Sunday, June 27, 2010

Haifa Pride 2010

Though there have been some gay protests or events in Lebanon as of late, Israel remains the only country in the Middle East to hold annual Pride Parades. Admittedly, the Haifa parade doesn't draw quite the crowd that Tel Aviv does, but turnout last Thursday was pretty impressive - over 500 according to one estimate, possibly even more.
Having been present this year and the last, I have to say that the turnout was definitely higher this time around. I spoke to Yulia, who was heavily involved in the event, and asked her what contributed to the sudden spike in marchers. She attributed it to better marketing, but I suspect that last August's shocking event also played a part in rousing people.
The parade went by without a hitch, but police was out in full force to protect marchers just in case.
There was a small group of counter-demonstrators, mostly clad in knitted skullcaps.

Representatives from the self-defined Palestinian gay women's group Aswat were also present. Here, one of the members is being interviewed.

Compared to Tel Aviv, Haifa's Pride Parade can be described as tame and it often felt more like a protest than a parade.
An exceptionally racy poster at this docile gathering: "It's most delicious in the ass".

Monday, June 07, 2010


I used to listen to Rex Murphy on CBC Radio when I was in high school. I believe his show was called "Cross-Country Check-Up" and it was always right on. So is his article in the National Post about the flotilla affair (thanks to Jesse for the link - here is to Cummer Valley Middle School reunions!):
But torpid as is its nature, and comatose as are its eternal deliberations, on one subject, and toward one state, the United Nations acquires a strange and uniquely transformative power. Bring Israel under its gaze and the diplomatic sloths at UN headquarters morph into the swiftest of gazelles. From lotus-eaters to adrenalin junkies in the twinkling of an eye. Quite amazing, really.

So naturally when the debacle over the so-called “freedom flotilla” — news media should be wary of letting activists choose the names of things — roared into the headlines, the UN reacted at the diplomatic equivalent of the speed of light. The Security Council issued its “condemnation,” and in a wonderful reversal of cause and effect also called for an investigation into what it had “condemned.” And the cruellest joke on the planet, what the UN with unbounded irony refers to as its Human Rights Council, issued, as unfailingly in every previous international incident involving Israel it has, a condemnation as well.

Richard Allen: WTF?

Reading over Richard Allen's op-ed in the New York Times today, I asked myself whether the author isn't suffering from the same mental infliction suffered by his beloved President Ronald Reagan. Allen, U.S. national security adviser in the early '80s, recalls his memory of Reagan's reaction to Israel's strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 (twenty-nine years ago today) only to compare it, shamefully, with the recent Mavi Marmara debacle. He does so with an insidious mixture of nostalgia and dementia that must be making Reagan smile in his grave.

The point of Allen's narrative is to caution against knee-jerk negative reaction to "daring, risky" Israeli military operations. Even high-ranking officials in Reagan's administration, including VP George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff James Baker, and presidential aide Michael Deaver, advocated punitive actions against Israel in the wake of the surprise strike on Saddam's nuclear materials testing reactor in 1981, Allen remembers. But the most sober and far-sighted in the situation room--Reagan himself--after hearing all points of view on Israel, only "smiled and turned to the papers on his desk," and, when he did speak directly on Israeli policy, offered only private and pithy pearls of wisdom such as "Boys will be boys." There seems to be an implicit warning here to President Obama to curb any enthusiasm he might possibly have for condemning Israeli military policy, in this case regarding the Gaza blockade - or, more ominously, potential future Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Beyond the Alzheimerish absurdity of comparing a planned strike with botched crowd control, I find this an example of the worst kind of American staythecoursiveness with regard to Israel.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Report by Turkish Newspaper Hurriyet Strengthens IDF Account

An article published today in Hurriyet, one of Turkey's biggest newspapers, strengthens some of the accounts provided by IDF soldiers of what happened after they landed on board the ship. The article has a link to a collection of photos restored from memory cards that belonged to activists on board the ship. It shows three bloodied soldiers being dragged below deck by activists. It also documents the activists holding knives and iron bars. According to the Hurriyet article, which was summarized by Haaretz, the IDF seized cameras and deleted photos from their memory cards, but the files were later restored using standard memory card software. Some activists also concealed their cameras or dimmed them.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

I've mapped out the home provinces of each of the activists who were killed and placed a marker in each province's capital. The data are based on a Zaman article (Turkish English-language newspaper) that appeared last weekend.

Those who died appear to have been from all over Turkey. They may well have met up before and prepared/trained together in the months that preceded the flotilla, but they're not all from the same approximate area (other than most of them being from Anatolia). We probably cannot derive too much meaning from geographical plot, but it does help rule out the hypothesis that I had considered according which the people who attacked the soldiers were a bunch of young people from the same small town. TO the contrary, the median and mean age of those killed was about 31.

My assumption is that most of those killed were directly engaged in fighting with the soldiers, but it's possible that some people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. What's clear is that the actions of a small group of hot heads completely changed the mind state of the boarding party and increased the threat perception they had, compelling the soldiers to use lethal force.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Details from Shayetet 13 Operation on Marmara

The Jerusalem Post has an exclusive interview with S. who took part in the operation, who is described as "the 15th and last Shayetet 13 commando to rappel onto the ship." His description paints a totally different picture of the events than we have received in most of the international media until now. From the perspective of the soldier, the melee on the Marmara was an organized ambush carried out by trained fighters who used the cover of the flotilla to attempt to capture or kill Israeli soldiers.

Quotations from the article:

The attackers had already seized two pistols from the commandos, and fired repeatedly at them. Facing more than a dozen of the mercenaries, and convinced their lives were in danger, he and his colleagues opened fire, he said. S. singlehandedly killed six men. His colleagues killed another three.

Based on preliminary results of its investigation into the navy’s takeover of the Mavi Marmara, which ended with nine dead passengers and more than 30 wounded, the IDF said on Thursday that the commandos were attacked by a well-trained group of mercenaries, most of whom were found without IDs but with thousands of dollars in their pockets.

The group was well trained and was split into a number of squads of about 20 mercenaries each distributed throughout the upper deck, the IDF said. All of the mercenaries wore gas masks and ceramic bulletproof vests and were armed with either bats, slingshots, metal bars, knives or stun grenades.

The IDF’s understanding is that the mercenaries mainly chose dual-purpose items of this sort rather than guns, since opening fire would have made it blatantly clear that they were terrorists and not so-called peace activists.
T. said he realized the group they were facing was well-trained and likely ex-military after the commandos threw a number of stun grenades and fired warning shots before rappelling down onto the deck. “They didn’t even flinch,” he said. “Regular people would move.”

Each squad of the “mercenaries” was equipped with a Motorola communication device, the IDF said, so they could pass information to one another. Assessments in the defense establishment are that members of the group were affiliated with international global jihad elements and had undergone training in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Preliminary Results from Navy Investigation

Here is the timeline of events that the Israeli navy arrived at in its investigation, as reported by Ha'aretz:

Monday, 4:30 AM operation on Mavi Marmara begins. It was targeted because "of the presence of hard-core activists including members of the IHH." Operation was supervised by Navy chief Eliezer Marom and the head of naval commandos, Lt. Col. A., who were on vessels next to the Marmara.

First four commandos who rappelled onto the ship were attacked with bars, axes, and knives. Team leader had his personal weapon taken away and activists were pointing it at his head. After jumping off the rope, the fourth commando shot the activist holding the gun. This took place 20 seconds after the first commando had landed. The commanders of this first unit to land were among those to land first.

10 more soldiers were able to land, after the original rope was fixed by one of those who had already landed. 10 more soldiers rappelled onto the ship. They cared for the wounded and took over the upper deck of the ship.

4:32 AM Lt. Col. A. gives orders by radio to use live fire (in the article, this event appears after other incidents, but the narrative explains that the order was given "two minutes after the incident had begun")

4:36 AM: a second force landed from another helicopter, led by a major. Commandos on board the ship realize that 3 soldiers are missing; they begin a search for them. Naval commando chief Lt. Col. A. boards the ship along with dozen other soldiers who climbed aboard from boats or landed from a 3rd helicopter.

During the search for the missing soldiers, there is "limited shooting" on the bridge and in the lower deck, until the 3 missing soldiers are recovered.

Soldiers reported that they were fired upon (time not mentioned in summary of report). At least two commandos suffered gunshot wounds. 9mm casings were found - this is ammunition not used by the commandos, so the conclusion was that these were fired by people on the ship. The captain of the Marmara told the naval commando chief Lt. Col. A. that guns used by activists were thrown overboard before the complete takeover of the ship by the commandos. Several handguns and an M-4 rifle were taken from soldiers.

Altogether between 60-100 activists were involved in the fighting. They were apparently well-trained, judging from the weapons they had and code books which were found containing orders passed from group leaders. The rioters included Turks, Yemenis, Afghans and one Eritrean; all were experienced in hand-to-hand fighting. Even after shots were fired, some of them did not retreat.

The security forces had trained extensively for the operation, with a ship at sea holding 50 soldiers playing the role of activists. The scenario envisioned was more like a demonstration at Bil'in - a village on the seams of Israel's security fence ("wall").

Commandos were not prepared for the possibility of dozens of rioters attacking them as they landed.

The report does not explain at which points exactly the 8 other activists were killed. It claims that all of these casualties were of the hardcore, trained fighters.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Imagine Israelis Protesting in Lebanon or Yemen...

An article published today in Ha'aretz (no English version available yet) by Fadi Ayadat indicates that almost all of the hundreds of activists from the Gaza Flotilla were deported today, save for seven individuals whose injuries did not permit their transport. The majority of activists (450), including, apparently, Europeans, were flown to Turkey, but another 100 from different parts of the Arab world, were sent off to the Allenby Bridge, which is generally used by Palestinians to enter Jordan. Previous news reports indicated that there were even individuals from Yemen among the activists. Most interesting to me was the fact that 5 activists were Lebanese and deported back to Lebanon via the Rosh ha-Niqra crossing between Lebanon and Israel.

One female representative of the Turkish Red Crescent who came to oversee the deportation of Turkish citizens was quoted as saying that the injured activists had been treated well in Israeli hospitals and that they did not face any overt hostility from the local population while treated.

Can anyone imagine Israeli civilians going to Turkey or a country in the Arab world to participate in a major act of civil disobedience, or to clash with the local authorities? It would be absolutely unthinkable.

Footage by Marmara Activists

This video shows soldiers in a speedboat attempting to board the Marmara as people on the ship shoot water hoses, throw a stun grenade, and hit the soldiers with a metal chain.

Analysis of Flotilla Video

Highlights use of paintball guns and speculates about tactics used by commandos boarding the Marmara.

Breakdown of Flotilla Activists' Countries of Origin

From Ha'aretz:

Israel gave the following breakdown of countries and numbers of those activists ordered expelled, excluding the nine killed and the seriously wounded in Monday's raid:
Australia 3; Azerbaijan 2; Italy 6; Indonesia 12; Ireland 9; Algeria 28; United States 11; Bulgaria 2; Bosnia 1; Bahrain 4; Belgium 5; Germany 11; South Africa 1; Holland 2; United Kingdom 31; Greece 38; Jordan 30; Kuwait 15; Lebanon 3; Mauritania 3; Malaysia 11; Egypt 3; Macedonia 3; Morocco 7; Norway 3; New Zealand 1; Syria 3; Serbia 1; Oman 1; Pakistan 3; Czech Republic 4; France 9; Kosovo 1; Canada 1; Sweden 11; Turkey 380; Yemen 4.