A main organizer of the flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza was a Turkish charity group, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which has a long history of fomenting violence.
Evidence of the violent character of this “charity” had long been documented—not by Israel, but by two governments quick to later criticize Israel for the boarding operation while remaining silent about the evidence they had on IHH’s terrorist linkage.
In 1997, a secular Turkish government launched an investigation of IHH after learning it was buying automatic weapons from Islamic militants in the region.
A search of IHH’s Istanbul offices uncovered firearms, explosives and bomb-making manuals, according to a recently released report of this investigation by terrorist expert Evan Kohlmann. The investigation led Turkish authorities then to believe "detained members of IHH were going to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya."
But it is a more accepting Turkish government, under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today that deals with IHH. Having gradually turned his back on secularism to embrace Islamic fundamentalism, Erdogan has won praise from IHH supporters. Despite being the last person able to stop the flotilla from setting sail and thus avoiding the inevitable confrontation with Israel, Erdogan was the first to criticize Israel after it happened, describing it as a “bloody massacre."
Kohlman’s report shared more recent intelligence on IHH collected by the French government. IHH leaders had directly conspired during the mid-1990s to "recruit veteran soldiers in anticipation of the coming holy war." Also documented was evidence not only of phone conversations between IHH and al Qaeda but IHH’s involvement in the 2000 millennium bomb plot targeting Los Angeles International Airport. Yet, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested he was "profoundly shocked" by the Israeli boarding.
In fact, the boarding incident reveals the true nature of these so-called “humanitarians.”
Israeli commandos conducted a pre-dawn boarding on May 30 in international waters of a flotilla of six cargo ships heading for Gaza. The boarding of one, the Mavi Marmara, led to the lives of nine pro-Palestinian activists being lost.
As the flotilla—a humanitarian deception—neared Gaza, the Israeli military spent several hours attempting to convince the ships to alter course. (Interestingly, while creating a false need for humanitarian aid to Gaza—which receives a steady flow of supplies—IHH has never offered to assist in the real need for aid by its Muslim brothers in Darfur.) Activists onboard Mavi Marmara shouted at the Israelis to “go back to Auschwitz.” As the convoy maintained maximum speed, the Israelis had to act. And, as video later confiscated from the activists made clear, armed with clubs, steel rods, etc. in hand, they had anything but a non-violent reception in mind for the commandos.
Despite claims to the contrary, the Israelis did have a legal right to board the flotilla in international waters. Navies often board suspicious-looking vessels in international waters approaching their coastline. Also, as seen off Somali waters, vessels suspected of piracy are routinely boarded.
The Israelis, in boarding the ships, anticipated theater rather than aggression by the activists. Boardings on five of the six ships were uneventful—with no injuries or deaths suffered. Only onboard Mavi Marmara did violence erupt. A video of the actual boarding clearly indicates why.
As the first Israeli commando rappelled from a helicopter to the deck of the ship, several activists jumped him and began savagely beating him. The same happened with the next commando and the next. One commando was thrown overboard. IHH was living up to its violent character. The commandos had every right to defend themselves against attacks so brutal they had little opportunity to draw the nonlethal weapons they originally intended to use.
Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Namik Tan, in a June 5 op-ed in The Washington Post, unintentionally gave a qualified defense of the activists who taunted the Israelis. He stated while “this was a humanitarian initiative, in any democratic country people have freedom of expression so long as they avoid violence (italics added).” Therein lies the key—the activists failed to avoid violence; instead, they sought to do grievous bodily harm to the Israeli commandos. IHH brazenly admitted after the incident it had, in fact, provoked the violence.
Since 2007, Gaza has been subjected to a blockade, imposed by the only two countries with which it shares borders—Israel and Egypt. The blockade’s purpose is to keep the peace by preventing weapons and other war-making commodities from entering the territory—run by the Islamist militia group Hamas—to further its terrorist agenda against Israel. The international community perceived the flotilla’s objective to be commendable—i.e., delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza residents presumed to be in dire need of it.
Theoretically, then, the objective of flotilla organizers and the Israeli government were not dissimilar. Israel had no objection to Gazans receiving such aid—although it was not really needed as tons of supplies were entering Gaza each month, but only after being inspected for contraband.
Israel even offered the flotilla the opportunity to unload its cargo by boat at Israel’s Southern port of Ashdod for inspection and ground transport to Gaza. But IHH made clear it was not seeking Israeli’s authorization to go to Gaza. Appeals by both Israel and Egypt to avoid confrontation by encouraging an offshore off-load of the cargo were rejected by Turkish officials, claiming the effort was nongovernmental and, thus, one over which they had no control. As another flotilla organizer put it, "This is about breaking the blockade on Gaza."
In January, Hamas had worked with another charity group’s ground convoy, formed solely to break the blockade from the Egyptian side of the border. Violence resulted, leaving an Egyptian policeman dead. Apparently, charity groups working with Hamas undergo a "mind meld"—becoming at one with the terrorist group’s violent ways.
Three ships of the IHH flotilla set sail from Turkey on May 29. They departed to the cheers of thousands of supporters who understood, much better than the international community, what the flotilla’s real purpose was. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan gave it his support, asking Israel to let it pass through to Gaza. These ships were joined enroute by others.
The stated objective of the flotilla organizers left Israel with little doubt as to their real objective—this was not a humanitarian effort but a confrontational one. On May 27, Israel warned organizers of the flotilla, carrying 680 activists (almost 60% of whom were Turks), that Israeli commandos were prepared to board the ships at sea, escort them to port and give activists a choice to depart or be incarcerated at a massive makeshift detention center in Ashdod. It announced their commandos would use tasers, paintball guns, tear gas and other non-lethal weapons to subdue overly active activists.
Turkish Ambassador Tan reported the flotilla was "taking food, toys, medical equipment and similar aid to the people of Gaza.” He failed to mention activists had access to knives, metal rods, clubs, bulletproof vests and night vision goggles. Fifty lacked passports while carrying large amounts of cash. Onboard as well were building supplies, such as cement, routinely used by Hamas to construct bunkers in Gaza.
Ambassador Tan demands of Israel an apology for its irresponsibility in the deaths of the nine activists. This is hypocrisy. The complete picture reveals Turkey had a last clear chance to prevent the confrontation—knowing it would happen. Yet Erdogan refused to do so, choosing instead to promote Islamic fundamentalist objectives. Thus, it is an apology from the Turks for these activists’ deaths that should be demanded.
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