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What happened on the Mavi Marmara?

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming, 2015.11.24 | 11 Safar 1436 H


In an important precedent, a utilisation of South Africa’s ratification of the Rome Statute, South African Police Services have this month confirmedthat warrants of arrest have been issued against four Israeli commanders from the Israeli Navy and Israeli Defence Force (IDF), who were responsible for the attacks on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.


These commanders will be arrested upon entry into the Republic of South Africa. An arrest alert notice in this regard was circulated to the South African Border Control system on 3 September 2015. This information has also been forwarded to Interpol Pretoria, South Africa, to liaise with Interpol Turkey in order for a red alert notice to be issued. Should the suspects be arrested in South Africa, Interpol Pretoria must arrange with Turkish authorities for their extradition.




Passengers on all six boats making up the flotilla were determined to break Israel’s illegal siege on 1.5 million Palestinians confined to an open-air prison. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla, carrying humanitarian aid vital for Gaza, woke up to Israeli soldiers’ gunshots the morning of 31 May, 2010. The Flotilla was made up completely of civilians. Nine Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara lost their lives on board. The tenth to die, Ugur Süleyman Söylemez, (51), died in May 2014, in hospital, after having been in a coma for four years. More than fifty people were wounded.  Passengers testify to being beaten, their bones broken, and most of them tied up on ships that were in the Mediterranean, a direct violation of maritime law and the treatment of civilians.


South African


Among the passengers aboard the flotilla was South African journalist, Gadija Davids. Davids was held against her will in an Israeli prison, assaulted, interrogated and denied consular access and legal representation. In 2011, Gadija Davids placed a formal complaint with the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and the Directorate of the Priority Crimes Investigation Unit (DPCIU) of the South African Police Services (SAPS).


In November 2012, the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit of the National Prosecuting Agency, found that the case met the jurisdictional requirements in terms of South Africa’s ratification of the Rome Statute (Implementation of the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court Act) and that reasonable grounds existed to investigate the crimes that were committed against a South African citizen.


This opened the door for mutual co-operation between South African and Turkish Authorities. In 2012, Gadija Davids testified in Istanbul, along with other victims, at a Turkish trial led by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) – a Turkish NGO that were the organisers of the aid flotilla.


According to Attorney Ziyaad Patel, the Attorney of record for Davids:


“This decision to enforce the warrant (issued by the Turkish Seventh High Criminal Court in Istanbul) is an important precedent for the utilisation of South Africa’s ratification of the Rome Statute. It has massive implications as it is one of the first in our country’s history where South African authorities have undertaken enforcement proceedings arising from codified principles of universal jurisdiction, in order for this case to proceed in co-operation with the case unfolding in Turkey as a result of the Rome Statute.”


The massacre


This, according to eyewitness accounts:


As the Israelis approached, a white flag of surrender was raised on the Turkish cruise ship, Mavi Marmara. The Israelis fired before boarding the ships. One eyewitness on board said the commandos fired “the moment their feet hit the deck. They shot civilians asleep.”


Two peace activists were shot in the forehead from the Israeli helicopters above before they set foot on the ship. Once the Israelis repelled onto the ship three commandos were disarmed and for a brief time and taken prisoner by former US marine Ken O’Keefe and others who resisted the attack.


The Israeli attack on the peace activists was shown live on Turkish television–filmed from one of the nearby ships–sparking a national outrage. The six ships were in international waters 80 miles off the coast of Gaza at the time of the pre-dawn, fajr, attack.


A UNHCR report clearly states, of the nine Turkish passengers who were murdered on board the Mavi Marmara, six of them were assassinated, and none of them had weapons. In fact, the only weapon in their hands was a camera. Even the whitewashing Palmer Report, a panel set up to counter what UNHCR had issued, reluctantly concluded that Israel overreacted. Following the attack, Israeli naval forces towed the flotilla’s vessels to Ashdod, from where the activists were taken into custody by authorities, pending deportation. Among the activists was a mother with a one-year-old child. The Israel Prison Service detained some 629 activists, after they refused to sign deportation orders.


Nine Turkish men on board the Mavi Marmara were shot a total of 30 times and five were killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to the vice-chairman of the Turkish council of forensic medicine, which carried out the autopsies for the Turkish ministry of justice. The results revealed that a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also had US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, according to Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.


Detailed eyewitness accounts of what happened can be read here and here.

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming, 2015.11.24 | 11 Safar 1436 H


The Turkish courts ruling, implementable by South Africa via warrants of arrest against four Israeli commanders from the Israeli Navy and Israeli Defence Force (IDF), who were responsible for the attacks on the Mavi Marmara have been termed a victory in many regards.


The decision follows a four-year-long case involving South African Radio 786 journalist, Gadija Davids who was aboard the Mavi Marmara to cover the relief aid mission to Gaza when it was attacked in 2010. She was assaulted, kidnapped in international waters, and denied consular access, while being held against her will in a Zionist Israeli prison.


A court order was granted on 2014 by the Seventh High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which led to warrants of arrest for the four commanders.


SAPS Brigadier Hangwani Malaudzi confirmed in writing that the letter, which the SAPS had issued on this matter “is being processed to the relevant section for compliance”. This created embarrassment for The SA Zionist Federation who disputed a story last week that the SAPS had issued a letter stating that details of the suspects, and further demanded that the Independent News Group publish confidential communication between attorneys representing Gadija Davids and the South African Police Services (SAPS).


The backstory | Operation Cast Led


The flotilla set out with the sole aim to break the siege on Gaza in the aftermath of Operation Cast Led.


On December 27, 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a massive, 22-day military assault on the Gaza Strip. The ferocity of the attack was unprecedented in the more than six-decade-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, killing some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. 318 were minors under the age of 18. More than 5,000 civilians Palestinians were wounded.


The Goldstone Report documented 36 specific cases and incidents where Israeli forces violated international laws during the Gaza offensive. These include:


a) Samouni family massacre: In perhaps the most infamous incident of the war, Israeli soldiers ordered around 100 members of the Samouni family into a single building in the Zaytoun area of Gaza City. Soldiers held the family in the building for 24 hours before shelling the building on January 4, 2009. Twenty-one members of the family, all civilians, were killed.


b) Al-Daya family massacre: On January 6, an Israeli F-16 jet fired a missile at the home of the Al-Daya family, also in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City, killing 22 family members, most of them women and children.


c) White flag killings: The UN mission and human rights groups also documented several cases in which witnesses saw Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians who were fleeing while carrying makeshift white flags to indicate their status as civilians. In one case, a soldier shot and killed two women, Majda and Rayya Hajjaj (aged 37 and 65 respectively) who were fleeing with their families while carrying a white flag in the town of Johr Ad-Dik. In August 2012, in a plea deal with prosecutors, a solider was sentenced to just 45 days in prison for their deaths. To date he’s the only person to face serious charges stemming from Cast Lead.


d) Use of white phosphorus in populated areas: Rights groups, journalists, and the UN mission in Gaza also documented numerous instances of the use of white phosphorus, an incendiary substance that is illegal when used in populated areas. Israeli forces used white phosphorus in attacks on at least two hospitals (Al-Quds Hospital and Al-Wafa Hospital), as well as the central UN compound in Gaza City. Numerous civilian casualties were caused by white phosphorus in the small, densely populated Strip.


The Victories


According to press releases issued by the PSA and MRN, four poignant victories arise from this matter.


The first, the issuing of warrants of arrest for high profile IDF personnel who were not only in the chain of command for the deadly raid in the darkness of the night on the ship (Mavi Marmara) carrying humanitarian supplies to the impoverished Gaza Strip; but were also high ranking officers in the IDF during Operation Cast Lead which massacred 1400 Palestinians in Gaza and was found by the United Nations to be a systematic campaign of terror and wanton destruction. Thus, the four officers may also be interrogated for their involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The second is the victory of Ms Davids as she along with many others, exposed the criminal behaviour of the IDF on that fateful evening in international waters. Her courage, steadfastness and commitment to justice must be acknowledged.


The third victory is for the Republic of South Africa in its investigations, cooperation and undertaking to enforce these warrants of arrest in line with its obligations to international law to protect a South African citizen who suffered at the hands of the IDF.


The final victory belongs to the principle of accountability that has been absent in the case of Israel despite their murderous escapades both on the high seas and in Palestine. The courage of all individuals responsible for bringing these warrants to life, honours the memory of the martyrs who have fallen in the struggle for liberation from occupation. It is this momentous victory that reassures justice-loving people that accountability exists regardless of the military office one holds.

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