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Israel under fire for doctoring flotilla recordings

June 5, 2010 10:48 P.M. (Updated: June 29, 2010 9:47 P.M.)
By Mya Guarnieri

Correction appended

Tel Aviv - Ma'an - Israel's military came under intense scrutiny Saturday after releasing a new, heavily edited version of a video it had distributed to journalists in the days following its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy.

Initially distributing footage of its navy radioing the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara prior to a raid that left nine dead Monday, the military released a new version Friday that it said proves its claims that many aboard were religious extremists.

The audio includes two lines meant to demonstrate fanaticism on the part of Muslim passengers on board the ship, many of whom Israel's army has claimed had "terrorist" ties. "Shut up. Go back to Aushwitz," one man purportedly tells a navy officer via radio before another, with a heavy Southern accent, states that "We're helping Arabs go against the US. Don't forget 9/11 guys."

Bloggers soon picked up on discrepancies between the two. Ma'an also investigated, approaching the army early Saturday and confirming with Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian activist and chair of the Free Gaza Movement, that her voice was used in the recording. She is heard speaking normally via radio.

Saturday's version supposedly came from the Marmara, at least according to the military. But Arraf was actually a passenger on another of the flotilla's boats, the Challenger 1.

Under mounting pressure, the army ultimately released yet another version of the recording late Saturday, bringing to three the total number of different takes on what the military insists is the same event.

The army issued what it called a "clarification/correction," explaining that "There have been questions regarding the authenticity of the recording as well as its attribution to a communication with the Mavi Marmara," a statement said.

"So to clarify: the audio was edited down to cut out periods of silence over the radio as well as incomprehensible comments so as to make it easier for people to listen to the exchange. We have now uploaded the entire segment of 5 minutes and 58 seconds in which the exchange took place and the comments were made.

"This transmission had originally cited the Mavi Marmara ship as being the source of these remarks, however, due to an open channel, the specific ship or ships in the 'Freedom Flotilla' responding to the Israeli Navy could not be identified."

But discrepancies in the Israeli army's story remain.

Like the second version, the latest video includes three responses. The responses, previously attributed to the Mavi Marmara, are now attributed to the flotilla as a whole. The first comes from man with a strange accent who supposedly told his Israeli counterpart to go "back" to the Auschwitz death camp.

Then Arraf follows. In the new version, she addresses the Israeli navy, explaining that "this is the Freedom Flotilla. We are comprised of six motor vessels, carrying only passengers and humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip. We do not carry anything that constitutes a threat to your armed forces. Therefore you are not justified in using any force against us.

"The blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter. We repeat we do not constitute any threat to your armed forces. You are not [Break in transmission; unidentified male English speaker says, "Navy is the best."] against unarmed civilians. Over."

"The third response, seemingly disconnected from the prior two events, comes from the man with the heavy Southern accent who says the ship's passengers are "helping Arabs go against the US," adding, "Don't forget 9/11 guys."

Reacting early Saturday afternoon, Arraf remarked, "I was by the radio the whole time there was any communication. 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.

The Israeli army seized all recording devices from all activists and journalists on the flotilla. It has released only its own edited footage of parts of the raid.

"We recorded the transmission ourselves, but the Israeli commandos confiscated all of our documentation. If they have nothing to hide, they should return our equipment, footage and recordings," Arraf said.

In the first video released in the immediate aftermath, 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 …"

In the first updated version, five days later, three alleged responses from passengers are, according to the video, heard on board the Mavi Marmara. This 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."

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

*** 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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