By Richard Lightbown
The hasbara industry is in full swing at the moment as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government pulls out all the stops to create a smokescreen to cover its crimes. Leading from the front Mr Netanyahu sat in front of the Turkel Commission for four hours on Monday, although anyone hoping to hear anything of interest would have been disappointed. Mr Netanyahu only spoke in front of the public for ninety minutes of that time during which he regaled the committee with complaints about Hamas, Sderot and Gilad Shalit. He told the committee that Israel had a right to search for weapons on board the flotilla. (Israel has since announced that it found no weapons for Hamas. Did nine people really have to die so that Israel could confirm the certification the flotilla already had?) He further told them that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza as a result of the blockade it was just a ‘bogus rationale […] to break the blockade’. So there we are. The International Committee of the Red Cross was lying on 14 June when it said:
“The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligation under international humanitarian law.”
Or when in 2008 the same august institution said 70% of the Gazan population suffers from food insecurity.
That Judge Turkel allowed him to drone on in this way bodes ill for the end result. As though nine dead (and it could yet turn to eleven), fifty-five injured and the rest of the 700 people abducted, abused, humiliated and subjected to cruel and sadistic behaviour was not important enough for the committee to concentrate on.
But that as always is the name of the game. Only Israeli victim hood is of any consequence. Nine Israeli hoods got a legal beating. That’s important. Nothing else matters. So we’ve had Prof Ruth Lapidoth prostituting herself on 12 July by cherry picking the San Remo Manual to make it all seem right. She told us Gaza is a state because the Israel Supreme Court said so. Does she recognize no higher authority on international law? The was no mention of course that San Remo takes six articles to explain that any maritime attack should be solely against military targets for the purpose of gaining a military advantage. That precautions must be taken to ensure that civilians are not harmed. That merchant vessels are civilian objects. That vessels engaged in humanitarian missions are exempt from attack. Article 102 states absolutely, that a blockade is prohibited if the damage to the civilian population is excessive in relation to the military advantage of the blockade. Article 103 allows the right of passage, subject to search (but not murder) if the civilian population is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival. Article 119 declares that a neutral merchant vessel may be diverted ‘with its consent’. Article 124 encourages certification (exactly as the flotilla had done) to avoid the necessity for visit and search. None of this gets a mention in the professor’s assessment. Mr Netanyahu behaves as though it does not exist.
President Obama of course is in on the scam too. Refusing to condemn Israel on 31 May until he knew the facts, he is now doing his best to see that they are not revealed. Thus the UN Human Rights Commission’s Fact Finding Mission is now deemed surplus to requirements. Never mind that it is chaired by a judge who served on the International Criminal Court, or that it includes the former Chief Prosecutor of the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, who has extensive experience on human rights, war crimes and terrorism. This is a committee eminently qualified to investigate the facts so it is being sidelined and told it is irrelevant by Susan Rice, who was speaking as though she owned the United Nations. Just for the record China and Russia voted for this commission, France and Britain abstained, and the other permanent member of the Security Council, without a veto at the UNHRC, could only vote against. The late Charles Wheeler, a redoubtable BBC journalist, once observed that American presidents get worse and worse. Sadly we don’t seem to have reached the nadir yet.
So what is the invertebrate in the White House trying to palm us off with instead? A committee chaired by a law professor who was prime minister of New Zealand for thirteen months, and representative to the International Whaling Commission. Alongside him will be a man whose period of rule in Columbia was strongly criticised for its abuses of human rights, democracy and the rule of law; and whose main arms supplier was the state of Israel. This Panel will receive reports from Israel and Turkey. But it will not be able to subpoena witnesses (and Mr Netanyahu has made it clear that it will not be able to subpoena anyone from the IDF). Neither will it venture out of New York (to go to Iskenderun for example to look over the three Turkish ships that have been released).
So we must hope that Sir Geoffrey Palmer is his own man, and that he is a man of courage and imagination. We must hope that he is a man able to appreciate that it was not self defence to shoot Cevdet Kiliclar through the forehead from a helicopter before a single Israeli had even started to descend from a helicopter or disembark from a zodiac. (Mr Kiliclar was taking a photograph at the time of his assassination.) Let us hope that Sir Geoffrey will ask for proof of the Israeli allegation that their commandos were shot at, and that he will wonder why the infra red footage from the helicopters have not picked up the flashes from the passenger’s guns. Come to that why have we seen so little of the enormous amount of footage that Israel stole from press and passengers on the flotilla?
But even the Israeli film footage provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be quite revealing. Take a look at the arms cache that Israel made such a fuss about. I have counted the following:
• about 16 kitchen knives,
• three pocket knives,
• fifteen pickaxe handles,
• about twenty lengths of metal bar,
• two ring spanners,
• one pipe wrench,
• four small hammers,
• two sledge hammers,
• four fire axes,
• one paint roller handle,
• ten disc-cutter discs,
• two round files in handles,
• a short length of cord and
• two kaffiyehs.
(There was no blood on any of these ‘weapons’.) This is hardly the equipment prepared by a well-organized terrorist cell that had readied itself to face one of the elite units in the Israel Defence Forces.
Also take a close look at the Israeli infrared film taken from the sea towards the Mavi Marmara. The film unfortunately starts after Mr Kiliclar has been shot dead and other passengers have also been injured and maybe killed. Look close and you can see the pistols being thrown over the side after the commandos are disarmed. Look closely too at the last frame of the infrared footage. There at the side of the ship is a commando with a pistol raised ready to fire. Mostly likely this is a Glock pistol with a magazine holding 17 rounds which can be fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled. Now do you understand why the film stops there? The next sequence shows a small bottle of mace-like self-defence spray, and then a small folding saw with a single 5cm long blade. Yet look behind this primitive weaponry and there inside the door to the bridge lounges a commando with what looks like a submachine gun.
The Israeli military said it would do whatever was necessary to stop the flotilla. When it got to the Mavi Marmara the commandos first tried to board at the stern from zodiacs. They were unable to do this principally because of the fire hoses trained on them, although there were a lot of things like plates and tomatoes thrown at them too. In fact they never did board the ship from this point until after the bridge had been taken and the ship surrendered. The next move, almost certainly with the full authority of Admiral Marom, was to fire live ammunition onto the upper decks from more than one of the four helicopters, and this was probably sniper fire to begin with. Only then did the commandos start to fast rope onto the deck. But even then the defence did not crumble and the first rope was tied up by the defenders and then abandoned so that the commandos only used one rope and were picked off as they came down. It looks pretty brutal on the film (which is why we are allowed to see it). But if they did not disable those commandos quickly the men on that upper deck were going to get shot, and shortly afterwards this is exactly what happened. However it was a close thing. Perhaps if they had tied up both ropes they may have prevented the landing. And then what: what was Israel’s next line of attack, bearing in mind that they had warships and submarines in the near vicinity? If the boarding had failed would the IDF have sunk the ship? One thing is for sure, that would have took a lot of ingenuity for Mr Netanyahu and Prof Lapidoth to explain. It would have needed a lot of excuses from Mr Obama too.
– Richard Lightbown contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.