke on 31 May 2010 have woven together, through individual testimonies, through the witness statements taken by the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation, and through the legal action currently being taken in Turkey.
Israel is used to violating international law with impunity, and international bodies consistently fail to bring Israel to justice for its crimes against the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, Israel’s internal investigations simply serve to get those responsible off the hook for crimes such as those that took place on the Mavi Marmara and the murder of the Samouni family in Gaza during the massacre of 2008-09 (see Ali Abunimah, “Slamming the door to justice on Palestinians,” Al Jazeera English, 7 May 2012).
The UNHCR inquiry into Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara, which concludes that the assault by the Israeli military “was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence,” further highlights the notorious refusal of the Israeli system to deliver justice, not just for us on this occasion, but for Palestinians on every occasion.
So Turkey’s rejection of a payoff of $6 million, and instead indicting four top Israeli generals, is a worrying signal for Israel that its “get out of jail free” cards have an expiry date. The increased solidarity around the world with Palestine will sends a clear message to the Israeli government that every attack it launches on Palestinians or their supporters simply galvanizes international solidarity for the people it so brutally oppresses.
Sarah Colborne is Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain.