Testimonies of Israeli soldiers who intercepted the Gaza flotilla

Published: 21 ay 2011
Briefing Number 285

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Summary:   This Briefing contains the testimony of four Israeli soldiers who boarded the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010 to try to enforce Israel’s naval blockade and prevent it from sailing direct to Gaza.   Nine passengers were killed on the ship, and several Israeli soldiers were seriously injured. The soldiers’ accounts were included in the final report of the Turkel Commission, an independent Israeli panel which investigated the incident.     

Key message:  The testimonies show that the soldiers who boarded the Mavi Marmara were in severe danger of being killed, and acted to save their lives.

Background – Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza

In January 2009 Israel imposed a naval blockade of Gaza as part of its armed conflict with Hamas, which rules Gaza.  Hamas has undertaken a military build-up and smuggled in huge amounts of weaponry.  In addition, thousands of missiles and rockets have been fired from Gaza into Southern Israel in recent years, randomly targetting civilians. 

In late May 2010 a flotilla of six vessels sailed towards Gaza. The largest was the Mavi Marmara, carrying about 550 people.  Israel proposed to transfer any humanitarian supplies into Gaza via its Mediterranean seaport of Ashdod.  That proposal was rebuffed by the crew, who made clear in their public announcements that they wished to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

On 31 May Israeli forces intercepted and boarded all six vessels in the flotilla.   Passengers on five ships peacefully cooperated with Israeli forces. But a group on the Mavi Marmara responded with violence.  Nine of them were killed in the clashes on board, and several Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded.

It later emerged that the ‘hardcore’ of passengers on the Mavi Marmara were from a Turkish Islamist group called the IHH.  It also emerged that the vessel was not carrying humanitarian supplies.
The incident provoked a global outcry against Israel.  Israel protested that its soldiers had not boarded the Mavi Marmara intending to cause violence, but had had to defend themselves against potentially lethal attack.  Indeed, they had ‘fast-roped’ onto the deck of the ship carrying paintball guns rather than lethal weapons.     

Israel established an independent enquiry into the episode, to examine the legality of Israel’s actions, and the circumstances in which the passengers died.

During that enquiry, several Israeli soldiers gave personal testimony of what happened when they tried to board the Mavi Marmara. 

Below are extracts from four of their statements.  They are taken from ‘Report of the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of 31 May 2010’ (The Turkel Commission Report, January 2011).

Israeli soldier 1.....

“Before I managed to touch my feet on the deck, about ten people jumped onto me and began brutally beating me from every direction using clubs, metal rods and fists.... At this stage I was not armed.

....A number of attackers grabbed me by the legs and my torso and threw me over the side to the deck below, about 3.5 meters.

Upon landing on the middle deck, I fractured my arm, and a mob of dozens of people attacked me and basically lynched me – including pulling off my helmet, strangling me, sticking fingers into my eyes to gouge them out of their sockets, pulling my limbs in every direction, striking me in an extremely harsh manner with clubs and metal rods, mostly on my head.   I truly felt that I was about to die, way beyond what we define as life-threatening.  The behaviour of the people at this stage was definitely like fighters of an enemy which has come to kill the other side, that is, me.   I felt at any moment I would take a blow to the head which would kill me.....”

Israeli soldier 2.....

“They strangled me, and tried to throw me over the right side of the Mavi Marmara.  I got down into a half-kneeling position and I held onto the railing of the ship.  I realised my life was in danger and they’re trying to kill me and throw me over in order to wipe me out.  I felt that I was fighting for my life and that this was not a game of stopping a ship, but a battle for my life, so I fought back hard.  At this stage I felt a strong blow to my abdomen on the left side, and I realised that it was likely that I had been wounded by a bullet to the abdomen.....”

Israeli soldier 3....

“They are all wearing orange life vests, some of them have kefiyot over their faces, some have gas masks, and some have their faces uncovered.  I realise immediately  that my life is in danger, I realise that the lives of the other soldiers who fast-roped and are fast-roping are in danger.... while I am drawing my weapon, I feel myself flying, as a result of being pushed.

... I find myself sitting on the deck with my back to the side and facing all people surrounding me.  The people surrounding me have axes, knives, metal poles and clubs, and they’re running towards me – it’s a matter of a second or two before they reach me.  I manage to cock the weapon and release two bullets. 

I don’t know if I have hit anyone.  People immediately reach me, grab the weapon from me, and hit me with the full force with poles and clubs.  I sit against the side with my knees bent – my wide is turned towards the side of the wall, hands protecting my face.  A mob of people are around me are hitting me with many blows, mainly towards my head.  The people surrounding me are going berserk, and they’re constantly shouting “Allahu Akhbar”.  After about two minutes I feel a number of people grabbing my hands and feet, lifting me up.  In this second I realise that they intend to throw me over the side into the water.... I am holding onto the side, with my hands, and hanging from the side.  At this stage, the people from above me are hitting my hands and a second group of people is pulling me from below and grabbing my legs.....

As I land, another group of people are running towards me.  Here as well there are shouts of “Allahu Akbar”. I am lying on the deck, there are many people above me, one of the people jumps on me and I feel a sharp pain in the lower abdomen.  I put my hand there and I feel a knife, and I realise that I have been stabbed. I instinctively pull the knife out of my abdomen.....”

Israeli soldier 4....

“As I reached the deck, I saw a terrorist with an iron crowbar waiting to strike me on the head, but when he tried to hit me, I pushed him, and immediately another four terrorists jumped onto me while one of them wrapped the chain around my neck and strangled me. While I am struggling with them I thought of drawing my pistol but I felt that if I drew it, because they were up against me and kicking me, I wouldn’t be able to shoot and they would grab the pistol from me.  At this stage, I lost consciousness (apparently from the strangling – I saw stars) and when I awoke, I felt that I was in the air, and three/four terrorists are throwing me from the upper deck to the bridge deck.  I was very heavy, and I felt a very quick and forceful fall.  About 20 men were waiting for me there with poles, axes and more, and as I fell they grabbed me and dragged me inside the ship....”

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