Shut In, Shut Down, Shut Up: Three Years after Mavi Marmara

Passengers on the Mavi Marmara were attacked by heavily armed Israeli commandos.

By Greta Berlin

Three years ago, the Free Gaza movement was wrapping up final preparations for a flotilla of eight ships to head out to Gaza, determined to break Israel’s illegal siege on 1.5 million Palestinians shut into an open-air prison. Most of us were already in Cyprus or Turkey or Greece, as we were the primary organizers, having already sent eight voyages, five of them successful in 2008.

Why a flotilla of boats?

During Israel’s horrific massacres against the people of Gaza (called Operation Cast Lead) in December 2008/January, 2009, our boat, the DIGNITY, had been rammed off the coast of Lebanon as we were taking medical personnel into Gaza. The boat later sank in a storm off the coast of Cyprus.

Then, in July 2009, Israel brutally attacked the “Spirit of Humanity,” even though Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, and former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney were on board. The Israeli government stole the boat, threw passengers into Israeli prison and, laughably, deported them eight days later, because “passengers had illegally entered Israel.” It was the first time the Israeli commandoes had actually boarded one of the boats as opposed to ramming them or trying to sink them.

We realized a new approach would have to be designed, one that would include more vessels, more passengers and more media exposure to the brutal closure of Gaza. Sailing one boat at a time was not going to get the message out to the world that Israel was blockading the people of Gaza and committing crimes against humanity.

It took Free Gaza a year to organize. We traveled to Sweden, Norway, France, Turkey, Greece, many Middle Eastern countries, Tunisia, Spain, Malaysia, the UK, the US and Germany. We helped Palestinian support groups raise money and send out the message that the next voyage would have to be organized with worldwide support. We succeeded beyond our wildest imagination, as organizations and individuals got on board the mission, raised money from people around the world, and bought the boats… eight in all, from the boats purchased by the Turkish charity, IHH, to the boats ready to go from Greece, Sweden, Ireland, Malaysia and the U.S.

Our own boats, Challenger 1 and Challenger 2 plus the cargo ship, the Rachel Corrie, were on their way to the meeting place off the coast of Cyprus. The Rachel Corrie, bought with money from a charity in Malaysia had finally left Ireland, its propeller pin suspiciously dropping out just days before leaving, causing the ship to be delayed for days. Had the final inspection not caught the problem, the propeller would have flown off, damaging the boat and putting the passengers and cargo at risk. The Rachel Corrie would not make it in time to join the flotilla but would try to get into Gaza five days later, only to be boarded by Israeli commandos, the passengers brutalized and left in the sun, then thrown into prison.

The six of us in the media office in Cyprus were fielding calls, trying to keep track of passengers and where they were going to board…and also trying to pacify the Cypriot authorities, who were no longer willing to have our boats leaving their shores… too much Israeli money had come into Cypriot departments over the year, and the doors that had been so welcoming to us, were beginning to close.

As the boats headed out to the meeting place, our two yachts were suddenly dead in the water, clearly a result of sabotage, as the Israelis bragged about it.

After the pin had come out of the Rachel Corrie propeller, it was obvious that one way Israel was going to shut down the flotilla was to make sure boats never left port (during Freedom Flotilla II in 2011, that’s exactly what Israel accomplished, thanks to outsourcing the occupation to Greece and shutting down the entire flotilla of nine boats).

Now, both of our yachts had the same gasoline problem at the same time in the middle of the Mediterranean. One was never able to join the flotilla (after taking months to repair, it finally became the Irish ship, Saoirse, that sailed with the Canadian boat, the Tahrir and was violently boarded in November, 2011 by Israeli commandos who tried to sink them with water canons).

We could not have imagined in the days running up to the murderous attacks on our passengers on May 31, 2010 that the Israeli government, in spite of ordering the ramming of the DIGNITY and the vicious boarding of the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, they would actually send armed commandos onto all six boats, beating up many passengers, wounding over 50 of them, and murdering nine, all while the boats were in international waters.

Shutting Us Up

In an attempt since then to make the attackers look as though they are the victims, the Israeli PR machine has been working overtime to spin the story. Here are just three of the many lies told by PR shill, Mark Regev and top Israeli military men.

1. The flotilla was Turkish or was run by the IHH and was full of Turkish jihadists.

The flotilla was organized and run by the Free Gaza movement with help by every initiative that joined, from IHH to the Swedes to the Irish to the Malaysians. We were all members of civil society who were protesting at Israel’s brutal behavior regarding the Palestinians, and we took no money from governments. All money was raised through donations from average people outraged over Israel’s behavior.

In fact, we had an international passenger list of over 600. Turkey made up half of the passenger list. Australia 3; Azerbaijan 2; Italy 6; Indonesia 12; Ireland 9; Algeria 28; United States 12; Bulgaria 2; Bosnia 1; Bahrain 4; Belgium 5; Germany 11; South Africa 1; Holland 2; United Kingdom 31; Greece 38; Jordan 30; Kuwait 15; Lebanon 3; Mauritania 3; Malaysia 11; Egypt 3; Israel 6: Macedonia 3; Morocco 7; Norway 3; New Zealand 1; Syria 3; Serbia 1; Oman 1; Pakistan 3; Czech Republic 4; France 9; Kosovo 1; Canada 1; Sweden 11; Turkey 380; Yemen 4.

Every one of these passengers had filled out an extensive application. Although Free Gaza was not responsible for the Turkish passengers, they used our application process. Every person who boarded every boat was searched. Even one of the crew-members on board the Mavi Marmara had to relinquish his Swiss army knife.

2. Passengers attacked heavily armed Israeli commandos, forcing them to shoot in self-defense.

Passengers on all six boats testified to being beaten, their bones broken, and most of them tied up on ships that were in the Mediterranean, a direct violation of maritime law and the treatment of civilians.

As the UNHCR report clearly states, of the nine passengers who were murdered on board the Mavi Marmara, six of them were assassinated, none of them had weapons. In fact, the only weapon in their hands was a camera.

Even the whitewashing Palmer report, a panel set up to counter what UNHRC had issued and co-chaired by that famous human rights abuser from Columbia, Uribe, reluctantly concluded that Israel overreacted. Their finding that the blockade was legal has no standing according to many maritime lawyers (there were none on the panel), since they wer only tasked to mend relations with Turkey, something they failed abysmally to do.

3. Israel ‘kindly offered’ to take the supplies loaded on the boats and transfer them to Gaza.

First of all, our missions have never been about delivering supplies. They have always been about breaking Israel’s illegal siege on Gaza. We took in supplies, because we could, and because we often loaded the boats with medical equipment and construction equipment that Israel refused to allow into the besieged enclave.

Second, there is no method of transporting anything from Ashdod to Gaza. It is a seaport with no facilities for transporting 10,000 tons of supplies that were on board the boats. Free Gaza’s lawyers and representatives in Israel spent months working on getting the supplies from the Rachel Corrie into Gaza. When they finally were delivered, the battery operated wheelchairs were minus the batteries, as Israel determined they might be used to make rockets, the same reasoning they gave to us on the first trip about hearing aid batteries.

Third, every piece of cargo, every piece of equipment and every supply that was going to Gaza had already been inspected at the point of departure. That’s the way it’s supposed to be handled, not by some paranoid country that thinks it can break all the conventions of the sea and demand that cargo that was already inspected get hauled into its port. Imagine what a mess it would be if every country in the world decided they had the right to inspect cargo coming in from every other country. It’s what cargo manifests and inspectors are for.

Those three constant lies have been trotted out at every opportunity to shut up the activists and prevent additional voyages. It has not stopped us, as evidenced by the most recent initiative, sailing a boat out of Gaza (www.gazaark.org), nor will it stop us from continuing to hold Israel accountable for the well-being of the people it occupies.

The best news on this, the third anniversary of the murders of eight Turks and one American, is that the ICC is going to consider the complaint from the Cormoros Islands, the country where the Mavi Marmara was flagged.

In an attempt to shut in the people of Gaza, shut down the voyages and shut up the people who advocate for freedom of movement for the 1.5 million people imprisoned there, the Israelis have failed…. Miserably.

– Greta Berlin is one of the five co-founders of the Free Gaza movement (www.freegazamovement.com) and was on one of the first two boats to arrive in Gaza in August, 2008. She was the primary spokesperson for Freedom Flotilla 1 in May 2010, appearing on international media in Europe, the Middle East and the United States when the flotilla was attacked by Israeli commandos. She is the co-author of Freedom Sailors, a book about that first trip and how activists made it to Gaza in spite of huge obstacles. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

15 Comments

  1. I am given to understand that the present Israeli Defence Attache, now resident in Canada, Brig-Gen Eden Attias, was cited by Turkish intelliegence as one of those involved in planning Israel’s Mavi Marmara attack. If so, this would make him a war criminal and Canada has a statutory obligation to either eject him from the country, or begin an investigation into his involvement in the crime. I am wondering why Canadian supporters of the Freedom Flotilla movement and others have not called for Eden Attias’s immediate expulsion or taken him into custody pending a trial on his role?

    • A brilliant and true article Greta. I wish i could do more to help, but I have chosen to live in the Middle Kingdom, and can not do much from here, except give you 1000% moral support.
      I do educate people here on the truth about “the only democracy in the middle east”.
      Keep up the good work!
      Bill.

    • This is an excellent article that everyone in the world should read, especially the
      Israelis, the US leaders and the allies.

      Thank you Greta Berlin and all those associated with you now and in the past.

      Bless Noah’s Ark and all the Gazans, all the Palestinians.

      Sincerely, Georgianne E. Matthews

    • Hello John Gilberts,
      I was on board the Mavi Marmara and so I am quite interested in knowing as much as possible about Brig Gen Attias and his work in Canada. I’d appreciate hearing anything you have. Send me an email at neish1966@live.com
      Thanks.
      Kevin Neish
      Victoria, B.C., Canada

  2. After reading this and checking the links. I’m astounded that Israel has gotten away with murder, piracy, theft and crimes against humanity. Where is the justice when a rogue state like this can attack civilians, not just once, but many times.

    I had no idea that Free Gaza voyages had been attacked repeatedly. Thank you for the article

  3. That was a day of infamy and do not understand how the civilized world did not react to such an act of piracy.

    • Fernando I believe many did not hear the details of the brutal act of piracy committed by Israel, but instead heard a bleak twist of the event by the world wide Zionist media and the complicit countries who support them. Was not the first time, not the second, and probably won’t be the last until the Israeli gov’t is dismantled until they play nice with others.

  4. Civilans died in hundreds, buildings destroyed - and cruel deaths which cannot ever be justified. says:

    As Greta says at one point in her excellent article: there was money flowing in to a country which suddenly was unwilling to allow the flotilla to use its ports. In the same way, disgustingly, the free world allows Israel to get away with murder [literally] as they are a buffer between Iran and the USA. Perhaps the best thing is to make sure all our US friends are aware of this article, and take notice of the dreadful events. After all, the US pours money into Israel: paying them as well as supplying them with enormous quantities of arms – where do we imagine all those terrible weapons used during Operation Cast Lead came from? Flown in, from the US, they were put to immediate use.

    • We kindly ask you to make a link on these articles to other social networks such as Facebook so that we can spread this message. Free Gaza friends have the responsibility of spreading the truth to the world.

  5. Thanks for this excellent article by Greta Berlin which summarizes the actions of the Free Gaza Movement and allied solidarity groups.

    If Somalis or any other country did what Israel does in violating maritime law, they would be called Pirates or rougue states. Enough with Israeli and American exceptionalism! It is time for liberty and justice for all. We need to end America’s codependent relationship with the Zionists. I am proud to have been on the maiden voyage of the Free Gaza Movement which has courageously exposed the absurdities and hypocracies of American and Israeli policies. You can order our book Freedom Sailors on line: http://www.freedomsailors.com .

  6. Dear Greta,

    Good and thank you. Might I correct this?

    Quote “….. had been rammed off the coast of Lebanon as we were taking medical personnel into Gaza.”

    The act, intended to drown the 16 of us, ” ….was 66 miles of the coast of the Zionist entity on the latitude of Haifa.”

    I never knew until at least a year after those minutes when I thought my life was ending, that there was a third gun boat. And before that I learned the second gun boat played its searchlight on our port hull so the first could aim at the wheelhouse and at about 40 degrees to our midline. The master and those others in the wheelhouse were fortunate not to have been crushed. See the photos.

  7. Greta, thanks for writing this accurate account of Israel’s brutality directed at passengers attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza. From the moment Israel knew of our plans to sail our two little wooden peace boats to Gaza in 2008 it set out to destroy us, culminating with its vicious attack on the Freedom Flotilla and the brutal murder of nine unarmed passengers.

    Your report of the attack on the MAVI MARMARA gives me chills as I remember what it was like for us that day and the days that followed. We felt isolated and helpless, worried for our friends and trying to get the truth out to international media already bombarded by zionist hasbara & fake videos.

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