EXCLUSIVE Footage: A Day at IHH Headquarters, Interview with Passenger on Mavi Marmara and Ahmet Emin Dag, Free Gaza Campaign Coordinator

Granted, it's not our exclusive footage, but The Claire and Okan ORIENT EXPRESS blog is doing some remarkable work which must be publicized, so we are doing our part to get the word out, hoping that others in our audience can help too.  The Claire and Okan ORIENT EXPRESS blog is currently in the process of uploading the various chunks of video of their day at IHH Headquarters in Turkey.  As they explain:
There has been much debate in the media about whether Turkey’s İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri İnsani Yardım Vakfı is a charity or a terrorist entity. The IHH, which sponsored the ill-fated Mavi Marmara expedition to Gaza, is said by a number of credible authorities, including the French counter-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Brougieres, to have ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. IHH spokesmen say this is an outrageous slur, and point to the group’s charitable works in, for example, Mali, Togo and Chad, where they have sent teams of physicians to treat cataract patients.

Okan and I went to the IHH headquarters in Istanbul to see what they had to say for themselves.

We’ve added a watermark indicating that the footage comes from us, but apart from that we have not edited these interviews at all: not one word has been cut. We are putting all of our footage up on this site—every last minute, even the boring parts—for two reasons: First, we realized pretty quickly that we don’t have the time or the budget to edit it. We couldn’t figure out how to solve this problem. Then it occurred to us that this is precisely what the Internet is good for: crowd-sourcing. There have to be tens of thousands of people out there who will share our view that this footage is important. Wherever you are: Please help us to edit it.

Second, most news footage—particularly where this issue is concerned—is obviously highly and selectively edited, often misleadingly. We thought viewers might appreciate seeing the full interviews, with every quotation in context.

Please feel free—feel encouraged—to use this footage. Edit it, extract it, add commentary, put it on YouTube, add a soundtrack, add voice-over, correct Okan’s translations, correct my Turkish, turn it into a music video: Be our guests. If you edit it in any way that strikes us as interesting, we’ll post the link here. If you find it enlightening or useful, we’d appreciate it if you spread the word about it, and we’d appreciate it even more if you made a donation: Our work is entirely sponsored by you: 
(We didn’t expect to meet these rabbis, but since they were there, we interviewed them. The Turkish press has been very pleased about the solidarity they’ve shown with the Mavi Marmara’s crew.)

(2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7).

PART III: LUNCHTIME AT THE IHH (video coming soon)
The Claire and Okan ORIENT EXPRESS blog then included a transcript of highlights, explaining: 
These are just a few parts of the interviews that struck us as noteworthy; there’s a lot that I haven’t transcribed that’s also extremely interesting. If you’d like to transcribe more of this, or correct these transcriptions, we’d appreciate it and we’ll post it.

(Note: The transcriptions were done in haste, and we can’t guarantee their accuracy. We recommend you check them against the footage before quoting them.)
 We (the JIDF) decided to pull what we thought were the most important parts from their highlights.  We added our own emphasis (in red):  


Claire: You know, the French terrorism judge Jean-Louis Brougieres has suggested that the IHH has ties to al Qaeda, and was involved in the millennium attack on the Los Angeles airport. I wanted to know, is that true?
Ahmet Bey: At this rate, they’re going to assign all the guilt for everything in the world that’s happened to IHH.
Claire: But this was at the time of that attack.
Ahmet Bey: IHH is an institution that has been on the scene for the last 18 years. We’re in 180 areas of the world, and the only place we have a problem is Palestine.
Claire: Why were your offices raided by the Turkish authorities? Was that a mistake?
Ahmet Bey: It was in 1997, when freedoms in Turkey were restricted after the takeover in the postmodern coup. During that time a lot of NGOs were raided and they picked IHH as one of the scapegoats.
Claire: Was it true that there was telephone contact between IHH offices and various extremist groups like al Qaeda? That’s just manufactured, that evidence?
Ahmet Bey: Including the period I mentioned, in 1997, we’ve never been officially charged or accused of any of this. It’s only the same columnists and newspapers, and the source is the same place.
Claire: And what is the source of this?
Ahmet Bey: Some people in France, some website.
Claire: It’s France’s best-known counter-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Brougieres, who’s said unequivocally that IHH is a front organization for Islamist financing of terrorist groups in Chechnya, in Bosnia …
Ahmet Bey: If you’re looking through the glasses of the West, and you think those people who struggle for independence against Serbia, in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion, in Iraq against the American invasion, Palestinians against Israel, then you can look at it that way, but we don’t consider them terrorist groups.
Claire: Do you consider al Qaeda a terrorist group?
Ahmet Bey: We consider every organization that attacks civilians, that harms civilians, a terrorist organization, and we’ve never had anything to do with them.
Claire: You’ve never had anything to do with al Qaeda?
Ahmet Bey: Never.
Claire: Okay, what about Hamas. Do you consider them a terrorist group?
Ahmet Bey: This accusation is very common because we’re involved in 120 nations and regions in the world, and they include Chechnya and Afghanistan and those that were oppressed by Serbia and Israel, and people can look at it that way.
Claire: Do you think Hamas is a terrorist group?
Ahmet Bey: We don’t consider Hamas a terrorist organization; they’re a political party.
Claire: Do you realize Hamas has targeted civilians?


Claire: What are the connections between the IHH and the AKP. Do you have a relationship with them? What is the origin of the closeness between the IHH and the AKP?
Ahmet Bey: One is a political party and the other is an aid organization. There’s no organic tie. But Turkey is a conservative nation and a conservative people, and the people who donate to the organization, the same conservative mass, votes for the AKP. So basically we use the same public base. Other than that there are no official ties, but since we share the same mass, we’re involved in the same mass, we know each other individually.


Claire: Is it true that 40 members of the IHH boarded separately and without security checks, and established a separate command room on top of the boat? …
Ahmet Bey: The only people who boarded the boat separately were the crew, the people responsible for the food, and the broadcasting crew.


Ahmet Bey: We weren’t expecting such an assault, with gas bombs, sound bombs—
Claire: Don’t you think perhaps you should have expected that, given that you were sailing into the most volatile military conflict zone in the world, and had been repeatedly been warned by the Israelis that you would be resisted by force?
Ahmet Bey: We weren’t expecting anyone to open such careless fire on civilians. We knew we were sailing—
Claire: So you were using—
Ahmet Bey: We knew we weren’t going to be met with flowers.


Ahmet Bey: We had people who ranged from a one-year-old kid to 88-year-old religious man. And we took all the civilian precautions, assuming this was a civilian act, and that’s all we did. How do you think six boats, 700 civilians, and 15,000 kg of humanitarian aid, threatens Israeli security?
Claire: You know perfectly well that if the blockade is broken, that allows Iran to deliver materials for making missiles to Hamas. If the blockade is broken, and that is the precedent you were trying to set, isn’t it?
Ahmet Bey: Everybody from American clergy to European politicians were trying to break that blockade, yes. The people that are risking their lives to bring aid to these people, would they be doing it to aid Hamas?
Claire: Effectively, yes. That is effectively what they’re doing.
Ahmet Bey: The MPs from Europe, from Sweden, the European MPs, were they working to help Iran?
Claire: Let me just back up. You said, “The people who were risking their lives.” That means you knew they were risking their lives?
Ahmet Bey: They knew they were going into a risky area–
Claire: So why were you sending women and children into that situation? If you knew they were risking their lives, so why wouldn’t you send your military, and not your women and children?
Ahmet Bey: They were volunteers, we’re not pulling anybody—
Claire: How can a one-year-old child be a volunteer?
Ahmet Bey: We announced the campaign around the world, and thousands of people applied, and they did go through a selection process.
Claire: And how did you decide a one-year-old child would be an appropriate candidate to send through an Israeli military blockade?
Ahmet Bey: That kid was the boat captain’s son, the second captain’s son, from the crew.
Claire: And that was the reason you put him into this situation?
Ahmet Bey: He brought all his family with him. Normally it’s illegal to bring along your family, if you’re the captain, but what he did was put him on the passenger list, and that way they got on the boat, because they was on the passenger list.
Claire: And no one said, “This is a dangerous operation, we’re about to run a blockade, an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, about to do something that’s a military provocation, perhaps we shouldn’t bring the kids along?”
Ahmet Bey: We announced we were going to break this blockade, this blockade that’s against international law, and we set some health and legal criteria, and those people that fit the criteria got on the boat.
Claire: If you wanted to break a military blockade, why didn’t you leave the job to the military of the elected government of Turkey, instead of doing it yourself with civilian human shields?
Ahmet Bey: It’s not a matter between Israel and Turkey, this was a human mission to break the blockade.
Claire: So you think it has nothing to do with politics between Turkey and Israel?
Ahmet Bey: Without a doubt. But Israel’s trying to politicize it.
Claire: And you don’t think Turkey’s trying to politicize it?
Ahmet Bey: Because Israel has some political issues with Turkey, and through these NGOs we’re trying to get this done.


Claire: Do you support Hamas? Do you think Hamas is a terrorist organization, or do you not support Hamas?
Ahmet Bey: We’re not dealing with them as partners in Palestine. We don’t deal with them. Our partner institutions are in Gaza and the West Bank. We always locate a partner in the places we go it. We work with legally operating NGOs in those areas. If indirectly we get accused because of their ties to Hamas, there’s nothing we can do.
Claire: Do you officially endorse Hamas in any way? Do you have any personal connections, do the senior figures in the organization support Hamas?
Ahmet Bey: If you look on our website, you may find some announcements by our president that may sound political, but they’re not support for their methods, just support for their situation.
Claire: The Hamas charter calls for the complete destruction of Israel. It doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist at all. Is there a sense in the IHH that this is the correct position?
Ahmet Bey: We’re not a political party, we have 150 employees who work with us, they may all think differently. But officially, we do not make any official announcement or give official support for any group. But the guys you met like that, for example [the rabbis], there are people that are anti-Israel in Israel as well. These individuals’ perspective do not concern the institution. We’re not bound by their points of views, so they’re not important to us. Our official stance is apparent.
Claire: Well, I think the individual points of view are quite relevant, because if you’re doing something as provocative as you did, if the individual points of view of many people in that group is that Israel should not exist as a state, and if this is known to many people in the Israeli military and government, of course they’re going to react in a way that’s different than they would if they deeply believed this was a humanitarian—
Ahmet Bey: There weren’t any people on that list, the only names that they had were me and Bulent Bey. [Bulent Yildirim, head of the IHH]
Claire: What list?
Ahmet Bey: There was a list that came out of the commandoes that were beaten up, and the only two names were the people on that list. They were looking for about 25 people on that boat, and only two Turkish names were on it. And Israel never made such accusations until they killed ten of our people. That’s the counter-move they have, accusing people of having ties to al Qaeda and radical groups.
Claire: I just want to be sure I understand. You’re saying it is absolutely untrue that anyone on that boat had ties to al Qaeda or any other radical group, and it was not the position of anyone on that boat that Israel should be destroyed, or—
Ahmet Bey: Absolutely not. We went through the criminal records of all the people that were on board, and we can’t say anything with regard to what was on their minds, but officially, none of them had ties to terrorist organizations. I don’t know what they individually think.


Claire: Do you support Israel’s right to exist?
Ahmet Bey: Our institutional perspective is that of the Palestinian people. That is, in the Oslo Accords, they agreed to a two-state solution.
Claire: The Hamas charter—and Hamas is part of the Palestinian people—calls for the complete destruction of Israel.
Ahmet Bey: Different groups can think differently, Islamic Jihad can think differently, Hamas can think differently, Jibril–
Claire: I asked what you felt.
Ahmet Bey: The people who govern Palestine and Gaza are in Ramallah, whatever they want to do, we’re with them—
Claire: Do you think Israel has a right to exist?
Ahmet Bey: If the innocent Palestinian people want to live together with Israel, then anyone outside of Palestine does not have any right to think any other way. We can’t be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. All we’re trying to do is to help them.
Claire: I’m still not understanding. This is a pretty simple question. Do you, personally, think that Israel has a right to exist?
Ahmet Bey: According to international law, which is the United Nations decision 242, Israel and Palestinians and all the nations accept that the Israel state can exist. I go along with that. Whatever the Palestinian people want and have decided, I go along with that.
Claire: It doesn’t sound like you have a lot of sympathy for the state of Israel though, since you’re saying you’ll go along with whatever the Palestinian people want. I’m just wondering: There are many charges that this is a very anti-Semitic group, that the IHH is an anti-Semitic group. Let’s find out. Tell me, do you believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
Ahmet Bey: That’s a cheap defense of Israel. They label everyone as anti-Semitic.
Claire: I’m not labeling you, I’m asking you.
Ahmet Bey: Israel is, Israel is. If you claim that the embargo is against international law, they label you as anti-Semitic. If Turkey defends the rights of their ten dead people on the boat, then all of a sudden Turkey’s taken a different direction, they’re becoming anti-Semitic, they’re moving against the West. All these cheap accusations …


Ahmet Bey: Zionism and Zionist lobby groups, as you’ll see in the United Nations, are racist. The United Nations has accepted this, so we don’t have the luxury of rejecting this.


Claire: If you’re confused, next time, about whether you’re sending kids into a dangerous situation, give me a call. Because I could have told you that was dangerous. I knew it was dangerous.
Ahmet Bey: The fact that we’re not thinking of sending people over there now does not mean we’re not going to. We’re conferring with our partners, we’re discussing, debating the situation, and who knows? Maybe we’ll even send a bigger one. A bigger flotilla.
Claire: With more kids.
Ahmet Bey: If we go again, we’ll probably take more precautions. If we go again we’ll probably take more precautions. I don’t know, I’m just speculating, it’s not clear. But the embargo has to be lifted. One and a half million people, 900,000 refugees, 70 percent are kids—
Claire: The embargo would be recognized immediately if Hamas recognized Israel and stopped sending rockets over the border. Why aren’t you urging that?
Ahmet Bey: It’s been 17 years since the Oslo agreements. Does it make sense for Hamas to go through the same experience. For the last 17 years Israel has promised to do a lot.
Claire: What are you talking about? Israel withdrew from Gaza, at the price of uprooting a great many people, and immediately the rockets started flying over the border. Do the rockets not count?
Ahmet Bey: We’re going to get into, does the egg belong to the chicken, or does the chicken belong to the egg. If we start that, we’ll have to go all the way back to 1948.
Claire: I agree, which is why I’m saying you’re getting yourself involved in a very complicated political situation under the guise of being humanitarian aid workers. But this is a political and a military conflict, and you’re sending boats in there with women and children. That’s not right.
Ahmet Bey: Why doesn’t Greenpeace get accused for risking their volunteers to save whales? [The tone of voice in which he says "whales" really merits checking this section out, if you need comic relief.]


The IHH graciously invited us to join us for lunch in their canteen. We met Izzat Shahin, who had been detained in the West Bank on suspicion of transporting cash to Hamas under the guise of humanitarian aid. We’ve also got some footage here of the lobby of the IHH. We’re given a document that they say fell out of a suitcase, in Hebrew, pertaining to the erasure of their video tapes. We’ll scan this and post it here.


We met two European passengers from the flotilla. Dror Feiler is an Israeli who emigrated to Sweden; he was on one of the other boats on the flotilla. Dimitris Plionis, a Greek citizen, was on the Mavi Marmara itself.


Mr. Plionis: After 4:00 in the morning, I think it was 4:20, 4:25, they started to attack, first by, there were Zodiacs and quick-launch boats. And they tried to board on the side, but they couldn’t, because people were throwing things to them, you know, chairs, and things like that. And also there were some water cannons, they were watering them. And then right after five or ten minutes the helicopters came, and they landed commandoes on top of the ship, they came out by ropes, fully armed, shooting–
Claire: Were they paintball guns or were they shooting live bullets?
Mr. Plionis: No, they were live bullets, and they were shooting real bullets, and they were throwing bombs, sound–
Mr. Feiler: Shock grenades.
Mr. Plionis: Shock grenades, whatever you call them. There were the Mavi Marmara people, the crew, they were resisting, okay, they had sticks and things like that. They had no guns. This is a total lie that they were armed. They had slingshots. I saw the slingshots. Of course, as soon as they saw resistance of this type, they started shooting people. They not only shot people on the top of the deck, but on the sides. People were shot even from the launch boats.
Claire: Why was there resistance of this kind on the Mavi Marmara, but not on the other boats?
Mr. Feiler: Because there were so many people on the Mavi Marmara. And when you have a great mass of people, they behave another way. …
Mr. Plionis: I believe that people were not willing to be hijacked on the high seas, and they thought, I believe, that it was their duty as sailors, and as people of the flotilla, to not go down just lying on the ground–
Claire: That would make sense to me if it were a military ship, but this is ship full of civilians. Didn’t anyone say, “We’re taking a risk of getting civilians killed?”
Mr. Plionis: You should ask Israel about that.

Mr. Feiler: I was totally deprived all my rights. My lawyer was two days in the prison looking for me, and they were only lying to him—he’s there, he’s not there, we don’t know and so on. In the end, luckily I came out, through the demand of the Turkish government. They said, “Either everybody is out, or nobody out.”
Claire: They said that? They said everyone, or we don’t take our own citizens back?
Mr. Feiler: Yes. They had a very firm decision. They stole everything. If you have time, you should ask IHH to take you to the warehouse, where they have hundreds of empty luggage, laptop cases. The stole hundreds of laptops. From me they stole two cameras, my satellite phone, my regular phone and my saxophone. Why they take my saxophone? Okay, they take my camera. Okay, but why? But it is only—it is unacceptable, it is robbery, I will sue them. Soon I will go to Israel and I will sue them. In Israel, in Sweden, in Turkey in international court. They will regret the moment that they gave us a problem. And they know it.


Mr. Feiler: Many governments have said “this is unacceptable, we don’t want this,” but they didn’t do it. So because of this, we took upon ourselves the responsibility our governments didn’t take. And it shows that it is possible. Now suddenly, everyone, Hilary Clinton, the Swedish prime minister says it, even Tony Blair, and the fact that Tony Blair says it, it shows that the siege will not last half a year.

2:40: 48

Claire: Do you have any anxiety at all that you may have been used by the AKP government?
Mr. Feiler: Absolutely not. Maybe I used them.
Claire: You don’t have a sense that this boat had a bigger reason for Erdogan, for the AKP government, than just bringing humanitarian aid to—
Mr. Feiler: I can’t speculate.
Mr. Plionis: It was not a governmental mission, by the way. IHH is not the government. The government may accept, may have a good relations with IHH, but it was not the government. … this is something different. It’s, it’s non-governmental. We were activists, we had humanitarian help, and also we had the political aim of lifting the siege of Gaza. In the 21st century, you cannot have an open-air prison of 1.5 million people. You cannot bomb them to stone age and let them live in the rubble forbidding the entry of materials of construction.


Claire: Do you have any thoughts at all about Turkish politics?
Mr. Feiler: Yes. I know quite a lot about politics.
Mr. Plionis: We know politics everywhere. We read newspapers everywhere. We’re not morons. But we don’t care. It’s not our field.
Claire: So you are singly preoccupied with Gaza.
Mr. Plionis: Yes.

2:52: 35

Claire: You keep saying that you’re not political. But what you’re doing has political consequences—regional political consequences. You’re strengthening the AKP here in Turkey.
Mr. Plionis: Yes, I accept this.
Mr. Feiler: No. It is a reaction. If they let us go in, there would be no consequences. Israel with its sick policies is strengthening extremism.


Claire: I don’t know if you’re engaging seriously with my question. I’m asking you very seriously, without any attempt to trap you. I just want to know, have you thought about the consequences for Turkey, for all the people in the Middle East, from to Darfur—have you done anything that’s going to make the world better for them?
Mr. Feiler: Yes!
Mr. Plionis: Has Israel thought, what—
Claire: I’m not asking the Israelis, I’m asking you!
Mr. Feiler: I tell you like this. I’m sure we’ve made the world better. We have shown that people can organize themselves, and tell the politicians in front of them, we have succeeded making the Swedish parliament, from left to right, to condemn the attack. We have succeeded in making Sarkozy, and Berlusconi, and Ashdown, England, everyone, even Obama yesterday evening, to say the siege in Gaza cannot continue. The people have spoken. The people don’t have to wait for the next election. They can act between elections.


Outside the IHH headquarters, the neighborhood around Fatih Mosque. You can’t quite make it out, but Okan is explaining to me that they were reluctant to let us film in the kitchen: “If you do that, they’ll know that we’re Islamists,” they said. Okan replied, “What’s wrong with that?” They considered it and decided there was nothing wrong with it. You can overhear Okan and me marveling at Mr. Feiler’s comments about “not having to wait for an election.”

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