Yesterday, the IDF posted a 29-second Youtube version of an audio exchange– not long before an assault at sea, and part of the set piece of theatrics that had to take place for this drama to play out according to script — between Israeli Navy radio officers and what the IDF initially said was the Mavi Marmara, the large Turkish passenger ship (chartered by IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief NGO with a distinct Islamist character that has opened it to accusations of having “terrorist” ties) that had least 600 trusting souls on board.
The IDF Youtube appeared to be clearly doctored — a crude, adolescent attempt at triumphalist propaganda.
The Mavi Marmara was by far the largest of the six boats in the Freedom Flotilla travelling in convoy towards Gaza to “break the siege” and deliver humanitarian aid there. It was way too large to be disabled at sea, apparently. (And then what would you do with the 600 people on board?)
Because some of those on the top deck were unaware of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs legal argument that the badly-announced and poorly-clarified Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space could be enforced virtually anywhere, certainly on the high seas, they were somehow shocked and surprised when a large Israeli naval force — including three Saar missile boats — suddenly appeared on the horizon just before midnight.
They were still several hours away from Gaza, and the night was still young.
The live internet feed streaming on the web from the Mavi Marmara showed passengers donning life vests, and holding gas masks.
Then, they waited. A journalist reported that “some people were praying, some were smoking”. They were all sweating. (And there were no showers on board.)
There had been hints (sheer bravado) about special preparations to resist. When — and we learned this only after the ordeal was several days over, and the passengers finally released — the men gathered on the top deck managed to repel an initial Israeli attempt by sea to board and take over the vessel, the Mavi Marmara became the target of special attention from the large Israel assault force ordered to stop the Freedom Flotilla at any and all costs.
Those on board, after all, had already been labelled as extremely dangerous “terrorists” or friends of terrorists, Muslim fanatics — not aid workers, bitter enemies of the Jewish state. Indereed, many of the passengers came from countries, and cultures, which are highly critical of Israeli policies, where they would have had very little or no interaction with Israelis, or even with Jews.
What was scornfully dismissed as a “publicity stunt” became an existential threat.
A second wave of a handful of young Israeli commandos descended one-by-one, rappelling down on ropes into a furious crowd full of adrenalin rushing through their veins, who set upon them and beat them badly. Tear gas and stun grenades were used, then live ammunition.
What can only be described as battlefield conditions ensued, in the middle of a crowded passenger ship… And there appeared to be reprisals exacted. There was no pity, no understanding, and very little regard for the humanity of those on board — many of whom travelled in family groups, testifying to their politico-religious beliefs, as if they were going on a pilgrimage…
Could the reports be true that one Israeli soldier killed six men? And that he’s up for a special combat medal as a result?
At least nine men (one, a 19-year-old student) were killed, all by multiple bullet wounds, some from very close range. That is what we know of, so far.
One wife cradled her wounded and bleeding husband in her arms until he died. Then, after a few minutes, she turned to help other wounded. And then she was dragged through the police procedures and taken to prison, even as she mourned.
There was world-wide condemnation of the use of this kind of military force. But a polar-opposite reaction (defiance?) in Israel and among its fervent supporters.
IDF-filmed videos of the assault on the Mavi Marmara were the top three draws on Youtube by the end of the week (though not all of the surge of viewers were loyal admirers).
Then, videos appeared that were clearly edited versions of material taken n behalf of various news organizations by journalists who were still being held in Israeli detention. The Foreign Press Association in Israel, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters without Borders all protested.
Finally, on Friday, the IDF put out the 29-second version — of a 1:06 minute video it had uploaded to Youtube a day or so earlier, but with a very different soundtrack.
The original, longer (1’06” version had the long explanation of the naval blockade and the procedures the Israelis were demanding, including that they turn back or prepare to be boarded. It ended with this brief response from the ship (identified, incorrectly, it later emerged, as the Mavi Marmara): “Negative. Negative. Our destination is Gaza“.
The shorter, 29-second, “doctored” version had this incongruous response coming from the Flotilla ship — the voices at all different levels, clearly indicating that this was not the actual version of events (transcript via Ali Abunimah):
MAN’S VOICE 1: “Shut up, go back to Auschwitz.”
WOMAN’S VOICE: (calm) “We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter.”
MAN’S VOICE 2: “We’re helping Arabs go against the US, don’t forget 9/11, guys…”
I was among those who protested what appeared to be a shameful attempt at manipulation and incitement, and I demanded clarification and correction.
Tonight, the IDF posted its clarification, here, which says: “Yesterday evening on 4 June 2010, the IDF released an audio recording of a radio transmission between the Israeli Navy vessel and the Flotilla ships wherein unidentified flotilla passengers tell the Israeli Navy vessel to “Shut up, go back to Auschwitz” and “We’re helping Arabs go against the US, don’t forget 9/11.” There have been questions regarding the authenticity of the recording as well as its attribution to a communication with the Mavi Marmara. So to clarify: the audio was edited down to cut out periods of silence over the radio as well as incomprehensible comments so as to make it easier for people to listen to the exchange. We have now uploaded the entire segment of 5 minutes and 58 seconds in which the exchange took place and the comments were made. This transmission had originally cited the Mavi Marmara ship as being the source of these remarks, however, due to an open channel, the specific ship or ships in the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ responding to the Israeli Navy could not be identified. During radio transmissions between Israeli Navy and the ships of the ‘Free Gaza’ Flotilla on 31 May 2010, the Israeli Navy ship attempts to make contact with the ‘Defne Y’ on channel 1-6. Other ships from the flotilla respond on the channel, without identifying themselves. At some point during the radio exchange the Israeli Navy is told by one of the ships to ‘Shut up, go back to Auschwitz’ (2:05) and ‘don’t forget 9-11’ (5:42)”.
The IDF admitted tonight that the audio was edited — but this should have been stated when the edited version was posted and presented to the public.
[ADD – a comment on Max Blumenthal’s blog posting <a href=”http://maxblumenthal.com/2010/06/idf-admits-it-doctored-flotilla-audio-clip-washington-posts-kessler-must-retract/>here</a>, by spuxx, notes: “One other lie the IDF have made, is that the audio was originally edited down to remove radio silences. In the shorter audio version, Huwaida Arraf only utters one short sentence ‘we have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter’. In the new longer clip, it is revealed she utters 3 or 4 sentences as part of this exchange. If her comments were edited down as apparent ‘radio silence’, how can we believe that the other voices in the recording weren’t also manipulated. I would like to see the IDF spokeskman have to add another cavat, namely that whole sentences as well as radio silence where cut from audio tape“…]
And, the IDF admitted that this Israeli Navy communication was not with the Mavi Marmara, but with at least one other of the six ships in the Freedom Flotilla. It mentioned the Dafne (or Defne) Y — and it suggested the possibility that voices from other ships in the Flotilla may have mixed in.
It did not suggest one very real possibility — that some of those voices came from persons who were not on any of the ships in the Flotilla.
I am prepared to accept that what the IDF is now calling the unedited audio is, in fact, unedited (though there are plenty of wierd audio moments that could hide an edit, if someone really wanted to be manipulative). But, as I noted in a comment elsewhere earlier, I am going to believe the IDF’s sincerity on that. [However, see below, Huwaida Arraf has now told Ma’an News Agency that she did not say those words during this Freedom Flotilla expedition, but may have done so on earlier Free Gaza expeditions…]
The real point, still standing in utterly unproven suspense, is that there is absolutely no evidence that all the voices on that video were coming from the Freedom Flotilla. Some of the ugly things said could very well have been malicious provocation.
This happens all the time. In the Persian Gulf, US warships are taunted in radio communications all the time. There was very nearly a serious incident once when a US commander thought that the taunts were coming from Iranian naval vessels — but they were finally blamed on a notorious and known private provocateur.
The confrontation between the Israeli Navy and the Freedom Flotilla took place in international waters — off the coast of Israel. A number of private Israeli boats launched themselves out to sea days earlier to try to counteract the propaganda advantage they felt the Freedom Flotilla had gained.
There are all kinds of boats out in that area. Those voices could have come from any yahoos or woo-hoos — including malicious ones, trying to cause maximum damage — who were bobbing around on that sea, at that time.
So, no, this is the reason I cannot concede that the IDF has either proven its point (that the people on board the Mavi Marmara were reckless lunatic fanatics), or that the IDF has won this argument.
ADD: Ma’an News Agency added another dimension. It followed up, today, on Ali Abunimah’s report last night that the woman whose voice was included in the IDF video was identified by her husband (Adam Shapiro) as Huwaida Arraf. Ma’an reported that “Arraf, a Palestinian-American who chairs the Free Gaza Movement, confirmed that it was her voice. But she emphasized that she was on the Challenger 1 boat, not the Mavi Marmara. ‘I was by the radio the whole time there was any communication’, Arraf told Ma’an. ‘Mine was the only boat in which I answered and not the captain and they all answered in a very professional manner’. Arraf told Ma’an that while she might have spoken of having permission from the Gaza Port Authority on a previous attempt to break the blockade, she is certain that she did not say it on Monday morning. ‘When they radioed us, we were still 100 miles away’,”she said. ‘There’s no doubt that this whole thing they put out is fabricated’.” This Ma’an News Agency report is posted here.