Israel Attacks Gaza Aid Flotilla
Israeli commandos attacked a flotilla of ships from the Free Gaza Movement carrying food, medical equipment, and building materials to besieged Gaza. Gaza has been blocked by Israel and Egypt since June 2007, denying basic goods to 1.5 million people.
At least ten people were killed and dozens injured when Israeli troops stormed the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, with guns blazing, quickly taking control of the vessel and killing at least 10 of the activists on board. Simultaneous operations took place on other five ships, though no one was seriously injured on them.
The attack happened in international waters in the early morning on May 31st when the commandos dropped onto the ship from helicopters. Israeli navy ships had been flanking the six ships in the flotilla, and Israel vowed not to let them into Gaza.
There were reports of passengers on the Mavi Marmara defending themselves with sticks, and this seems to be supported by video footage of the assault. Nonetheless, according to eyewitness reports from those onboard, including an Al Jazeera news crew reporting live as the assault happened before their communications were cut, the Israeli commandos fired first, and it is a universally recognized right for ships’ crew and passengers to defend themselves from assault in international waters.
International condemnation was swift with numerous countries decrying the attack. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the world, including a spirited demonstration outside the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia. Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke. Turkey chartered the ships in the flotilla, and the majority of those killed were Turkish.
Israel said it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza under any circumstances, and defended their attack as “justified” in order to prevent the aid from being delivered to “terrorists.” They went so far as to claim the activists attacked the elite commandos with live ammunition, a claim that is not substantiated by anyone other than Israel.
The flotilla sailed from Cyprus on May 30th and aimed to reach Gaza by the morning of the 31st. Approximately 700 activists, including a Nobel laureate, several European legislators, and a Holocaust survivor are believed to be with the flotilla, though information as to who was killed, injured, or even on the boats is vague as they were immediately towed to Israel, and the passengers arrested or deported without being able to contact anyone.