Updated | 5:02 p.m. On Thursday, Al Jazeera English broadcast an interview with Jamal Elshayyal, one of the channel’s journalists who was on board the Mavi Marmara on Monday when it was intercepted by Israeli commandos enforcing a naval blockade on Gaza.
In his account of the start of the raid, which left nine activists dead and has sparked calls for an independent investigation, Mr. Elshayyal insisted that the Israelis had fired live ammunition at the ship from the air before commandos landed on the boat and said that he had seen someone shot and killed by a bullet that hit the top of his head. He said, in part:
As soon as this attack started, I was on the top deck and within just a few minutes there were live shots being fired from above the ship, from above, from where the helicopters were. […]
The first shots that were fired were either some sort of sound grenades, there was some tear gas that was fired as well as rubber-coated bullets. They were fired initially and the live bullets came roughly about five minutes after that.
Asked if the shots fired at the ship by the Israeli forces had seemed to come from ships nearby or the helicopters above, Mr. Elshayyal said:
It was evident there was definitely fire from the air, because one of the people who was killed was clearly shot from above — he was shot, the bullet targeted him at the top of his head. There was also fire coming from the sea as well. Most of the fire initially from the sea was tear gas canisters, sound grenades, but then it became live fire. After I finished filing that last report and I was going down below deck one of the passengers who was on the side of the deck holding a water hose — trying to hose off, if you will, the advancing Israeli navy — was shot in his arm by soldiers in the boats below. […]
There is no doubt from what I saw that live ammunition was fired before any Israeli soldier was on deck. What I saw, the sequence of events that took place, there was a pool camera, so reporters took it in turns to file, so after I had done my first file, I turned around to see what was going on and there were several shots fired. In fact, one of the helicopters at the front of the ship, you could almost see the soldiers pointing their guns down through some sort of hole or compartment at the bottom side of the helicopter and firing almost indiscriminately without even looking where they were firing. And those bullets were definitely live bullets.
Mr. Elshayyal’s account, of course, is only one part of the puzzle, and it will not be accepted easily by people who see his network as biased against Israel. That said, now that the accounts of activists and journalists who were detained by Israel after the raid are starting to be heard, it is clear that their stories and that of the Israeli military do not match in many ways.
On Thursday, Today’s Zaman, an English-language newspaper in Turkey,reported that the president of the Turkish aid group that helped to organize the flotilla said that a photographer working for the group “was shot in the forehead by a soldier one meter away from him.” Bulent Yildirimhe, the president of the aid organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (known in English as the I.H.H.), told the newspaper on Thursday after he returned from Israel: “Our Cevdet [Kiliclar], he is a press member. He has become a martyr. All he was doing was taking pictures. They smashed his skull into pieces.” The newspaper added:
Kevin Ovenden of Britain, an activist on the ship that arrived in İstanbul on Thursday, also said a man who had pointed a camera at the soldiers was shot directly through the forehead with live ammunition, with the exit wound blowing away back of his skull.
In another report, the newspaper said that Israeli officials had confiscated images taken by one of its photographers in the flotilla:
A photojournalist from Today’s Zaman Kursat Bayhan who was on board an international aid convoy for Gaza said he tried to hide a flash disk which included the photos from the moments of Israeli attack on the convoy under his tongue to prevent Israeli authorities from seizing it but his effort failed during a medical examination.
The report added, “Bayhan said the journalists in the ship including him tried to protect the video footage and photos they took,” after the ships were seized by Israeli commandos, but “all the materials of the press members, including their passports and identity cards, were taken away.”
The way these accounts diverge from that of Israel’s military would seem to make an independent investigation into the events crucial. That is particularly true since, as The Lede noted on Wednesday, Israel is apparently in possession of much more video evidence than it has yet released.
In a post making the case that Israel should not conduct that inquiry, Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, pointed out that journalists in the flotilla seem to have left Israeli custody without any of the video they shot during the raid that might bolster their accounts.
Israel has confiscated some of the most important material for the investigation, namely the films, audio and photos taken by the passengers [and] journalists on board and the Mavi Marmara’s security cameras. Since yesterday, Israel has been editing these films and using them for its own PR campaign. In other words, Israel has already confiscated most of the evidence, held it from the world and tampered with it. No court in the world would [trust] it to be the one examining it.