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Israel accused of fabricating flotilla video

June 5, 2010 6:14 P.M. (Updated: June 6, 2010 9:35 P.M.)
By Mya Guarnieri

Correction appended

Tel Aviv - Ma'an - The Israeli army released video footage Monday of the navy radioing the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara prior to the raid that took place in international waters and left at least nine activists dead.

But on Friday, it released a new version of the same footage — one that it says proves its claims that many aboard were religious extremists — but that some say has been very obviously tampered with.

In the first video released in the immediate aftermath of the violent raid, a soldier says, "Mavi Marmara, you are approaching an area of hostility which is under a naval blockade." There is no recorded response.

The soldier continues, "The Gaza area, coastal region, and Gaza harbor are closed to all maritime traffic." Again, no response.

The soldier radios once more, saying, "The Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and invites you to enter the Ashdod port …"

But an updated version, released five days later, includes three alleged responses from passengers who, according to the video, were supposedly on board the Mavi Marmara. This new clip shows only a still of the soldier who appears in the first footage.

The soldier, who is not named, does not address the Mavi Marmara as he did in the video released Monday. Instead, he says, "This is the Israeli navy; you are approaching an area which is under a naval blockade."

A man with an odd, indistinct accent responds, "Shut up. Go back to Aushwitz."

Then the voice of a woman follows. She states, "We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter."

The third response, which seems entirely disconnected from the events, comes from a man with a heavy Southern accent. "We're helping Arabs go against the US. Don't forget 9/11 guys."

Ali Abuminah, founder of the website Electronic Intifada, reported on his blog that the woman's voice is that of Huwaida Arraf.

Arraf, a Palestinian-American who chairs the Free Gaza Movement, confirmed that it was her voice. But she emphasized that she was on the Challenger 1 boat, not the Mavi Marmara.

"I was by the radio the whole time there was any communication," Arraf told Ma'an. "Mine was the only boat in which I answered and not the captain and they all answered in a very professional manner."

Arraf told Ma'an that while she is certain that she had spoken about permission from the Gaza Port Authority on a previous attempt to break the blockade, she could not be sure that she said it again on Monday morning. "When they radioed us, we were still 100 miles away," she explained.

"When they radioed us, we were still 100 miles away," she said. "There's no doubt that this whole thing they put out is fabricated."

Asked about claims that army video had been faked, an Israeli army spokesperson remarked, "There is no basis for the allegations."

But to many, the recordings are just the latest move in the Israeli army's aggressive campaign to sway public opinion.

Israel seized all recording devices from journalists and activists who were on the flotilla. The army has released its own footage for use in its still-raging war of information being fought on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and media outlets.

Among several heavily edited clips, the army has released a short video that shows soldiers dropping down onto the Mavi Marmara from helicopters after which a few of them are violently assaulted.

Eyewitnesses, Arraf included, say the army shot at the Marmara and fired stun grenades before boarding. But the clip released by the army includes no footage of the moments prior to the soldiers' boarding.

Nevertheless, as hundreds of deportees begin to reach their home countries, some in possession of footage smuggled off the boats are filling in the gaps.

A journalist with Al-Jazeera managed to broadcast footage indicating that the Israeli army began shooting at the passengers of the Mavi Marmara before the soldiers boarded, suggesting that passengers who were armed with sticks and chairs were acting in self-defense.

Many journalists are concerned that other footage is being held by Israeli authorities. The Foreign Press Association alleges that the army has used some of this footage as its own.

The association is demanding that the military identify the sources of videos it has released and to stop selectively editing content to back up the army's version of events.

*** In a previous version of this article Arraf was quoted as saying she was "certain" that she did not say she had permission to dock in Gaza from the Port Authority there, but later clarified that "Listening to the new version released by the Israelis, I have no reason to doubt that I did say it on this voyage also." The article has been modified to reflect that clarification.
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