By Susan Schwartz, TMO
On May 31, 2010, a well-armed Israeli commando group stormed a flotilla of civilian ships seeking to break Israelâ€™s draconian blockade of Gaza. These commandos boarded all six of the ships of the Freedom Flotilla I and murdered nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, wounding over 150 on board all ships. All of the ships, passengers and crew were unarmed and were sailing in international waters.
The Mavi Marmara was sailing under the flag of Comoros and had been purchased by the Turkish group, Humanitarian Aid Foundation – IHH using the Turkish acronym. Comoros is a group of small islands located between Mozambique and Madagascar. Comoros has the legal authority to bring the case to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands since that nation was a signatory to the Rome Statute(s) that established the Court.
Israelâ€™s act of piracy shocked the humanitarian instincts of people throughout the world. Peace activists were not content to let the matter rest without shining the bright light of truth on Israelâ€™s actions and bringing justice to the dead and to their families and friends.
Numerous attempts have been made to demand restitution and to indict Israel for its actions.
Following the attack legal and peace groups throughout the world held hearings on the event and demanded that Israel be held to account for halting the mission of Freedom Flotilla I and for its unconscionable assault on the Mavi Marmara and the other five ships.
In December 2012 the IHH through its Commission on Human Rights and Law issued an indictment against four Israeli top commanders who were in the forefront of those responsible for the attack on the Mavi Marmara. They are being tried in absentia.
Greta Berlin is a name familiar to readers of The Muslim Observer as a veteran peace activist with her primary focus on the people of Gaza. She was one of the co-founders of the Free Gaza Movement and was a passenger on the first ship that broke the Israeli blockade of Gaza in late August 2008. Ms Berlin is still on the Board of the Free Gaza Movement and has been intimately involved in its activities. Ms Berlin travelled to Istanbul recently to attend the IHH hearing on the events of May 31, 2010 and to speak at the lawyersâ€™ conference there.
She travelled with Audrey Bombse, the attorney for the Free Gaza Movement, and several Free Gaza passengers, some of whom had already testified before the Turkish court, as they had been on board one of the six ships the morning of the attack.
Ms Berlin has consented to an interview with The Muslim Observer to discuss her trip to Turkey in the context of the fight for freedom in Palestine and the fight to bring Israel into a position of accountability for its actions.
The Muslim Observer: Ms Berlin, thank you for your time on behalf of myself and my newspaper. My first question is this: would you synopsize your efforts, which I assume are synonymous with the efforts of the Free Gaza Movement, to bring Israel to justice for its massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara.
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer: Many of the passengers who are working to bring Israel to justice have taken the time to testify at the Mavi Marmara criminal trial in Turkey. But, the case is not just being heard in Turkey. There are ongoing cases in South Africa, the UK and Spain. Even if none of them come to trial, Israel has been put on notice that it no longer can murder, maim and steal with impunity.
TMO: In a previous interview you mentioned a trip to Istanbul to visit the offices of the IHH after one of your trips to trips to Gaza. Could you tell us more about the trip and what your impressions were of the IHH?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer: IHH is a charity, similar to Catholic Charities and does great work around the world, whether people are Muslim or not. For example, IHH is still in Haiti working on projects there, unlike Israel, who came in for a photo op, then left two weeks after the earthquake. They are working in Bosnia/Herzogovenia right now. Anyone who is interested in this excellent charity can find more information at http://www.ihh.org.tr/en.
TMO: On this most recent (March 2014) trip to Turkey, could you, assuming you do not break privilege, tell us about your presentation at the lawyers conference?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer:I was asked to speak about Free Gaza and the first trips, so I spoke for about ten minutes about the fact that we were the first ones to organize boats to Gaza and we got into Gaza successfully five times. I was the second speaker in the morning.
TMO: Have you travelled to other nations and worked with other groups to prepare a case against Israel?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer: I have not, but others have. Free Gaza has certainly provided background information for various cases, plus the Free Gaza board has written an extensive brief against Israel for the ICC case that is currently being considered. Israel has established a pattern of violent behavior prior to the attack on the Flotilla, so Free Gaza is part of that petition as an organization.
TMO: During your most recent trip to Turkey, were you able to get a sense of what the Turkish people feel now about the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara – has the anger abated absent real justice?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer:On the day of the hearing, several of us went across the street from the court house to participate in a huge action there in support of IHH and of the ongoing hearings. Iâ€™d say that, although the raw anger I saw a year after the attacks is gone, the memory of what Israel did continues to rankle with the people of Turkey.
TMO: The reaction of the U. S. government immediately after May 31st, 2010 and continuing to the present has certainly not been supportive. Have you met American officials who have offered you support in your quest for justice.
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer: No, but that is not surprising. The US government is not even pursuing answers on the death of Furkan Dogan, an American citizen who was on board the Mavi Marmara. They have paid no more attention to his death than they have to the deaths of 34 sailors on board the USS Liberty more than 47 years ago.
TMO: Were you active in preparing the case that the Turkish court used?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer: No, but Audrey Bomse, the attorney for Free Gaza, and I solicited and prepared the files for the possible case at the ICC
TMO: What is the next step?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer: There are ongoing hearings in several countries as I mentioned. The next hearing in Turkey is scheduled for May 26 when we hope the court will issue arrest warrants against the four Israeli officers.
TMO: Do you have a message you would like to leave with our readers?
Ms Berlinâ€™s answer:In August, 2008, we made a pledge to the Palestinians of Gaza that we would return in boats as often as we could. To date, Free Gaza has successfully entered Gaza five times before being attacked. But the boats have not stopped trying to enter. We are now part of an initiative called Gazaâ€™s Ark (www.gazaark.org). A boat leaving Gaza with products from the West Bank and Gaza will be loaded and will set sail in September. This boat was attacked on April 29, a hole blown in its engines. I have my own suspicions who is responsible, but the important thing is that this vicious attack has not stopped the boats.
When we arrived that first time in August of 2008, we made the Palestinians three promises; 1. That we would return, 2. That we would take Palestinians out when we could and 3. That we would tell the world about what Israel is doing to a blockaded and occupied people, trapped in an outdoor prison. We have honored all of those promises, but we are not finished. We will continue to insist the port of Gaza open. Gaza is the only port on the Mediterranean that has no access to its own sea.
That is outrageous.
TMO: Ms Berlin, on behalf of my newspaper and myself, let me thank you for the brave and essential work you have done to liberate Palestine over many years.
Note: There are now ten, not nine victims of the Israeli attack. On Friday, May 23rd, Ugur Suleyman Soylemez died of injuries received during Israelâ€™s attack on the Mavi Marmara. He had been in a coma for these past four years.