U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) once lamented what she labeled the tragic loss of “innocent victims” on a pro-Hamas flotilla that she misleadingly described as a “Freedom Flotilla” that was simply “carrying activities and supplies” to the Gaza Strip for humanitarian purposes.
The comments were, minimally, exceptionally naive and incomplete.
The truth of the Mava Marmara raid by Israeli commandos is complex, and Israel is not above scrutiny or criticism over it, but Baldwin’s statement misleadingly adopted the most simplistic anti-Israeli rhetoric.
For example, she ignored the fact that a pro-Hamas Turkish group organized the flotilla, and that Israeli commandos were attacked when they attempted to board the boat, which was purposely attempting to violate the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip for political and propaganda reasons.
“All of them were terrorists who belonged to IHH (the Turkish group) and wanted to kill Israeli soldiers,” Israeli Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom told The Jerusalem Post.
“On the deck of the Mavi Marmara, the IDF (Israeli) soldiers were met with extreme violence,” a report on the incident by the Israeli Turkel Commission reads.
The raid commander told the Commission, “As we approached, I gave an order not to carry out any shooting at this stage, including with less-lethal weapons. When we came close to the stern, we began to receive a barrage of objects, anything that came to hand, including metal bars, metal chairs, large cans of tinned food, large screws, which hit the combat personnel and the boat. One of the combat personnel was hit by a blunt object in the face and was cut under the eye. Another of the combat personnel was hit by a metal object on the head, and I gave an order to fire less-lethal weapons at the persons using violence against us.” The phrase “Allahu Akbar” rang out.
As Baldwin now attempts to position against Hamas in the wake of the 2023 attacks on Israel, her previous stance on the Mava Marmara raid is illustrative; for years, Baldwin has attempted to act like she is pro-Israel while taking actions that are anything but. As we previously reported, she has taken a series of anti-Israel policy positions over the years, and she has been weak on Iran, supporting Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal and opposing sanctions against that terrorist regime. At election time, Baldwin tends to remake herself.
It is in this context that we bring her comments on the pro-Hamas flotilla.
“I was deeply troubled to learn of the violence and loss of life when six ships delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip were attacked last week. My heart goes out to the many innocent victims,” Baldwin said at the time, becoming one of only a few people in Congress to speak out against the raid. In that same letter, she stressed her opposition to Israeli’s blockage of Gaza. She urged a “ceasefire” and said she supported both “Israeli and Palestinian peoples.” She wrote that she was pressing for a “full and impartial investigation,” presumably against Israel.
When Hamas, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel imposed the blockade that Baldwin opposed.
Baldwin’s naive statement ignores the following:
- The flotilla “was organized by a Turkish charity that is sympathetic to Hamas,” according to Jewish Telegraph Agency.
- BBC reported that Israeli officials said the Israeli commandos “opened fire only after being attacked with clubs, knives and a gun which was taken from them,” although the people on the boat denied this.
- The Turkish charity (IHH) that organized the flotilla “is closely linked to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas…and is a member of another organization, the Union of the Good, which supports suicide bombings,” BBC reported, attributing the information to the Israeli government.
- According to American Progress, Israel banned the group in July 2008, along with 35 other organizations, “since they are part of Hamas’s fundraising network.”
- “Israel has long maintained that İHH is an extremist group with ties to Hamas, but only placed it on its terrorist list after the Gaza flotilla incident,” American Progress noted. “Germany banned the organization’s Frankfurt affiliate due to its relationship with Hamas on July 12, 2010.”
- According to the German publication Taz, “The cooperation and ideological proximity of the IHH towards radical Islamic Hamas, which took power in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, was already known before this conflict.”
- Taz reported that, in a video published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a man spoke to people aboard the “Mavi Marmara” who were kneeling on the ground and said, “We follow the footsteps of the martyrs…If you send the commandos, we will throw you on board.” Dozens of listeners shout to him: “Millions of martyrs march to Gaza!”
- According to Taz, in the mid-1990s, German prosecutors “had already accused the IHH of using donations for Muslims in Bosnia not for humanitarian purposes, but to finance the Islamist Milli-Görüs movement in Turkey. And even in the Chechen war, weapons are said to have been bought instead of aid, according to the prosecutor’s office.”
- Taz reported that IHH head Bülent Yildirim “has met with Hamas leaders several times: in January 2010 with Ismail Haniyya and in January 2009 with Khalid Mashaal, who lives in Damascus in exile. He thanked Mashal for the help. About a year ago, Yildirim said in Gaza: ‘Three or four years ago, Hamas was known as a terrorist organization. Today we call Israel, the USA and Great Britain the terrorists.'”
A report from the United Nations General Assembly outlined the violence perpetrated against commandos by the people on the boat but also was critical of the Israelis, saying they violated international law.
According to that report, the closure on the Gaza Strip “was imposed by Israel after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. In September 2007, Israel declared the Gaza Strip ‘hostile territory’ and that the movement of goods into and out of Gaza would be restricted for security concerns as well as in order to apply pressure on the Hamas government ‘as part of the State of Israel’s operations against continuous terrorism.'” That’s the blockade Baldwin opposed.
“From mid-2008, in response to the Free Gaza Movement’s attempts to enter Gaza by sea, the Israeli Government took a series of steps aimed initially at deterring shipping from traveling to the area. A Notice to Mariners was issued stating that all ships entering the central zone of the Gaza Maritime Area would be ‘subject to supervision and inspection,'” the report says.
The UN believed the flotilla was motivated by “concerns about the possible propaganda victory that might be claimed by the organizers of the flotilla” versus posing an active security threat.
“The Free Gaza Movement, a human rights organization registered as a charity in Cyprus, organized five successful boat voyages to Gaza between August and December 2008 using on each occasion one or two small boats. The self-declared purpose of the voyages was to break the blockade on Gaza,” the report said.
The UN said that while the flotilla did try to bring humanitarian supplies through the blockade, it’s primary objective was political. “Many of the participants interviewed did not have specific skills or qualifications for humanitarian work,” the report says.
Israel made its plans clear that it planned to prevent the flotilla from breaking the blockade, using diplomatic efforts to deter it, the report says.
“Video evidence shows a meeting of about 50 to 100 passengers on the ship on 30 May at which the IHH President and a number of other prominent passengers spoke with some bravado about preventing an Israeli takeover of the ship. The pressure of the water hoses was seen being tested on the decks the day before the interception,” the report says.
Some passengers also sawed off railings to turn them into weapons. Israeli authorities released recordings showing that insulting references were made referring to “Auschwitz” and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The UN could not authenticate those, though.
“The Israeli forces attempted to board the ship through attaching ladders to the hull. Passengers engaged in efforts to repel the attempted boarding using the ship’s water hoses and the throwing of various items at the boats including chairs, sticks, a box of plates and other objects that were readily to hand. This initial attempt to board the ship proved unsuccessful,” the report says.
“A fight ensued,” resulting in “at least two soldiers being pushed down onto the bridge deck below, where they were involved in struggles with groups of passengers who attempted to take their weapons,” the UN report says. “The equipment jacket of at least one soldier was removed as he was pushed over the side of the deck. A number of weapons were taken from the soldiers by passengers and thrown into the sea: one weapon, a 9-mm pistol, was unloaded by a passenger, a former U.S. Marine, in front of witnesses and then hidden in another part of the ship in an attempt to retain evidence.”
In addition, says the report, a “number of the passengers on the top deck fought with the soldiers using their fists, sticks, metal rods and knives. At least one of the soldiers was stabbed with a knife or other sharp object.” Passengers also used catapults to propel projectiles at helicopters.
In return, the Israel forces used paintballs, plastic bullets and live ammunition, “fired by soldiers from the helicopter above and soldiers who had landed on the top deck,” which resulted in the deaths of four passengers and injuries to 19 others, the report says, claiming “Israeli soldiers continued shooting at passengers who had already been wounded, with live ammunition, soft baton charges (beanbags) and plastic bullets.”
“The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution,” the report says. However, a separate Israeli inquiry called the Turkel Commission concluded that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) acted lawfully. That commission explained that the blockade arose after a series of terroristic and security concerns including smuggling of weapons on ships.
“Overall, the IDF personnel acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence,” the Commission found.
However, no other than Joe Biden defended the raid at the time, calling it “legitimate.”
“We stopped all the ships and it was all done in two hours. Over 700 people were arrested. Whoever was killed or injured were IHH terrorists and the eight soldiers who were injured returned to service,” Marom told Jerusalem Post, calling the raid a success. “Twelve years later, there are no flotillas,” he said.
Israel Defense Forces told Haaretz that some of the activists on the flotilla tried to “lynch” commandos.