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Watching Iara Lee’s ‘Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara’

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How many of you have watched Iara Lee‘s film from the "Mavi Marmara" from start to finish? I’d only watched the key 15-minute section that Adam excerpted a couple weeks ago, till the other day when I saw two friends who’d viewed the whole 62 minutes and were blown away. I sat down and watched it twice. It astounds me that no one in the mainstream media has done a review of this film–a columnist or a critic or diplomatic correspondent. For it is a vital document of an important incident, and even as politicians describe the boat’s passengers as terrorists, the experts ignore this evidence of the truth.

For starters, "Israeli Attack on the Mavi Marmara// Raw Footage" is a dramatic work. It begins at about 2 in the morning and seems to end at about 7 or 8. We see an hour of film in that interval, and a lot happens. The sun comes up. The rosy fingers of the dawn, as Homer put it. And there is a weird cathartic feeling at the end of the movie of relief; it is daylight and the passengers are all sitting on the floor, the nightmare is over, a nightmare you don’t have to live because they have.

There is the element of surprise, too. We all know that a tragedy is about to befall many of these people, they don’t. That’s the beauty of the first 40 minutes, the scenes on the deck of the Mavi Marmara as it churns toward Gaza. Everyone thinks the action’s going to happen at daybreak, in sight of land, they’re bedding down with lifejackets on. But there isn’t that much tension. It’s like any boat I’ve been on in my travels in the Third World. A man steals a drink by a railing, people are stretched out on benches or on sleeping bags. No one’s getting enough sleep, the engines groan and the sea rips.

We see a bunch of middle-aged men gathering and one of them chanting in Arabic, singing the Palestinian national anthem, biladi, my country. I believe there’s even the word jihadi in there, but there’s nothing threatening about it. Of course all these people are gripped by a sense of political moment, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. They’ve upset their lives to break a blockade, they’re committed. But none of them looks like a soldier, and they don’t have anything to hide. There are cameras all around, and the cameraperson (it’s not Iara Lee herself; she’s seen at one point at a computer, wearing her life jacket, trying to get through to Hillary Clinton’s people) soon moves on, to show an Al Jazeera interview being done on the deck, to a man smiling and holding a gasmask. We hear some English being spoken, but there is lots of diversity in the company. Most of these people are Middle Easterners, and one senses from their exchanges and serious faces how important Gaza has become as a cause, of freedom, of anti-colonialism, throughout the region. There is a scene of a hundred or more men praying. Most are in their 30s and 40s. One has the Palestinian flag stitched to his coat, and the name of his country, Kuwait.

When it comes to the attack on the boat, the aggression comes from the Israelis. A boat comes alongside in the dark, shots are fired, likely stun grenades, evidently from the boat. Cries ring on the deck, many rush inside in fear. We see soldiers on the boat holding up guns.

Again I credit the filmmaker for her honesty. We see passengers throwing bottles at the boats, and as the attack progresses, we see passengers gathering in gangways, many of them holding sticks or steel rods. But there is a defensiveness and confusion in these men, and no organization at all. The absurdity of the claim that this was a prepared attack! No, it is frightened people being shot at from the dark– at first with paintball rounds, it seems from the red streaks on a cowling– and many of them are angry and determined to resist. Put aside the debate about nonviolence; it is clear that these men made no such vow; still, it is not as if they were seeking violence. They are hunched next to doorways as the shots ring out, some shots coming in automatic burps. And they are ready to use those sticks on anyone who comes near them.

We see the helicopter’s steel-insect belly open, and Israeli commandos descend on ropes. The cameraman is himself afraid of being shot, the angle is tricky; we don’t see the passengers beating on those commandos, we only see some young men shooting at the belly of the helicopter with slingshots. A true David and Goliath moment. Puny.

The idea that the Israeli soldiers were lynched is simply crazy hasbara. No: they swarmed a boat at night, in the open sea, firing guns, and scared the hell out of everyone, and many of the people on board resisted.

The scenes of a man dying in a stairwell, and other men being carried wounded to landings so their clothes can be cut away and their injuries dressed– these are truly pathetic. This is no hospital, it is a grimy floor. The medical supplies are rudimentary, the efforts of the caregivers noble. No one who is preparing to take on an army behaves in this manner. And again the resisters: the two dying men I recognize from the newspaper photos of the dead are both older, with gray beards. Angry, yes, but threats to anyone? That is nuts.

"We have no guns, we are civilians… don’t use violence!" someone cries out in accented English near the end, to whoever is listening. That is the absurdist theme of this movie: some undiscovered high-tech mayhem is gathering in the dark, and fear sweeps the passengers, how many of us will be shot?

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