The picture is clear: the activists attacked in the Israeli military’s May 31 nighttime commando raid on a boat bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza were not armed.
In Israel, the media is broadcasting disinformation, using edited videos. But it is clear there was no crossfire during the raid, just Israeli fire.
Israel claims there was an attempt by activists onboard the Mavi Marmara, to steal weapons from soldiers. But either the army’s spokespeople or the soldiers themselves are telling false tales.
Still, much of the Israeli public not only justifies what the soldiers did, but argue the army should have bombed all six ships in the Freedom Flotilla bringing aid — or at least one of them to force the others to retreat to back to Europe.
Even if the world accepted Israel's claims its army was violently opposed by the peace activists, such resistance would still be self-defense. The armed commandos were the invaders, not the victims.
There was even an 18-months-old baby aboard. The activists did not expect to be able to resist or plan to commit “kamikaze-style suicide attacks” against strong, well-trained commando soldiers. The activists just wanted to get to their destination — Gaza.
In the Israeli media, the activists are presented as terrorists who should have been assassinated in advance. The Israeli media criticises army intelligence for not expecting such “violence”.
But no weapons where found on the ship. If the activists planned an organised attack on the soldiers, as Israel claims, and then executed this master plan with various weapons, as Israel claims, there would be more injured soldiers and casualties from both sides.
The truth is the activists did not plan nor execute any attack. They were brutally attacked by the commando units.
The passengers did actually have the legal right to keep weapons on the ship under international law, including for self-defense purposes. As it happened, passengers were brutally massacred without the ability to defend themselves.
The activists did not seriously expect such a violent raid from a state purports to be a democracy.
The organisers of the Freedom Flotilla did not take anyone on board without a briefing about the use of non-violent resistance. Those onboard thought they knew how to avoid violence and to prevent unnecessary killing by non-violent resistance, as passengers on other ships in the flotilla did.
All hell broke loose on the Mavi Marmara when it was raided. Eyewitness accounts say the boat was fired on even before commandos abseiled onto the boat from a helicopter above.
Perhaps some onboard made desperate moves try to save themselves, as seemingly depicted in the Israeli military video. If any activists responded aggressively to the armed commandos, who had already fired on their boat, then the activists are still the victims.
No activist attacked the soldiers first.
There is a strong chance that, in the chaos, Israeli soldiers fired at each other, as happened in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon. In that war, more than half of the soldiers killed died from “friendly fire”.
Of course, many Israelis think Israel can do anything, even attack ships in international waters that pose no danger.
The ships that formed part of the Free Gaza Movement’s Freedom Flotilla did not even want to get close to Israel. The activists wanted to deliver food and medicines to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s besieged residents sorely need the aid, since the quota of goods allowed through by Israel (which, along with Egypt exercises total control of Gaza’s borders) is very limited.
For Israel, only Israeli soldiers are allowed carry weapons and use firearms in international territory. The army must kill all the terrorists, including terrorists that are, in fact, human rights activists.
Many in Israel see the Israeli army as the most moral army in the world, an army which deals with its enemies with gloves of silk and with the most proportional and moderated force as required by international law (unfortunately, many feel).
There is a “bravery tale” reported in the Israeli media about one of the soldiers who invaded the ship. The reports say the soldier was brutally attacked by activists and dragged to the bottom of the boat to be lynched.
The media reported that, when the soldier saw the activist-terrorists were going to lynch him, he shot them in the legs and ran away. This story illustrates how much of the Israeli public sees the Israeli army: as “much too moderate” and “too gentle”.
As to Israel’s demand to “inspect” their cargo, the activists know Israel determines what enters Gaza. It refuses to allow in a wide-range of food and medicines. As a result, there is not enough basic humanitarian aid for Gazan residents, four in five of which are dependent on aid to survive.
The activists know that products under Israeli military supervision would not be transferred to Gaza
The whole idea of the Freedom Flotilla is to break Israel’s siege on Gaza — an illegal siege under international law. Human rights activists did not try to sneak, they announced their intentions in advance. Flotilla organisers announced the time of their arrival in the Israeli media.
The raid did not take place in Israeli territory. The state of Israel was not trying to defend itself, but to prevent the possibility of the Gaza people getting the most basic humanitarian assistance. Israel continues to ensure the Gazan people starve.
Human rights activists are not provocateurs. But even if they were, is the penalty death?
Why do most Israelis agree with Israeli officials when they claim the ships support terrorism? Because the Israeli Defense Force spokespeople says so?
Were there any explosives aboard the ship? None were found. No firearms, no bombs, no missiles. It is obvious those on the ships have no involvement in terrorism.
Israel is a state based on racial segregation. As long as this continues, Israel will always justify the killing of others. The boat’s passengers were “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israel”, so the deaths were excusable.
Israel’s racist laws, as part of a state based on Judaism, give absolute superiority to Jewish citizens. This categorisation is made on the basis of being born to a Jewish mother, not on religious beliefs.
There is a law that gives the right for any Jewish mother’s son the ability to come to Israel and get a full citizenship. But Palestinians deported from their land claimed by Israel and left in refugee camps are denied the right to even return, much less enjoy citizenship rights.
In reality, there is no democracy in Israel, because there is a democracy only for Jewish citizens.
To survive as a Jewish state, Israel has to be a totalitarian state to its core. This is a country that combines the worst features of the Indian caste system, the apartheid model in South Africa and the French occupation of Algeria.
Palestinians in the West Bank live under military occupation, with constant invasions by the Israeli army into Palestinian towns and villages, with night arrests and sieges, curfews, and assassinations. They live without freedom of movement and are prevented from freely travelling to school or work.
In Gaza, they live under a total siege.
There are Israeli, Palestinian, and international activists trying to change this reality using non-violent actions that usually end with violent repression by the Israeli police and army. However, such actions are a signal to the outside word that there is still some sanity amid the madness.
[Yaar Peretz is an Israeli activist based in the West Bank who refused to join the Israeli military. Peretz is an intern in a human rights law office.]