RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Although Israel successfully controlled news of its deadly commando raid on the Freedom Flotilla during the first crucial 48 hours of media coverage, emerging evidence from witnesses and survivors is challenging the Israeli government’s version of events.
These include claims of medical treatment being withheld; beatings and abuse of passengers who never resisted; the Israeli military doctoring audio and selectively editing videos.
Furthermore, allegations of a possible shoot-to-kill policy, amidst autopsies revealing repeated gun shots to the heads of the victims, are also part of an emerging pattern.
One of the first targets of Israeli commandos raiding the Flotilla was the international media. Photographers were attacked, and journalists had their video, audio and other communications equipment confiscated. The equipment has still not been returned.
“It was clear that Israel wanted to control the media coverage of the situation from the very beginning,” Huwaida Arraf, the Free Gaza Movement’s chairwoman, told IPS.
Approximately 60 journalists from around the globe were on board the Flotilla. They were amongst the last to be released by the Israelis.
Israeli authorities denied other media access to the imprisoned journalists and activists during the entire period they were incarcerated. Reporters were also prevented from speaking to the Flotilla activists when they were deported from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International airport.
The Israeli army imposed a media blackout on the wounded being interviewed in Israeli hospitals, with soldiers stationed in hospital wards to enforce the ban. Journalists trying to enter Gaza to cover the raid were turned back by the Israeli authorities at the Erez crossing.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has denounced Israel’s editing and distribution of footage it confiscated from foreign journalists aboard the Flotilla.
CPJ refers to claims by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel that the military “is selectively using footage to bolster its claims that commandos opened fire only after being attacked.”
In another incident, the Israeli military had to clarify and correct another audio tape it released to the media after questions were raised as to its authenticity.
In the audio one of the “activists” on board the Flotilla allegedly tells the Israelis, amongst other things, to “go back to Auschwitz” in what appears to be a fake accent from the United States’ deep south. The “activist” is also heard telling the Israelis: “We are helping Arabs go against the US Don’t forget 9/11 guys.”
The Israeli army also claimed that the voice of Arraf was recorded on the Mavi Marmara, the boat where the activists were shot dead. However, she was on a different boat, the Challenger 1.
“There were no Americans from the south on the Flotilla. Furthermore, the only people to communicate with the Israelis other than myself were the captains,” Arraf told IPS.
“One of them was British, two were Greek, two Turkish and one Algerian and they acted in a very professional manner. I was near the VHF radio during the entire period of communication with the [Israeli army] and none of those alleged slurs were made,” added Arraf.
However, despite the Israeli military’s retraction/correction, discrepancies remain even in the edited Israeli military audio which was released five days after the original one. The alleged slurs about Auschwitz and 9/11 remain.
Although it was inevitable that contradictory evidence would emerge following the arrival of hundreds of the released activists in Istanbul, Athens and other European capitals, the first dramatic events are no longer the main headlines of the major media outlets and network corporations.
And this was probably what the Israelis relied on as they went on the diplomatic offensive.
Nevertheless, the raid and its ramifications are not going away. Postmortems carried out by the Turks reveal that a number of the dead had numerous shots to the head in addition to other parts of the body. Thirty shots were used to kill nine people.
The Israeli military has a “confirm kill” policy where even after a person (who is considered a danger to the life of a soldier or other Israelis) is neutralized by several bullets, a final shot is fired into the head at close range to “confirm the kill.”
Critics have questioned how individuals, who allegedly constituted threats to the life of the commandos, and would therefore be fighting and moving around, remained still long enough to receive so many shots to the head at close range.
Activists further accuse the Israelis of denying the dying and seriously wounded medical attention despite their desperate pleas for help. Other activists were forcibly prevented from going to the aid of the injured.
Survivors, reportedly, have also disputed Israeli claims that their soldiers used live ammunition only after they were attacked by some of the activists who fought back and managed to wound several of the soldiers. They claim the soldiers began shooting before they were attacked as well as after those who fought back had been neutralized.
Further, Israeli claims that the commandos only used violence against activists who attacked them have also been disputed. A number of activists have claimed they were beaten up in jail and at Ben Gurion when they were being deported.
This IPS correspondent was physically threatened and verbally abused by Israeli police when she witnessed, and took pictures of, several frightened and cuffed activists being frog-marched away from the airport’s departure lounge.
Paul Larudee, a 64-year-old activist from the US and a diabetic, had to be hospitalized after he was beaten repeatedly on different occasions by the navy seals. Kenneth O’Keefe, an Irish-American and former marine, was hospitalized in Tel Aviv after he too was beaten by security officials at the airport.
O’Keefe wanted to fight his deportation but was advised by his lawyer to leave the country for his own safety.
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