Last night marked one week since Israel's attack in international waters on the Mavi Marmara Turkish humanitarian ship bound for Gaza, killing nine. One by one, the hundreds of witnesses aboard the vessels have been returning home to tell their stories after being stripped of any and all footage. By confiscating all non-military evidence of the incident, Israel has been able to successfully dominate the narrative, at least in the US where news of the attack had begun to dwindle by the time witnesses were released. One wonders, if Israel is conveying the whole story of what happened that night, why eliminate every single other piece of documentation? What does Israel have to hide?
According to hundreds of eyewitnesses, the Navy shot at the boat and threw tear gas and sound bombs before boarding the ship, and then hit the ground shooting. The videos released by Israel show those aboard the ship attacking soldiers with sticks. Israel claims that the deaths were an accident, that the soldiers were startled by the sticks and thus forced to shoot people to defend themselves.
Now let's put things into perspective. In 2005, the Israeli Army removed 8,000 ideological settlers from Gaza, many of them kicking and screaming with sticks and rocks in hand. The Army managed not to kill or even shoot a single one of them. Do sticks from Turks hurt more, or is it not about the sticks at all?
As Dr. Norman Finkelstein pointed out, Israeli officials met for an entire week prior to the flotilla to plan precisely what they intended to do. The Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren himself stated that the Mavi Marmara was simply "too large to stop with nonviolent means." It's hard to believe that this was an accident.
While the world focuses on the flotilla and Gaza, Israel's restrictions on Palestinian rights in the rest of Palestine continue to tighten. On Friday, soldiers surrounded the OldCity in Jerusalem to prevent Muslim men from praying at Al-Aqsa mosque. Only those younger than 15 or older than 40 were allowed through. Hundreds of men gathered outside the metal bars installed by the Army around the city gates. Frustrated, many men sat down to wait to pray on the sidewalk, but soldiers on horseback pushed through the crowd, forcing the men to scatter.
It's important to note that many Palestinians wait for years to receive a permit to visit Jerusalem for just one day. Sometimes the permits are valid only for a few hours. I saw a woman in Beit Sahour whom I'd met in Syracuse last Fall. She said it's easier for her to travel to New York than to go 10 miles away to Jerusalem. She said often permits are sent to the wrong village and families fall over themselves to get the permit to the right person in time, often failing. At the gates, some men argued with the soldiers, close to tears, not knowing if they would ever get another chance to realize a life-long dream of praying at their country's holiest site.
Eventually, hundreds of men began to gather next to the wall of the OldCity and across the street. If they could not enter, they would pray as close as they could. As the call to prayer rang out (at least sound can overcome walls), a noticeable calm came over the space as they bowed down in unison. The soldiers stood over the group, some filming with cameras. In the middle of the group were an olive tree and a young child who stood by himself, watching.
When the prayers ended, those who hadn't brought prayer mats wiped the dirt off their foreheads and gathered with others across the street where an imam had started to speak. Lara, a Palestinian delegate in our group translated bits and pieces of what he said.
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