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As flotilla probe begins, filmmaker unveils new footage of deadly raid

Photo: AP Photo/Maya Hitij

The Gaza-bound aid flotilla organized by pro-Palestinian activists seems to have succeeded in weakening Israel’s blockade of the territory, and even in destabilizing the right-wing Netanyahu government. There has now been informal discussion of a coalition with Netanyahu’s center-left opposition, which favors a land-for-peace strategy. And a summit of Balkan nations on Wednesday reiterated a call by the United Nations for an international investigation into the Israeli raid on the flotilla.

The Israeli government and defense forces have commissioned their own investigations, and activists aboard the flotilla have promised to sue Israel in Greece, Turkey and even the International Court of Justice. At the heart of those suits, they say, is the question of whether Israeli naval commandos were prepared to use deadly force on the flotilla activists, and whether they intended to arrest or even kill certain passengers.

One of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship on which nine activists were killed, claimed to have recovered a passenger manifesto from a captured Israeli soldier, dubbed a “hit list” or “assassination list” by activists and the media. In footage of the raid taken by an American filmmaker, the passenger described the document as a list of activists targeted by Israeli soldiers. “It came from the Israelis: different ships and who’s on them, who to concentrate on,” the passenger said in the film, screened for an audience in New York last week. “They have pictures of who they wanted.”

The head of IHH, a Turkish organization which helped organize the flotilla, repeated that account in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, claiming that Israeli soldiers attempted to assassinate certain passengers. Others have speculated that the manifesto was a standard security document listing suspects needed for questioning or arrest, a so-called “Bingo List,” suggesting that the Israeli army knew there were potentially hostile passengers on board.

Whether the document was recovered from the ship or is now in Israeli custody remains unclear. But there is evidence that it was not, in fact, a “hit list,” or even a “Bingo List,” but rather an intelligence document listing especially important passengers whom the Israel Navy sought to avoid.

Iara Lee, the American filmmaker who shot the footage of the raid, said in an interview with Need to Know last week that she had inspected images of the document and determined that it contained information on politicians, religious leaders and other notable passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara. Lee speculated that Israeli soldiers may have gone out of their way to avoid harming those people, for fear of stoking a political or diplomatic row. “‘Don’t kill those people, because that’s trouble,’” Lee said, summarizing the content of the document. “That’s what that was.”

Of the passenger who discovered the list, Lee added: “At first, he thought it was the list of the people the Israelis wanted to get. But in reality, it was the opposite, because I saw ‘member of parliament from Germany,’ these archbishops.”

Lee has offered the hour of footage she smuggled from Israeli custody as evidence in either an internal or international probe of the raid. The footage appears to show the moments before and after the incident, including blood spattered on the walls of the ship and injured passengers being carried below deck for treatment. Before the raid, Israeli gun ships can also been seen speeding along the side of the Mavi Marmara, and commandos are captured on film rappelling onto the top deck from a helicopter hovering above. Activists, in turn, are seen using sling shots to shoot rocks at the commandos.

“We don’t have close-ups of the shooting because we were at the lower level,” Lee said. “So all we could have was the footage of the people coming, bleeding and injured and dying.”

Of the moments before the raid, Lee added: “I thought it was important to show that we were peaceful — we were praying, singing, sleeping — and all this tension, knowing that they were going to block us from arriving [in] Gaza. But nobody ever thought they were going to come and start killing people.”

The deaths have sparked calls for an international investigation into the raid, especially by Turkey, which sponsored the ships and has become increasingly confrontational toward Israel. But the fact that Israeli soldiers were not, as it turns out, targeting specific passengers for arrest or attack may undercut calls by activists for Israeli soldiers and government officials to face charges in international court.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has also called for an international probe of the raid. But Israeli officials have rejected proposals for a U.N. investigation, fearing that such an inquiry could lead to charges in the International Criminal Court.

So far, Ban has failed to win approval for such a probe from the U.N. Security Council. But Roger Clark, a member of the ICC board of governors and professor of international law at Rutgers University, said in an interview that Ban might have precedent to commission his own investigation without the permission of the Security Council. Clark noted that the U.N. charter refers to the secretary-general as an “administrative officer,” and that past U.N. chiefs had favored a broad interpretation of the office’s powers.

“Some of them have taken a fairly expansive view of what’s meant by an ‘administrative officer,’” Clark said. “If he’s got power to bring things to the attention of the Security Council, the argument goes that he’s got power to do things to figure out what the facts are, so he can take it to the Security Council.”