IHH’s deputy chairman, Huseyin Oruc: “This siege is illegal. It was illegal and it was right of all of the peoples, all the NGOs, all the civilians to go to Gaza”
Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of an Israeli raid on a group of ships in the Mediterranean that left nine Turkish nationals dead.
The ships, known as the Freedom Flotilla, were bound for Gaza and said to be containing $20 million dollars worth of aid for the Palestinian territory. But with Gaza’s shores blocked by Israel, many predicted – correctly- that a confrontation was inevitable. On this one year anniversary, organizers say they are still determined to break what they call an illegal blockade … and they have more ships are ready to set sail.
It’s clear that on 31 May, 2010, the night-time images of Israeli commandos boarding one of the Gaza-bound vessels shocked much of the world. Several of the 600 passengers sailing on the Mavi Marmara used metal rods to fend off what they viewed to be an invasion. At least two Israeli troops were injured. The commandos responded with live gunfire, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American.
Sukru Peker was on the Mavi Marmara that day. He was shot in the leg, and says he still finds it difficult to watch the images:
“When I see the video I remember that moment. Of course that is something you cannot forget. Those moments of clashes… I remember that very moment now again, I am so emotional.”
The flotilla was organized by a number of groups, including Turkey’s IHH, a self-professed foundation for human rights, freedom and humanitarian relief. Though when I visit their headquarters in Istanbul, I arrive just as a Palestinian diplomat leaves, IHH’s deputy chairman, Huseyin Oruc tells me his group had (nor has) any political connections or aims:
“It was totally humanitarian actions, totally to reach the peoples in Gaza suffering because of the seize of the Israelis, and it was declared as much by the UN and many international bodies. This siege is illegal. It was illegal and it was right of all of the peoples, all the NGOs, all the civilians to go to Gaza.”
The events of that day drew widespread international condemnation against Israel for its actions. One of the most vocal critics was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some, including the Israeli government, accused him of politicizing the issue to gain further support for his ruling, Islamic AK Party. And in less than two weeks, he is hoping to get re-elected.
Oruc denies reports that Erdogan asked the group to postpone the launch of an additional flotilla until after the vote:
“We are not being ordered by the government to stop or to go. We are taking our decision ourselves and we are applying it. We are limited within the law. If you are not against the law, no government has a right to say something to you, to stop you or to let you go.”
The Mavi Marmara is still docked in Central Istanbul, closed to its namesake, the Marmara Sea. It’s currently seal off by customs officials … and police boats frequently patrol the waters that surround it. The IHH paid $1.2 million to acquire the vessel, and it has spent tens of thousands of additional dollars repairing it after it was released by the Israelis and returned to Turkey.
And the group says it is planning to help fund another fleet, called the Freedom Flotilla 2, loaded with aid and passengers. It is scheduled to sail in late June. And despite his physical and mental scars, Peker is once again registering to be on-board, claiming:
“We are not afraid of clashes, because we are not going there to clash. We are going there to bring aid to these people who are in need. Humanitarian aid. We have nothing to do with the fights. It’s just aid.”
Admittedly, he and others might be inspired by this:
… a Turkish-film called “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine,” released months after the confrontation at sea. Though not a documentary, the film initially simulates the events onboard the Mavi Marmara. However what follows is starkly different. The film’s Turkish hero goes on a manhunt for the Israeli general in charge of the operation, and along the way, his fictitious elite team kills numerous Israeli soldiers.
But though it was widely popular on-the-screen in Turkey, organizers of the next flotilla say they are not seeking revenge, nor do they expect a confrontation. They say they’d like to symbolically break Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza, but are hoping for smooth sailing.
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