I have a piece in The Times today about Ken O’Keefe, the former US Marine accused by Israel yesterday of plotting to establish a Hamas commando unit in the Gaza Strip.
Mr O’Keefe was a peace activist on board the Mavi Marmara and frankly admits disarming two Israeli commandos.
You can read his own account here, as well his reasons why he chose to use force to defend the boat.
As this brief, bloody patch of spacetime somewhere off the Gaza Coast in the early hours of last Monday continues to spew its consequences across the Middle East, many of those who were on board are angry about how this event has been so obsessively picked apart by the world’s press.
For most of those who I have spoken to, a statement of the following simple facts says it all: Israeli commandos boarded an aid ship in international waters and killed nine civilians.
Pointing out the shades of grey in a massacre may seem repulsive, but as it desperately attempts to quell the outrage still flowing unabated from this incident, Israel’s statements regarding the people on board the Mavi Marmara have compelled us to do just that.
And the biggest grey spot of all centres on the question of whether these people were peaceful civilians or violent combatants.
Most of Israel’s press statements have sought to assert the latter, and although few of its allegations have stuck fast, the activists have admitted enough to make it clear that there was a plan to resist boarding using non-lethal violence.
The people on the boat, and the IHH charity which controlled the Mavi Marmara, could never have known the Israelis would open fire with real bullets and shoot to kill, but as they saw the navy boats approach and made a fateful decision to fight they certainly had some idea of the possible consequences.
Viewed in the most generous terms this decision was born of a determination to defend the boat, and a belief that the cause was more important than their own lives.
Viewed cynically, there was calibrated resistance intended to provoke and expose Israel and bring on exactly the ‘martyrdom’ subsequently eulogised by IHH President Bulent Yildirim at the funerals of eight of the dead.
This murky and morally crucial question of intent will probably never be satisfactorily answered.
In terms of Mr O’Keefe’s alleged terrorist activities, Mary Fitzgerald at the Irish Times has done a good job of laying out his explanations for his contact with Hamas and other organisations. The best I can do is direct you to her article.
He said to me of his meetings with Hamas: “I have every right to meet them and understand their point of view. I have a right of association. Because I meet someone it doesn’t mean I support them.”
When I asked him if he supported Hamas, he said: “I 100 per cent support their right to resist with violence.”
When I asked him if he had ever helped train terrorists, as Israel alleges, he said: “[On board the Mavi Marmara] was the first time I have touched a weapon in more than ten years. My life’s an open book. I have nothing to hide.”
You can see Mr O’Keefe’s own website here.