As a 29 year military veteran and a survivor of the Gaza Flotilla, I strongly believe that the Israeli military report on its conduct in boarding the six ships of the Gaza Flotilla underscores the need for an independent investigation. As we have found from investigations done by our own U.S military on its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, militaries, to their moral and ethical peril, seldom are critical of the conduct of their operations.
On July 12, Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) retired Major General Eiland spoke of his investigation of the IDF attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. While his classified report was not made available to the public, General Eiland said in a press conference that there were "no failures, but mistakes were made," and that high-level officials had made errors in judgment, but did not accuse anyone of negligence.
According to General Eiland, the report concluded that the passengers on the deck of the Mavi Marmara had been the "first instigators of violence." According to a Los Angeles Times article about the press conference, "Eiland concluded that activists disarmed Israeli soldiers and used the Israelis' guns against them, shooting at least four... and suggested that activists fired the first shot and may have smuggled at least one gun aboard."
According to another report of the press conference, EIland stated that there were four instances of live fire on soldiers and that a bullet removed from a soldier's knee "shows the Turkish activists had prepared non-military arms to use against the forces."
Eiland concluded that the Israeli Navy did not have the option of stopping the ships before they arrived in Israel's self-declared security zone because "the Navy has not yet developed such abilities, that take two years to acquire."
Eiland said that the Navy had prepared only for "likely resistance by a handful of activists, and not for a violent attack," and that when the Israeli ships approached the flotilla, Navy officials realized they had underestimated the situation, but did not adjust their plans. Eiland said that the Navy "should have understood that the situation did not match its assessments and should have stopped to reconsider the actions it would take."
Israelis stole passengers' cameras, computers and cellphones with evidence that refute Israeli claims
All of the evidence of what happened when the IDF commandos forcefully boarded all six ships in the flotilla is in the hands of the IDF. IDF personnel took every camera, cellphone and computer from all passengers on all of the ships. Only a few camera memory cards escaped the multiple body searches conducted on the ships, at the processing center at the Ashdod port, at the Beer-Shiva prison and at the Ben-Gurion airport. Conservatively, the Israeli government has stolen at least $1 million dollars worth of electronic equipment. The truth of what happened on the ships will be revealed in the photos and video taken by passengers on the ship, all in the hands of the Israeli government.
Israelis have a history of killing their own soldiers in friendly fire
I suggest that the history of IDF actions will reveal themes that may be important to evaluating Major General Eiland's conclusions. During the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza in December, 2008 and January, 2009 that killed 1440 Palestinians, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless, 13 Israelis were killed, three civilians and ten military. Of the ten military killed, 5, or one-half, were shot by their fellow soldiers in friendly fire incidents.
Independent investigation to evaluate passengers' evidence needed
Therefore, I would want an independent investigation to look closely at the Israeli allegations that live-fire occurred against Israeli soldiers. The YNet newspaper account of the press conference states that only one IDF soldier had a bullet in his knee and while the Los Angeles Times states that 4 IDF soldiers were shot by passengers disarming the soldiers and using their guns against them. It is not clear at all what the Israelis are alleging happened to the commandos. An independent investigation should develop a time line of when and where on the ship live fire occurred, taking testimony from both the passengers and the commandos.
Remarkably, the Israeli government has decreed that the IDF report will be the only time Israeli military personnel will be questioned, denying even the Israeli civilian commission headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice access to Israeli military for their investigation, with the exception of the Chief of Staff of the Military.
I find it astonishing that the IDF report states the Israeli Navy did not have the option of stopping the ships before they arrived in Israel's self-declared security zone because "the Navy has not yet developed such abilities, that take two years to acquire." The Israeli certainly had the option of stopping the ships without violence, whether inside their self-declared security zone or outside the zone in international waters. In fact, our small ship, the Challenger 1, was stopped dead in its wake when a large Israeli ship placed itself directly in front of our small ship. Our ship's captain did not wish to risk the lives of his passengers by ramming the much larger ship and stopped our vessel. If stopping the ships was the objective, they certainly could have been stopped without violence.
However, it certainly appears from the actions of the Israeli Navy that the objective was to take-over the ships in international waters and force them into an Israeli port, imprison the passengers and confiscate the cargo on three cargo ships.
I have no doubt that the Israeli military knew the identities of the passengers on board. We know they had a laminated list of those they particularly wanted to detain quickly because one of the laminated sets was in the backpack of one of the commandos treated at the ship's first aid station. In fact during the interrogation and processing of the passengers on our ship, the chief of the commandos came back into the area where we were being held and asked who is the Army Colonel, a verification to me that they knew who was on board each of the ships. Eventually I told him that I was the Army Colonel.
The IDF knew that the Mavi Marmara had about 520 men and 80 women onboard. They knew that over 450 of the men were from Arab and/or Muslim countries. They knew that boarding such a ship using force would be dangerous considering the historical cultural and religious sensitivities involved. They knew that morning prayers would be around 4:30am, when they chose to attack the ships. The Israeli military chose to use force.
I would hope an independent investigation would question the passengers on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara to determine if the reports that gunfire came from the helicopters from which the commandos repelled and that at least one passenger on the deck was wounded and lying in a pool of blood. If that is true, then the reaction of other passengers to one of their friends being shot from the helicopter could have set off the striking of commandos as they came onto the deck. The Israeli video that shows passengers striking the commandos was ended so viewers could not see the captain of the ship coming onto the deck ordering the passengers to stop hitting the commandos and directing one of the Turkish doctors to take the three injured commandos to the ship's first aid station for treatment and then to immediately return the commandos to the Israeli military forces so no one could claim that any commando had been captured or held.
Passengers videos and photos still in Israeli hands
Videos stolen from passengers will shed light on how the nine passengers died and the extent of injuries of over 50 passengers who were shot by commandos. The autopsies of the dead passengers revealed that five of the passengers were shot in the head and a total of 35 bullets were found in the bodies of the nine, including five bullets in the body of the young 19 year old American citizen.
Obama administration turning a blind eye to Israeli criminal actions
As a U.S. citizen and a former U.S. diplomat, I am shocked at the cavalier attitude of the Obama administration at the IDF murder of an American citizen, the IDF kidnapping and imprisonment of 14 American citizens, the IDF hijacking of an American flagged ship and the IDF theft of the personal possessions of American citizens.
When it comes to criminal actions committed by the Israeli government, the Obama administration is turning a blind eye.