Israel Rejects Call for International Probe into Attack on Gaza Flotilla
Amy Goodman: Calls are growing louder for an international inquiry into Israel’s deadly attack on a flotilla of humanitarian aid ships to the Gaza Strip last week. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed a UN proposal for an international commission headed by former New Zealand prime minister and maritime law expert Geoffrey Palmer to investigate last Monday’s assault.
On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner called on Israel to accept an international inquiry into the attack that left nine Turkish activists dead. One of them is an American citizen.
William Hague: We think it is very important that there is a prompt and impartial and credible and transparent investigation into the events of last Monday with the Gaza flotilla. And we believe there should be an international presence, at minimum, in that inquiry or investigation. And that is what I’ve said to the Israeli government again today.
Amy Goodman: Meanwhile, passengers who were aboard the Turkish ship that was attacked, the Mavi Marmara, continue to provide new accounts of the Israeli assault. On Sunday, a group of British activists spoke out after arriving in London following their detention in Israel. Osama Qashoo held up a picture of a man he identified as one of the nine people killed aboard the ship.
Osama Qashoo: This is a friend of mine, [inaudible], who was shot. This wallet was in his pocket like here. He just was sleeping when he was shot from the helicopters. The bullet went straight from here into his heart. Another friend of mine, who was just basically taking a picture-he’s a journalist-he was shot here. His brain fell in my hands. I had his white brain in my hands. I mean, he had done nothing.
Amy Goodman: An Irish American activist has accused Israeli forces of beating him following his arrest aboard the ship. The activist, Ken O’Keefe, arrived in Turkey Friday with blood marks on his face and clothes.
Ken O’Keefe: The Israelis attacked me in Ben Gurion Airport yesterday and attacked me again last night in the detention center in Tel Aviv at the airport. Of course, this is nothing compared to what others have gotten. Palestinians get this every day. This is all I have. This is it. My blood, these bloody clothes, that’s all I have.
Amy Goodman: While international condemnation of Israel continues, inside Israel the mood is quite different. An Israeli parliamentary panel recommended today that the Knesset revoke the privileges of the Israeli Arab lawmaker Hanin Zoabi for participating in last week’s Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Right-wing demonstrators targeted a peace protest in Tel Aviv Saturday and reportedly attacked veteran Israeli activist, the eighty-six-year-old Uri Avnery.
For more on the fallout of the flotilla attack and the reactions inside, I’m joined now from Jaffa, Israel, by Max Blumenthal. He’s a Nation Institute fellow, award-winning journalist and bestselling author of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. He’s currently based in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Max.
Max Blumenthal: It’s great to be with you, Amy.
Amy Goodman: Just this last news of the attack on Uri Avnery, well-known peace activist, what do you know happened to him?
Max Blumenthal: Well, I was there. I didn’t witness the attack, but I was at this rally, which was called by the Israeli communist party, Hadash, which is a marginalized left-wing party, that managed to get about 6,000 people out to Rabin Square to protest the forty-third anniversary of the occupation. Meanwhile, Facebook groups have been sprouting up across Israel, not just including right-wingers, but common citizens, to organize provocations like the one that occurred outside this rally. And I witnessed the right-wing faction grow outside the rally as demonstrators were leaving, and they began to provoke the demonstrators, to charge at them, to attempt to drape them in the Israeli flag. Police eventually came and nearly trampled the left-wing Hadash demonstrators with horses to keep them away. Then the right-wingers proceeded into the streets of Tel Aviv, heckling and menacing people in cafes, calling them “stinking Tel Avivians.” And I followed them throughout Tel Aviv as their ranks gathered. They elicited a lot of opposition and anger from people who were passersby, but also a lot of support.
And the mood right now in Israel is really extremely nationalistic after the flotilla raid, and the right—and the right is being joined by people from the middle, common citizens, in this nationalistic fervor, and you’re seeing it play out in the streets of Tel Aviv, and it is becoming increasingly violent. Uri Avnery was attacked as he was getting into his car, when he was spotted by some of these right-wing thugs. And he was hustled away. He’s eighty-six years old. He was okay. But the mood is incredibly disturbing here. I’m witnessing it every day.
And most of the anger and most of the violent threats are being directed and channeled against the Israeli Palestinian population and members of Knesset who represent Arab parties, like Hanin Zoabi. There’s an Israeli Facebook group that has hundreds of members, and it’s dedicated to the assassination-to inciting the assassination of Hanin Zoabi, the member of Knesset who was physically attacked in the Knesset for attempting to relate her experience on the Mavi Marmara ship. And this Facebook group is where a lot of these right-wing spontaneous demonstrations are being organized.
As it happens, I will have a video up—I do have video from the right-wing demonstration that I just described on my website maxblumenthal.com, and I’ll have another video up this afternoon of a massive, massive rally of Israelis, not just right-wingers, but people who describe themselves as average Israelis, outside the Turkish embassy last Thursday, extremely disturbing display of nationalism and anti-Turkish sentiment.
Amy Goodman: Max Blumenthal, you began last week to question the Israeli government, when you talked-well, over the weekend, the IDF admitted that it had doctored audio footage from its exchanges, from its exchanges with the Gaza flotilla.
Max Blumenthal: Right.
Amy Goodman: You reported on this as soon as the IDF released its doctored audio. This is the initial clip the IDF released last week.
Israeli Ship: [inaudible] This is the Israeli navy. You are approaching an area which is under a naval blockade.
Unidentified Man: Shut up. Go back to Auschwitz.
Unidentified Woman: We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter.
Unidentified Man: We’re helping Arabs going against the US. Don’t forget 9/11, guys.
Amy Goodman: Max Blumenthal, can you explain what you found fishy about this clip? Also, the IDF’s retraction and your thoughts on that? Also, you managed to get an earlier apology from the IDF last week regarding a press release they sent out two days after the assault claiming that approximately forty flotilla passengers, quote, “are mercenaries belonging to the Al Qaeda terror organization.” When you questioned the Israeli military press office, you didn’t get the evidence you asked for, but the press release was modified. The original headline was changed from “Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found to be Al Qaeda Mercenaries” to read, quote, “Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found Without Identification Papers.” Explain what’s happened in these cases, the doctored audio and the press release.
Max Blumenthal: Well, as soon as I arrived here in Israel, it became pretty clear to me that the IDF’s press operation was being run by someone with the journalistic integrity of James O’Keefe. First I found this press release where the IDF claimed that forty people onboard the Mavi Marmara were al-Qaeda mercenaries, and their evidence was that they had night-vision goggles and possibly gas masks, which clearly proves they’re linked to bin Laden. So I called the IDF along with my journalistic colleague Lia Tarachansky, who called them in Hebrew. I called them in English. We both got the same response: there is no evidence. This claim came from Netanyahu’s inner circle. And they immediately changed the press release to say forty passengers “found without identification” onboard the Mavi Marmara, basically retracting the al-Qaeda claim.
The second lie we were able to basically prove was that the IDF had doctored the footage you played, which sounds sort of like a prank call by a mentally deficient pre-adolescent. And clearly what the IDF and what the Israeli government is trying to do is present the confrontation with the flotilla in the context of the Holocaust to further incite nationalistic sentiment among the Israeli public. And it succeeded. But they have admitted that they doctored the footage and have now released, after releasing a previous audio clip, which showed-which presented entirely different audio from the same exchange, a new audio clip presenting different audio, which they claim is the full exchange. But now they’ve claimed that a lot of this audio did not come from the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship. So their story isn’t holding up.
And what this demonstrates is that nothing that the IDF says can be trusted, not one single word. And Israel has said, the Israeli military has said they’re happy to carry out their own investigation, but they are refusing to allow an international investigation. This proves why an Israeli military or an Israeli government investigation will ultimately be a whitewash. And the Israeli media has-and the Washington Post and the New York Times have accepted the lies being pumped out of the IDF press shop at face value and have not issued corrections after reporting on these proven lies. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported-and this is almost his exact language-that passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara repeatedly shouted “Go back to Auschwitz!” at the Israeli navy, and he hasn’t corrected himself. In fact, the IDF never even claimed that they repeatedly shouted that. They claimed that this was only shouted once. So I think all your listeners should call up the Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, and demand this correction, because the press can’t be allowed to get away with this, when even the IDF is correcting and clarifying itself.
Amy Goodman: Max Blumenthal, the Israeli government has been forced to apologize for circulating a spoof video mocking the activists aboard the Gaza flotilla. The YouTube clip is set to the tune of “We Are the World” featuring Israelis waving weapons while singing “We Are the World” but saying, what, “We conned the world, we conned the people. There’s no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all.” The clip featuring a group led by the Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor Caroline Glick wearing keffiyehs and calling themselves the Flotilla Choir. The Israeli government press office distributed the video link to foreign journalists this weekend, but then it emailed out an apology?
Max Blumenthal: Right. The distribution of this video by the IDF general press office—and it’s also being passed around on the Facebook pages of a lot of mainstream Israeli journalists, according to my journalistic colleague Didi Remez, who monitors the Israeli media at a website called coteret.org—shows the collective insanity that’s taken hold in Israel, as the Israeli government and many people in the Israeli media apparently thought that this footage, which is just going to be clearly racist to anyone outside of this country—anti-Arab, just absolutely disgusting—was effective hasbara. Hasbara is the Hebrew word for public diplomacy or, at worst, propaganda. And they believe that their own government had failed them in terms of hasbara, so they should resort to footage like this from people who are government apologists, like Caroline Glick, but who aren’t within the government. People in—some of the Israeli journalists I refer to have been distributing Glenn Beck’s—clips of Glenn Beck mocking the Gaza flotilla, as if Glenn Beck were somehow a credible source. People here in the media don’t seem to understand that Glenn Beck is absolutely not credible and is regarded with scorn by the mainstream press throughout the world. And so, this shows not only the catastrophe of public relations, but also the mood that’s taken hold here, which is extremely right-wing and relying on American neocons and American demagogues, like Glenn Beck, to tell the Israeli side of the story. The ultimate effect is the world sees through it. The international community and the international media increasingly views Israel as in the grip of a siege mentality, and Israeli nationalism is at a fever pitch. So it’s a very, I think, dangerous and disturbing scenario, and it’s playing out on the ground here every day.
Amy Goodman: Max, just a correction, on that video, the spoof, it shows Palestinians waving—or the activists onboard the ship waving weapons?
Max Blumenthal: Right. I’m not aware of any weapons that any activists had, but I just read an article in the popular Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, where a writer proposed, after taking to task the government for its hasbara PR failure, proposed that next time a flotilla arrives, the government essentially plant missiles and rockets on the flotilla, then display them on the beach at Ashdod when reporters arrive. So that this is the thinking right now, and it’s a complete PR disaster for Israel. And it’s promoting this nationalistic, jingoistic mood that I described among the Israeli public, and it’s only getting worse.
Amy Goodman: Max Blumenthal, I want to thank you for being with us, Nation Institute fellow. His book is Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. He’s speaking to us from Jaffa, Israel.
—democracynow.org, June 7, 2010