Thursday, September 16, 2010

Istanbul Dispatch: Press Freedom Alla Turca (By Claire Berlinski)

In May, a ship full of civilians — but not full of humanitarian aid — sailed from Turkey to join the Free Gaza flotilla. Having warned the Mavi Marmara that it would not be allowed to breach the blockade, Israeli commandos raided the ship. In the clash, nine Turks were killed. I've lived in Istanbul for five years and I've spoken to hundreds of Turks about these events. A Turkish documentary filmmaker and I have filmed some of these conversations. Something will immediately strike the viewer: the Turkish people have no idea what happened. This is because the most basic facts about and surrounding these events have not been reported in Turkey.


In billing the flotilla as a humanitarian mission, the IHH — the expedition's Islamist sponsor — exploited the Turks' Achilles heel: their generosity. Turks think of themselves as charitable and compassionate, as indeed they are. They genuinely believe, because this is what has been reported here, that the Palestinians are starving. They know almost nothing about the reasons for the blockade. They believe that the ship was on a humanitarian mission and nothing but a humanitarian mission. They are bewildered that anyone would have interfered with such a noble-minded endeavour. They do not know that there were no humanitarian supplies on the Mavi Marmara. They do not know the most rudimentary facts about Hamas. As one man said: "These are elected people. It's not like they took over by force, via a coup."

Almost no one in Turkey understands any language but Turkish. If this obviously thoughtful man was unaware that indeed, Hamas took over precisely by force, via a coup, it is because he had no way to know. The men and women to whom we spoke were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn't sound right.
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Day Opening - September 16


Kylios, Black Sea, Istanbul. By Brian Underdown