Almost four years ago after the Israeli 22 day attack on Gaza that killed 1440, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless, in late January, 2009, I travelled to Gaza and witnessed the terrible destruction.
Now four years later, the Israelis mounted another major military attack on Gaza. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 156 Palestinians were
killed, including 103 civilians, and 1,000 others were wounded, including 971 civilians. Thirty three children were killed and 274 children were wounded; 13 women were killed and 162 wounded; and three journalists were killed.
During these past four years I joined international citizen activists in many projects to educate our fellow citizens about the frequent Israeli military attacks on Gaza, the land and sea blockade of Gaza, the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians, the illegal settlements built by the Israeli government in the West Bank and the apartheid walls that separate children from schools, farmers from their land and workers from their employment.
One of those projects is to break the naval blockade of Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement attempted to sail eight boats to Gaza in 2008 and 2009 and five ships made it into Gaza. After the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, ships attempting to enter Gaza were rammed by the Israeli navy. So in May, 2010, a flotilla of six ships was formed to attempt to break the naval blockade at the same time. The name of the flotilla was the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
After receiving no punishment for the violence wrecked on the Palestinians in Gaza in 2009, the Israeli political leadership and military had no qualms about using violence on the international passengers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla who were challenging the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Israeli commandos brutally attacked all six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine, wounding 50 and assaulting many more passengers. After the attack ended, passengers were then taken against their will to Israel, put in prison for several days and then deported from Israel for "entering Israel illegally." Turkish Airlines flew most of the passengers from Israel to Turkey and then on to their home countries.
Most of us passengers had not seen each other since we left Turkey two and one-half years ago, until last week (November 6 and 7, 2012) when hundreds of us returned to Istanbul as witnesses in in the first court hearing concerning the Israeli attack on the ships, one of the few judicial looks at Israeli violence toward either Palestinians or internationals. Flotilla passengers from South Africa, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Palestine and Lebanon as well as many passengers from Turkey testified in the court hearing.
The court hearing was held in Seventh Criminal Court in Istanbul. The former chief of staff of the Israeli military, General Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Naval Forces commander, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, the former military intelligence chief, Major General Amos Yadlin, and the former head of Air Force intelligence, Brigadier General Avishai Levy, had been indicted on May 28, 2012, of charges including premeditated murder, attempted premeditated murder, aggravated assault, assault, aggravated looting, hijacking or illegal seizure of train or sea craft, aggravated criminal damage to property, torture, unlawful detention and imprisonment. All four officers have retired from the Israeli military. None appeared at the court hearing.
The 144 page indictment includes the autopsy reports of the nine persons killed by Israeli commandos and reveals that five of those killed were shot a close-range, execution style.
After numerous investigations including two by the Israeli government, one by the Turkish government and one by the United Nations Human Rights Council, this is the first judicial proceeding concerning the Israeli attack on the six ships.
Joe Meadors and I were the only two out of 17 Americans who were on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla who were able to attend this session of the court. Joe is a survivor of TWO Israeli naval attacks. Forty five years ago, in June, 1967, he was a sailor on a US naval ship, the USS Liberty, in which 34 Americans were killed in the nine-hour Israeli attack on the ship off the coast of Gaza. Another 171 sailors were wounded. Then, in 2010, Joe volunteered to be on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which was challenging the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
Joe was on the Sfendoni vessel with 30 other passengers. He was hit by a paint bullet and witnessed others being assaulted and beaten by Israeli soldiers.
Joe Meadors interviewed outside the Istanbul court building