Bülent Yıldırım, chairman of the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), has described Israel’s Monday attack on a Turkish-led humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, also providing details as to the subsequent imprisonment of the ship’s passengers in Israel.
In his initial statements upon landing back home at İstanbul Atatürk Airport, Yıldırım said everyone was shocked when the Israeli navy attacked the ship from the air and the sea using all kinds of equipment. “We thought maybe they were putting on a show for us. If we were in their waters, under Palestinian jurisdiction, then we would have imagined that they would attack us. They suddenly dropped people onto the ship. Our friends only put up civilian resistance. The entire press corps was there.”
He said he told Israeli authorities during his interrogation that they were managing the process badly. “Then they asked us, ‘Didn’t you attack us with iron bars and axes?’ I told them what I did was only self-defense. This was defense against helicopters and assault boats, against well-trained commandos. They lie when they say they were given permission to use real bullets after the 35th minute. They threw in gas bombs, which injured our friends. Only two of the initially fired bullets were rubber. The others were nail-like bullets. Our friend Cevdet was martyred. He is a member of the press. He was only taking pictures as the Israelis fired on us. They smashed his brain into pieces from exactly one meter away.”
He said they soon realized the bullets being fired were real, after reports of deaths began coming in from various parts of the ship. “At first our friends incapacitated 10 soldiers. Yes, we took their guns and we would have been right if we used them against them. You are legally innocent if you take the weapon of the person who is attacking you. We said we would die before we would take their arms and thereby place Israel in a difficult position.” Yıldırım said they threw the weapons into the sea. “Those images were aired all over the world. The Israeli army had a strong image, but people now see that three to five activists can take them on.”
Yıldırım said an Indonesian doctor was shot in the stomach as he helped a wounded Israeli soldier. Another peace activist was shot while surrendering. “They killed people despite the white flag we waved,” he said. He said they had given back nine dead bodies, but that he was fairly certain more people were killed. “I hope their version is the right number. We never acted outside the law. Warships were following us. They were supposed to help us, but they didn’t. They killed our friends who had surrendered and threw their bodies into the water. Had there been no women, we would not have surrendered. We had to leave two very seriously injured friends behind,” he added.
Yıldırım said the hostages, including women and children, were not allowed to use the restroom after surrendering, that they were denied water and forced to sit on their knees for five hours straight. “They moved us to the second floor of the ship. The helicopter scooped out water from the sea and poured it on us. It was really cold. Had they wanted to, they could have taken all the injured to a hospital by helicopter, but they did not. They treated our friend’s leg without sedating him.”
Yıldırım vowed to fight the blockade of Gaza until it is lifted, “or we will come with bigger fleets from Egypt and from the sea. Let statesmen figure out what will happen then. We will pay a price, but so will you. All the conscientious people of the world stand united. We are not afraid of anything,” he said.
He also responded to allegations that the flotilla attacked by Israel was of an “Islamist nature.” Yıldırım said: “Had it been Muslims killing Jews, I would again go with a flotilla. We are against all cruelty.”