Islamism,  Israel/Palestine

Conflicting impressions of eye-witness accounts

This is a cross-post from Just Journalism.

As more eye-witness accounts from flotilla participants emerge in the mainstream media, a contrast emerges in the reporting of media outlets which simply quote activists uncritically and those which challenge their accounts.

The most widely quoted British activist, who was on board the Mavi Marmara, is Sarah Colborne, director of campaigns at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She has been quoted in four of today’s broadsheets, the BBC News website and also featured on last night’s Channel 4 News.

She was generally presented as horrified and dismayed over the Israeli army’s deployment of lethal force. The Times reported her as saying, ‘Everyone’s just in shock. It was a massacre that took place there.’ The BBC’s Peter Jackson’s website article, ‘UK Gaza activist Sarah Colborne – ship raid ‘surreal’’ described Colborne’s account as one of ‘stunned surprise’ and quoted her at her press conference, insisting: ‘It felt surreal, I couldn’t quite believe they were doing what they were doing – none of us anticipated it’.

The Guardian printed a full account from Colborne in which she, again, described the experience as ‘a bit surreal’ and claimed she ‘couldn’t quite believe they were doing what they were doing.’ She lambasted Israel for using live ammunition against ‘unarmed civilians’ and said that Israel ‘violate[s] international law every day’. The Independent’s Jerome Taylor positioned Colborne as having ‘accused troops of… deliberately firing live rounds at unarmed civilians.’

The Daily Telegraph failed to identify Sarah Colborne’s association with PSC, describing her simply as ‘Sarah Colborne, from Hackney, east London’. Justin Vela and Chris Irvine cite her as having ‘seen one man being shot dead’ although according to her own account in The Guardian, she only claims to have seen the man after he had been shot, when he was brought down to the lower deck, where she was during the confrontation between convoy participants and the IDF.

Channel 4 News’ Kylie Morris introduced a short segment of the press conference given by Colborne at Heathrow airport, saying:

‘With their release, new versions of what happened aboard the Mavi Mamara. Was this, as Israel claims, a justified response to armed extremists loyal to Hamas? Sarah Colburne, now back in London, says nothing of the sort.’

Colborne is then shown responding to a question about what can be seen in footage released by Israel, depicting passengers attacking Israeli soldiers:

‘I was on the top deck, but I , I didn’t see clubs being used at all… I just saw people standing there shouting…Allahu Akbar, and things like that, that’s what I saw.’

The only journalist to challenge the PSC director’s claims that she was surprised that the Israelis boarded the boat and to press her on who initiated the violence was BBC Today programme anchor Sarah Montague. The journalist repeatedly tried to glean from Colborne, who had started the violence and what she had actually seen.

In the following exchange, Colborne revealingly avoids the BBC journalist’s question about whether or not the passengers attacked the soldiers and implies that she did not actually see Israeli commandos open fire:

Sarah Montague: Are you saying that Israeli soldiers who boarded that ship opened fire and there was no provocation for it?

Sarah Colborne: That’s what I am saying, yes.

SM: You saw that. You saw them fire when there was no attack on them.

SC: I saw them, well, I saw them, what I saw was them coming down from a helicopter onto the roof, I saw them trying to board the boat via dinghies.

SM: Were they attacked by those on board?

SC: They – the people on board, as you can see, were trying to stop…

SM: Hitting them with metal bars.

SC: Well, we need to see the entire footage. I believe to give a perspective on what was happening. They were shooting, they were shooting civilians, they were using gas bombs on the ship. The truth is we were in international waters, Israel committed a piracy offence.

Sarah Montague also challenged Colborne’s contention she had ‘heard no warnings whatsoever’ that the Israelis were going to raid the ship, saying, ‘How can you not have known or how can those on board the ship… because we know from what the Israeli side is saying that there were plenty of warnings?

The BBC journalist finally broached the subject of the professed desire for martyrdom on the part of some of the participants who had died:

‘Let me, let me put something to you. The Turkish newspapers yesterday quoted family members of two of the dead men as saying that they had wanted to be martyrs.’

Sarah Colborne, once again, flatly denied being aware of any such aspirations of her co-travellers:

‘Well, I – I have no idea. I didn’t speak to anyone who wanted to be a martyr.’

A passenger on the Mavi Marmara:

Dr. Abd Al-Fatah Shayyeq Naaman, a Yemeni lecturer visting Gaza, speaking about IHH president Bulent Yildirim on Hamas TV:

Khaybar! chants on board:

Intifada! and Khaybar! chants at the sending-off ceremony in Turkey:

Gene adds: Light-hearted banter from the “Freedom Flotilla” to the Israeli navy:

“Shut up, go back to Auschwitz.”

Then another voice:

“We’re helping Arabs go against the US. Don’t forget 9/11, guys.”

What kind of accent is that?

Gene adds: Here is an unedited clip of the same transmissions:

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