Ankara, 31st May, 2010
Pirates of the Mediterranean
The Turkish aid vessel Mavi Marmara (Blue Marmara) was in international waters when it was attacked by Israeli ships and helicopter-borne soldiers on Monday morning.
According to the Israeli government spokesmen, it was the Israeli soldiers who were themselves attacked, with knives, axes and guns, but it was 16 people on board who were killed, according to the estimates of the dead and wounded being made by midday. In fact, as film taken from the Mavi Marmara showed, it was the Israelis who attacked, swarming on the deck and wounding the captain as they took the ship over. The passengers were not armed. They were all checked before they boarded the ship in Istanbul and Antalya and none were carrying weapons.
According to a Turkish customs official in Antalya: 'Forty-two passengers boarded in Istanbul and 504 passengers got on the ship here. We spotted no weapons and there is no such record in our logs. We did not notice anything suspicious about the Mavi Marmara. Had our officers had any suspicions they would have reported it'.
In short, when the Israeli Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, said that arms were found on the ship he was lying. Even more hysterically, reaching even deeper into the barrel of falsehood, he accused the passengers of having links to Al Qaida and other 'terrorist' organisations. But there were no 'terrorists' on the Mavi Marmara, there was no live fire from the ship and there was no 'lynch mob' waiting for the soldiers, as the Jerusalem Post claimed.
It was the Israelis who attacked. Heavily armed 'soldiers’ swarmed on to the deck of the Mavi Marmara from naval vessels or were lowered on to it by helicopter. They began shooting straight away, terrorising the passengers as intended. If some of the attackers (three or four) were hurt it was because some passengers dared to defend themselves against armed assault. One soldier is reported to have been wounded by a passenger who grabbed his gun and turned it on his assailant but no passengers were carrying arms when they boarded the Mavi Marmara.
The hundreds of people on board the ship are now on Israeli soil, having been kidnapped on the high seas. No doubt Israel will confiscate mobile phones and cameras, but it cannot hold these people for long and when they are free to tell their stories we will have a clearer idea of what happened on the Mavi Marmara.
Many of the dead were Turkish peace activists and in the coming days Turkey's reaction to this attack on a ship flying the Turkish flag will be critical. Certainly nothing much can be expected from the US and European governments in defence of their citizens.
In Ankara, however, the government issued a statement saying that the attack on a ship flying the Turkish flag may well have caused 'irreversible damage' to relations between the two countries. The relationship between the two countries has been deteriorating for years, reaching a low point several months ago when the last ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry simply to be humiliated. For Turkey this might be the final straw. Why would it want to have any kind of relationship with a state that kills Turkish citizens?
Thousands of Turks demonstrated in Istanbul's Taksim Square on Monday afternoon. Basically Turks have had enough of Israel. They were shocked by Israel's onslaught on Gaza in 2008 and stung by the humiliation of their ambassador and they will want very strong action from their government following this latest outrage.
To those who do not follow Middle Eastern history and politics Israel suddenly seems out of control. But it has been out of control for the six decades. It has never been in control. It has been allowed to run wild year after year. It is the embodiment of a rogue state.
There is no country surrounding Israel that has not suffered a high civilian death at the hands of the Israeli 'defence' forces. Tens of thousands have died in Lebanon. Multiple thousands have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank. The killing of Arab civilians has been so normalised in Israel that individual deaths are scarcely mentioned.
Israel will kill foreigners who get in its way but this slaughter of foreigners on the high seas is a new benchmark. This is a state that offers no hope for its own future and at this stage seems beyond redemption.
- Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne.