The Israeli government’s trying to keep the international press away from the survivors of the IDF attack on the Freedom Flotilla that is carrying wheelchairs and water purifiers to the besieged land of Gaza.
By imposing an information blockade, the Israeli government hopes to protect its current story justifying its attack on an unarmed humanitarian vessel in international waters — namely, the claim that the flotilla members dared to attack first and/or defend themselves against armed and trained IDF commandos by using pipe wrenches.
In order to prop up this storyline, the Israeli government has been trying to deny the international media access to the flotilla survivors — but their effort to create an information blockade is failing.
First off, video evidence shows that the IDF fired the first shots — and in international waters (h/t CTuttle):
…two journalists provide a play-by-play of the harrowing event as pops and cracks echo in the background. Even before the Israeli forces were aboard, one says, they were pelting the boat with tear gas and stun grenades, injuring numerous people.
Then he confirms the first death, saying the individual was killed by "munitions," but not specifying whether it was a bullet or something else. Then he confirms that Israeli forces were boarding the ship.
Another of the reporters featured in the video works for the Iranian network Press TV. "We are being hit by tear gas, stun grenades, we have navy ships on either side, helicopters overhead," he said. "We are being attacked from every single side. This is in international waters, not Israeli waters, not in the 68-mile exclusion zone. We are being attacked in international waters completely illegally."
"The organizers are telling me now, they are raising a white flag — they are raising a white flag to the Israeli army," the Al Jazeera reporter said. "This is after one person has been killed; a civilian has been killed by munition. That number could be more … Despite the white flag being raised, despite the white flag being raised, the Israeli army is still shooting, still firing live munitions."
Second off, a growing number of flotilla survivors have evaded the information blockade to tell their stories — stories that directly contradict the IDF’s claims and staged videos. Among them is an Israeli Knesset member:
Hanin Zoabi, a member of the Israeli parliament, was on board the Miva Marmara, the ship that was the scene of the confrontation between activists and Israeli soldiers. The Israeli Navy fired on the ships five minutes before commandos descended from ropes that dangled from helicopters, Zoabi said during a news conference in Nazareth, Israel. She said passengers on board the ship were unarmed.
And from AFP via Zawya, we hear from three German citizens, all of whom are either current or former members of the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament:
Three visibly shaken Germans who experienced at first hand a deadly raid by the Israeli military on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza denied on Tuesday that anyone on board was armed.
"The Israeli government justifies the raid because they were attacked. This is absolutely not the case," former member of parliament Norman Paech, 72, wrapped in a blue blanket, told reporters in Berlin.
His comments were backed up by two others on board the convoy when it was raided at dawn on Monday in international waters, MPs Inge Hoeger, 59, and Annette Groth, 56.
And The Guardian has more eyewitness accounts from flotilla survivors further contradicting the IDF’s official story:
"It was extremely bad and very tough clashes took place. The Mavi Marmara is filled with blood," said [Turkish activist Nilufer ] Cetin, whose husband is the Mavi Marmara’s chief engineer.
She told reporters that she and her child hid in the bathroom of their cabin during the confrontation. "The operation started immediately with firing. First it was warning shots, but when the Mavi Marmara wouldn’t stop these warnings turned into an attack," she said.
"There were sound and smoke bombs and later they used gas bombs. Following the bombings they started to come on board from helicopters."
Cetin is among a handful of Turkish activists to be released; more than 300 remain in Israeli custody. She said she agreed to extradition from Israel after she was warned that conditions in jail would be too harsh for her child.
"I am one of the first passengers to be sent home, just because I have baby. When we arrived at the Israeli port of Ashdod we were met by the Israeli interior and foreign ministry officials and police; there were no soldiers. They asked me only a few questions. But they took everything – cameras, laptops, cellphones, personal belongings including our clothes," she said.
Michalis Grigoropoulos, who was at the wheel of the Free Mediterranean, said: "We were in international waters. The Israelis acted like pirates, completely out of the normal way that they conduct nautical exercises, and seized our ship. They took us hostage, pointing guns at our heads; they descended from helicopters and fired tear gas and bullets. There was absolutely nothing we could do … Those who tried to resist forming a human ring on the bridge were given electric shocks."
Grigoropoulos, who insisted the ship was full of humanitarian aid bound for Gaza "and nothing more", said that, once detained, the human rights activists were not allowed to contact a lawyer or the Greek embassy in Tel Aviv. "They didn’t let us go to the toilet, eat or drink water and throughout they videoed us. They confiscated everything, mobile phones, laptops, cameras and personal effects. They only allowed us to keep our papers."
UPDATE: Former Ambassador Edward Peck, who was part of the flotilla, reminds his MSNBC interviewer and the world that the IDF commandos, in addition to "paint guns", had automatic weapons, pepper spray, tear gas and other things which the people they attacked in international waters at four o’clock in the morning did not possess. This even as snippets of the carefully-edited IDF video played with uncredited bits of other videos in a split-screen shot.