Thursday, June 17, 2010

The moments when the Israeli soldiers were beaten up on Mavi Marmara

The deadly raid on the Gaza aid flotilla triggered a propaganda war between Israel and pro-Palestinian activists. Surprisingly, it was Turkish newspaper Hürriyet that published the most spectacular photos.

On Friday, June 4, an agitated man with a bald head and full gray beard walked into the headquarters of the Muslim aid organization IHH in Istanbul. The 53-year-old man identified himself as Kevin Neish, a peace activist and amateur photographer from Victoria, Canada. Four days previously he had been on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, he said. He had taken photos that night when Israeli soldiers stormed the vessel. "Do you have a computer?" Neish asked breathlessly and handed a memory card containing digital photos to a surprised office worker.

The photos that appeared on a computer screen at IHH provide a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened on May 31 some 100 kilometers off the Israeli coast. They show two pro-Palestinian activists armed with iron bars standing in front of a door. One of the photos shows an Israeli soldier covered in blood and lying on the floor, the other shows a dead activist who appears to have been shot in the head. The photos show that a deadly scuffle took place on board -- one in which activists were killed by Israeli soldiers, but which was provoked by the Turkish and Arab passengers of the Mavi Marmara.

The IHH staff didn't like every photo they saw. Only Neish, who had managed to smuggle the memory card past the Israeli authorities and into Turkey, felt satisfied. "I hid the card everywhere while the soldiers were questioning us," he said. "I had it in my mouth, once in my shoes, and once in my underpants."

Three days later, on June 7, the photos were published in Turkish newspaper Hürriyet -- together with other photos taken by Turkish photographer Adem Özköse, who works for the Islamic publishing house Hayat Dergisi.

The fact that "the moments when the Israeli soldiers were beaten up," as Hürriyet put it, were published in a Turkish newspaper of all places is the climax of a bizarre war of interpretation that pro-Palestinian activists and the Israeli government have been waging against each other ever since the deadly raid.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against Israel's "banditry and piracy." But Hürriyet belongs to the media group of entrepreneur Aydin Dogan which has been critical of the government in the past. Initially, Dogan's newspapers had criticized the Israeli raid just like Turkey's pro-government papers. But since then they have been warning against excessive Israel bashing and against the prime minister's increasingly authoritarian style of government.

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