LONDON — A leading pro-Palestinian campaigner involved in the flotilla that attempted to enter Gaza in May 2010 has appeared to corroborate Israel’s version of the events which led to the bloody confrontation on board the Mavi Marmara.
Ten Turkish activists died after IDF commandos boarded the ship — the largest in the six-vessel convoy — as it sailed towards the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave in defiance of an Israeli security blockade designed to prevent the terror group importing weapons.
In newly revealed posts from a secret British Facebook group, Greta Berlin, the co-founder and spokesperson of the Free Gaza Movement, states that the Israeli troops did not open fire until after Ken O’Keefe, a former US marine aboard the Mavi Marmara, had seized a gun from one of them.
During a heated online debate, in the safety of a Facebook group of pro-Palestinian activists who had all been approved or invited to join, Berlin repeatedly challenged comments from other members praising O’Keefe.
“He was responsible for some of the deaths on board the Mavi Marmara. Had he not disarmed an Israeli terrorist soldier, they would not have started to fire. That’s enough. Most of you have no idea what you’re talking about,” she wrote.
Berlin’s comments, posted in 2014, were made on the Palestine Live group.
Last week, a report by researcher and blogger David Collier uncovered a raft of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel material on the site, whose members once included the leader of Britain’s Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn.
But Collier’s examination of the Facebook group also seems to throw new light on the events which unfolded in international waters off of the Gazan coast nearly eight years ago, which provoked a fierce diplomatic spat between Turkey and Israel and the severing of ties by Ankara.
Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara by descending on ropes from helicopters. The IDF later said that its forces were attacked with clubs, knives and metal rods as they began to land from the first helicopter, with three soldiers taken captive. It stated that soldiers opened fire after a protester grabbed a weapon from one of the commandos.
“Unfortunately this group were dead-set on confrontation,” the then Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev told the BBC shortly after the clash.
“Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100 percent clear,” he said.
The activists, however, claimed that Israeli forces began firing as soon as they hit the deck.
One of their first accounts came from Berlin, who was not sailing on the Mavi Marmara. Speaking from Cyprus just hours after the raid, she told the New York Times that the commandos “opened fire on sleeping civilians at four in the morning.”
It was a line which she repeated to other international media outlets throughout the day, thus helping to shape a widespread narrative of Israeli aggression.
Intense international condemnation of the violence followed, with several countries summoning the Israeli ambassadors serving there.
During demonstrations in London, Corbyn, then a backbench Labour MP, accused Israel of committing a “war crime” and “an act of piracy” and branded it a “rogue state.”
Berlin’s post, Collier argues, suggests “there was no Israeli fire while the soldiers were coming down from the helicopters, nor any at all until after the unexpected level of resistance had been encountered and soldiers had been taken ‘prisoner.’”
The Israeli report submitted to a 2011 UN panel established to investigate the incident, he continues, was “accurate.”
“It is difficult to logically read Berlin’s comment any other way,” he notes. “[She] clearly knows that what really happened isn’t the way they told it.”
‘Unacceptable’ loss of life in face of ‘violent resistance’
While the UN panel criticized the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara as “unacceptable,” it also concluded that the commandos faced “significant, organized and violent resistance” which required them to “use force for their own protection.”
Faced with differing accounts from Turkey — which accused Israeli forces of “excessive, brutal and premeditated” conduct — and Israel, the UN panel failed to come to a conclusion about the point at which the commandos opened fire.
Collier, though, uncovered further posts from Berlin on the Facebook group which appear to back Israel’s description of how the confrontation unfolded.
“You think it was smart that he took the gun away from these crazies on board the MM [Mavi Marmara]? Then ran around the deck saying he had the gun? Then hid it so that the Israelis could say they found a gun on board? Right,” she wrote in one thread.
In another, she charges that O’Keefe, a fellow member of Palestine Live, was “not a hero and his actions put others on the Mavi Marmara at risk.” She also refers to “Ken’s crazy ideas to attack crazed and armed soldiers.”
Berlin also appears to question O’Keefe’s motivations, noting that, “He’s a provacateur [sic] of the highest order and one wonders just why.” She then wrote: “Since he took the gun away and ran around holding it up, why didn’t the crazy Israeli terrorists shoot him? Why did they ONLY shoot people with cameras in their hands.”
Berlin’s ire had been piqued by the posting in the group of a 2010 interview with O’Keefe and a 2014 YouTube video featuring him entitled “The ISIS (Israel State Intelligence Service) Genocidal Agenda.”
Her animus towards O’Keefe, whom she brands “a menace,” seems to stem from her experience with him aboard an earlier, 2008 ship which sailed to Gaza. On this occasion, and four others, Israel allowed convoys to breach the blockade and travel to Gaza.
“He created all kinds of problems for us on that first trip to Gaza,” Berlin argues in one post, and later alleges that O’Keefe “lied about having a captain’s license.” She also strongly hints that he had been spoiling for a fight with Israeli forces during that voyage, writing of his “rather crazy ideas of wanting to have a ‘suicide boat.’”
“We had all said Ken would not be invited onto this flotilla,” she says referring to the May 2010 convoy, “but he somehow got on board.”
Paranoia and conspiracy theories
Both O’Keefe and Berlin are long-time pro-Palestinian campaigners. He has previously called Israel a “racist, apartheid, genocidal state” which “must be destroyed” and claimed that the Mossad was “directly involved” in the 9/11 attacks. He regularly appears on Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster’s English-language outlet.
Berlin’s first husband was a Palestinian and she initially became involved in anti-Israel activism after the 1967 war. She later spent time in the West Bank on behalf of the International Solidarity Movement and sparked controversy in 2012 when she was accused of promoting a video claiming that Zionists were responsible for the Holocaust.
She subsequently said she had not watched the “disgusting” video before posting it.
Berlin has described Israel as an “illegal entity” and “a country founded on terrorism.”
The Mavi Marmara was operated by the Turkish charity, IHH, which was banned by Israel in 2008. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center claimed in 2010 that “besides its legitimate humanitarian activities, IHH supports radical Islamic terrorist networks. In recent years it has prominently supported Hamas.”
Even after Turkey and Israel restored full diplomatic relations in 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to publicly insist that it was “impossible” that the IDF soldiers were acting in self-defense.
“We have all of the documents and evidence,” Erdogan told Channel 2.
“Regrettably, 10 of our brothers were martyred there,” he added.
Berlin did not respond to a request by The Times of Israel for comment.