This is a cross post from Just Journalism
While much of the coverage of the aftermath of the violent clash onboard the Mavi Marmara has attempted to piece together the sequence of events, or to explain why the flotilla of ships were attempting to reach Gaza in the first place, little background information has been provided on the alleged terrorist links or the provocative behaviour of the participants who were at the centre of this tragedy. This particularly applies to the Turkish charity ‘Insani Yardim Vakfi’(IHH) that was responsible for organising the convoy.
Israel banned the IHH, alongside 35 other Islamic charities, for belonging to an umbrella group called the Union of Good (Ittilaf al-Kheir), which in 2008 was officially designated in the US as a financial supporter of Hamas, the radical Islamist group that runs Gaza. Top members of the Union of the Good include the cleric Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who controversially stated in 2004 that Islam both allows suicide bombing, and also allows the targeting of Israeli women because they are ‘militarized’, and Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, who was designated by the US as a terrorist in 2004 for providing support to al Qaeda.
In 2006 the Danish Institute for International Studies released a report entitled ‘The Role of Islamic Charities in International Terrorist Recruitment and Financing’, which included several references to the IHH, and in particular to the fact that the organisation is viewed with deep suspicion by Turkey itself. For example, ‘Turkish authorities began their own domestic criminal investigation of IHH as early as December 1997, when sources revealed that leaders of the organisation were purchasing automatic weapons from other regional Islamic militant groups. IHH’s bureau in Istanbul was thoroughly searched, and its local officers were arrested. Security forces uncovered an array of disturbing items, including firearms, explosives, bomb-making instructions, and a “jihad flag.”’
In conjunction with the controversial profile of the IHH, fresh evidence is available of the extremist disposition of some of those who took part in the convoy. As Just Journalism reported on yesterday, several of the crew were recorded chanting about historical battles between Muslims and Jews, underlying that many on the ship were actively seeking violence.
[Above: IHH founder Bülent Yildirim meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh during a previous Gaza convoy to which IHH was a party.]
Sympathetic presentation of protesters – The Guardian
In spite of all the evidence surrounding the IHH and the protesters on the Mavi Marmara, sections of the British press have all but ignored this aspect, preferring to paint the convoy participants simply as ‘activists’ and ‘civilians’ who were totally unprepared for a confrontation.
This applies especially to The Guardian’s extensive coverage, which barely touches the militancy of those on board. The main article, does not even mention IHH and refers to those on board simply as ‘pro-Palestinian activists’ and ‘civilians’. When, in the latter part of the article journalist Harriet Sherwood does put Israel’s version of events across, no mention was made of the video footage –widely broadcast – of soldiers being lynched as they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Instead the assertion that the Israelis were attacked first is simply characterised as an Israeli claim.
The second lead piece of reporting by Robert Booth did offer an accurate rendering of the television footage (‘Turkish television footage showed how one by one as the commandos descended by ropes to the deck they were ambushed by waiting passengers armed with what appeared to be metal bars, sticks and in one case, a table.’). However, the journalist still characterised the convoy participants as having no hope against the Israeli army:
‘The activists from as many as 50 different countries stood little chance in the face of such a show of strength.’
Crucially, the piece went on to depict those on board as having been totally innocent of mal-intent in the run up to the final showdown with Israel on Monday:
‘During Sunday on the journey from Cyprus towards Gaza, the trip had been progressing well, with spirits high among the pro-Palestinian activists…
‘Little did they know that three hours earlier than that, at around 9pm, three Israeli naval craft had left the northern Israeli port of Haifa to intercept them…
‘Then around midnight the flotilla co-ordinators appeared to become worried and Lubna Masarwa, a Palestinian Israeli on board the Marmara issued a series of urgent messages via Twitter…
‘The Free Gaza campaign was worried enough to issue “a call to the world from the people on the boats”. “This flotilla is bringing supplies the people of Gaza and are being met by military force,” it said.’
Furthermore, the large graphic on page two also depicts ‘A small group of activists’ as arming themselves ‘with sticks and bars to fight back’.
This picture seems somewhat skewed, given the fact that footage is widely available from Saturday showing convoy participants on board the Mavi Mamara chanting slogans against the Jews, as well as one woman who boasts to the camera: We are now waiting for one of two good things – either to achieve martyrdom or to reach Gaza.’
The only examination of the organisers and participants which touched on extremist tendencies was on the final page of coverage in a Q&A. Even then, IHH was simply described as having been ‘singled out’ by Israel as ‘a radical Islamic organisation.’ Danny Ayalon is quoted alleging links by the organisers with ‘global Jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas’ but no third party evidence for this is cited.
Acknowledgement of protester extremism and violence – The Times
By contrast, The Times gave a much higher profile to the militancy of the convoy participants. James Hider’s piece on page 4, ‘How Flotilla bound for Gaza sailed into martyrdom at sea’ gave prominence to the footage of a convoy participant setting out her aim for reaching Gaza or achieving martyrdom. Hider also makes room for the idea that at least an element among the activists were set on violence:
‘However, some of the hundreds of passengers on the Mavi Marmara had other ideas. As the Israeli Navy Seals rappelled, one by one, on to the upper deck of the ship, it was no longer clear exactly who was ambushing whom.’
Crucially, he went on to incorporate into his narrative what can be seen in the Israeli footage showing soldiers being lynched. The journalist described one soldier as having ‘hit the deck only to find a mob of furious demonstrators, rather than political protesters, armed with iron bars, baseball bats, knives, petrol bombs and stun grenades.’ This approach to the footage was also taken in The Times’ lead news story, ‘Death on the High Seas’ which described how it:
‘showed masked Navy Seals rappelling from helicopters on to the deck and into a sea of angry activists, some armed with knives and batons. A pistol was snatched from at least one commando and an Israeli commander gave an order to fire.
This contrasts greatly with The Guardian’s approach of not giving the evidence due prominence in its own narrative.