Breaking the illegal siege imposed on Gaza by Israel since 2007, is no easy feat. There have been numerous attempts, mainly land convoys taking in humanitarian and medical aid for those affected by the ongoing conflict. Many of these attempts, if not all, have been successful in completing the mission. Yes, along the way the activists experienced some challenges, including mental and physical strain. In some of the countries they passed through, they were met with harshness from local officials and authorities. I was fortunate to be part of the first land convoy in 2009 to Gaza, organised by Viva Palestina. We soon realized how grueling this journey was to become. In Al-Arish, Egypt, we were met with violent clashes from the Egyptian police. This was just a scare tactic to stop us from completing the task at hand. However, we united together and knew what we were going through, was nothing compared to those over the border. In the end, we made it to Gaza. Many convoys went after us and faced the same problems, if not worse. We are not ones to give up though.
Now, that was by land. Imagine doing it by sea. Open waters, unpredictable weather, dangers under the sea and above, nowhere to hide or run if things go bad, the possibility of sinking or being stranded in the middle of nowhere and fighting for survival. Who would dare take on such a challenge? Taking humanitarian aid and heading towards the coastline of a war-zone, guarded by military ships, by an army willing to stop anyone by any means necessary. Even if you did have your own little warships following you, in the face of danger, would this be enough? Well, this soon was to be tested. On May 22nd 2010, approximately 688 activists from 41 nations, embarked on a life changing journey, for a few, it was to be their last.
A year before in April 2009, we had the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. It was international news and covered by media outlets in most parts of the world. Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama did a great job in saving the ship and getting his crew back home. He was given a hero’s welcome. However, for Mehmut Tuval, captain of the Mavi Marmara, it wasn’t all plain sailing.
The Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara/Turknews
In May 2010, the Free Gaza Movement and Turkish charity İHH organised the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The ship was carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials, with the intention of breaking the siege imposed on Gaza. The flotilla consisted of other smaller vessels laden with aid. However, the Mavi Marmara was the center piece. The participants included women, elderly, young adults and small kids, from different nationalities and backgrounds, including British, American and Australian citizens. Notable people aboard the flotilla included:
• Denis Halliday – former UN Assistant Secretary-General
• Edward Peck – former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Mauritania
• Joe Meadors – survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty
• Haneen Zoabi – Israeli-Arab member of Knesset.
• Raed Salah – leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel
• Henning Mankell – Swedish novelist
• Ismail Adam Patel – Founder of Friends of Al-Aqsa UK
• Kenneth O’Keefe – Former US Marine
• David Schermerhorn – American film producer
Israel was made aware of the flotilla, and said it was violating international laws. All of a sudden, Israel was concerned about ‘laws’. The flotilla had the right, as does anyone to travel through international waters into Gaza or any place under illegal or oppressive occupation and help people. It’s a moral obligation. Israel advised the organisers before departure, to dock at the port of Ashdod, and that all aid will be delivered to Gaza. The flotilla organisers rejected Israel’s demands, and rightly so. They have never been known to activists for keeping promises. This mission was not just about delivering aid, it was also about breaking the siege on 1.5 million Palestinians. They wanted to raise international awareness about the largest open prison in the world.
The Mavi Marmara left Turkey, and it was bon voyage for the activists. As far as they knew, they were heading to Gaza to change the lives of many innocent victims. Little did they know, their lives were to be changed. On the night of 30th May 2010, in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the Mavi Marmara was surrounded by Israeli commandos and naval forces in speedboats and helicopters. The ship was ordered to navigate towards Ashdod Port, the organisers refused. After a long period of dialogue, the commandos boarded the ship at 2 am on 31st May. Journalists on the ship reported that the Israeli military opened fire with live rounds before boarding, with no consideration of innocent lives.
Passengers reacted by fighting off the military with whatever they could find. During the violent clashes, 10 Israeli soldiers were injured, but no loss of life. Unfortunately, nine activists were killed after being shot and many seriously injured. According to Israeli reports, weapons were found on the ship including knives and metal bars broken off the ship. They stated that they were attacked first and these ‘weapons’ were used against them. The knives were from the ships kitchen, and the metal bars were broken off from the ship to be used in self-defense. According to the activists, they were not just going to stand there and let the commandos board the ship, equipped to their teeth with live ammunition and do nothing. They knew how the Israeli army deal with pro-Palestinians. Anyway, a machine gun beats a knife and a metal pole any day of the week. What were they so worried about? In reality, there was no need for Israel to be there. They intercepted it because this flotilla was heading towards Gaza.
Somali pirate and a prized possession/WardheerNews
Israel is no amateur in conducting false flag operations and attacking ships in international waters. You justhave to read up on two famous incidents, the Lavon Affair and the USS Liberty. The Lavon Affair was a false flag operation to be carried out in Egypt, by Egyptian Jews recruited by the Israeli military, and then to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood. Bombs were to be placed in American and British owned civilian targets such as cinemas, libraries and American educational centres. Fortunately, the plot failed and some of the agents were captured. As for the USS Liberty, the ship was ‘accidently’ attacked by Israeli Air and Naval forces, killing 34 members and wounding 171. How did Britain and America respond to these incidents, well they just continued to support and aid Israel with billions and ignore its crimes. It’s as if human life is cheap and worth nothing. Add injury to insult, Israel even honored the surviving agents of the Lavon Affair by awarding them certificates of appreciation in 2005, by Israeli President Moshe Katzav. The Gaza flotilla raid received international condemnation, however as usual, nothing was done and Israel gets away with committing crimes.
In April 2009, a cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates. As the pirates boarded the ship, crew members locked themselves in the engine room. The captain and two others remained on the bridge. Those in the engine room took control of the ship from down below. The pirates were thus unable to control the ship. The crew later used “brute force” to overpower one of the pirates. Frustrated, knowing that they were failing, the pirates decided to leave, and took Captain Phillips with them to a lifeboat as a bargaining chip. The crew attempted an exchange, however the pirate was released but Phillips wasn’t. The pirates and Phillips left in the lifeboat and headed towards Somalia to see what they could salvage from the failed hijacking. On April 9th, two naval ships reached the lifeboat in an attempt to rescue captain Phillips. After three days and tension filled stand-offs, Navy marksmen killed three pirates, captured one and rescued Phillips. Fortunately, all crew members returned safely home. The mission was successful
While this was happening, the media swarmed in and covered the story. Everyone around the world was informed of the daily events. How many knew what was going on with the Mavi Marmara? A book was published and an Academy Award Nominated film was produced to portray the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. It was showcased around the world and everyone became aware of the heroic crew. The Turks produced a movie called ‘Valley of The Wolves’, in honour of the Mavi Marmara. This never received any accolades. This year we celebrate the fifth and fourth year anniversary of these horrific incidents.
When we remember Captain Phillips and his men, let’s spare a thought for the 8 Turks and the 1 American, who sacrificed their lives for innocent people. İbrahim Bilgen 61, Çetin Topçuoğlu 53, Cengiz Akyüz 41, Ali Heyder Bengi 39, Cevdet Kılıçlar 38, Cengiz Songür 47, Fahri Yaldız 43, Necdet Yıldırım 32 and American national Furkan Doğan 19, who was shot at close range, with four bullets in his head and one in his chest.
I sat down and watched the movie Captain Philips. I was amazed by the extraordinary efforts of all the crew members and the rescue operation. It was nice to see that help came to them quickly and they all returned home. Just like the Gaza freedom flotilla, it must have been a nightmare. I couldn’t even imagine what they were feeling and going through. However, I couldn’t help but think, what if the captain of the Mavi Marmara, was Captain Richard Philips?
This article was originally published on June 5, 2014/abdulhamidfaruki.wordpress.com