Years of impunity for Israeli leaders may draw to a close in Turkish flotilla trial

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As Turkey is now conducting trials of four high level Israeli officials for the attack on the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, the question of who started the violence and who was acting to defend themselves when Israeli forces stormed the flotilla is not in doubt. The trial in Turkey could be the beginning of the end of impunity for those responsible. 

Unedited raw footage taken by Iara Lee, a videographer on the Mavi Marmara provides a minute-by-minute account of events in and around the ship. The footage shows Israeli soldiers firing weapons at the ship at least 5 minutes and 30 seconds before other Israeli soldiers are seen rappelling down to the ship from a helicopter. That is, at least 5 minutes and 30 seconds before anyone on the ship could have been committing violence on those rappelling soldiers. As there are several times when the camera was turned off, the actual time between the first shots at the ship and the time the Israeli soldiers rappelled down to the ship must be longer than the running time of the film. The footage was formally released at a press conference at the UN on June 10, 2010. Following is a detailed minute-by-minute summary of the events recorded on that film. 

The first sound of gunfire is at 36:08 on the film, and it appears to be coming from an Israeli Zodiac boat filled with Israeli soldiers coming alongside the ship. The first explosive device is at 36:13. Different kinds of gunfire sounds and explosions are heard for the next few minutes. There are close ups of Israeli soldiers on the Zodiac firing their weapons at 36:39.

The film shows flashes from guns and an Israeli soldier with a rifle aimed up at the ship. One can hear lots of firing and explosions from 36:08 to at least 37:17. 

Passengers on board start throwing things down from the ship at 37:21. Different kinds of gunfire sounds and explosions are heard for the next few minutes.

The first sound of a helicopter is at around 37:40.  The camera was turned off two times between 37:40 and 38:24

Red dripping on the walls is seen at 38:24 and someone keeps saying blood. Someone else says “I think they are using paintball looking stuff. It is not live ammunition” at 39:12.

The sound of the helicopter hovering over the ship begins at around 39:40 and gets much louder at 40:15.

The red laser light from a rifle on the helicopter is seen flashing around the deck at 39:41

We then see the helicopter directly over the ship at 40:28.

6 or 7 soldiers are seen rappelling down along two different ropes from the helicopter beginning at 41:38 and continuing until 41:58. 

The helicopter lifts away at 42:29 

Noise level from passengers on board begins to rise at 42:40

More gunfire is heard at 42:49, 43:18 and repeatedly at 43:35  and we see wounded carried at 43:29. At 44:18 Kevin, an American shows a booklet obtained from one of the Israeli soldiers showing pictures of who they wanted. We hear from him at 45:45 that they hauled two Israeli soldiers down bleeding and wounded.

The footage shows Israeli soldiers firing weapons and shooting explosive devices beginning at least 5 minutes and 30 seconds before other Israeli soldiers came rappelling down their rope from this helicopter. These facts–that Israeli soldiers were shooting and firing explosive devices onto the ship long before protesters could have struck soldiers who rappelled down to the ship –are contrary to the Israeli government’s self-defense claim. 

Israeli government forces seized electronic devices, including cameras, computers, cell phones, and memory cards from passengers. The footage Israeli authorities released–that was repeatedly shown in major media reports in days following the attack–showed Israeli soldiers being attacked as they rappelled on deck. But that footage entirely omitted mention of the Israeli gunfire and explosive devices that preceded their arrival. 

Israeli officials are now attacking the trial of the four Israeli officials in Turkey as “a cynical political process.” But the weapons Israeli forces are seen firing in Iara Lee’s footage well before Israeli soldiers landed on deck demonstrate that Israeli officials were carrying out their own cynical media spin in the days following their military assault on the Mavi Marmara. If the trial in Turkey is successful at establishing the facts, the long years of impunity for Israeli political and military leaders may finally start drawing to a close.

About James Marc Leas

James Marc Leas is a past co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee. He collected evidence in the Gaza Strip from November 27 to December 3, 2012 as part of a 20 member delegation from the US and Europe and co-authored several articles describing findings. He also participated in the National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in February 2009 and contributed to its report, Onslaught: Israel’s Attack on Gaza and the Rule of Law.

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