Eight months have passed since Israel’s bloody attack on Mavi Marmara. What do you think Mavi Marmara has turned into?
Mavi Marmara has gone beyond being a ship alone. It has become a symbol of freedom and gone beyond being a ship carrying humanitarian aid. Although Mavi Marmara [Blue Marmara] is a Turkish name, it is used in many languages now.
What symbol is Mavi Marmara?
It is the symbol of justice, freedom, victimization, innocence, resistance and fight against imperialism.
OK, what has IHH done during this process?
The IHH said: “The King is without clothes.” We have showed that the Zionist sovereignty is not that strong. We have showed that the oppressed can have self-confidence, too. We can stand with all oppressed people on the earth not only with those in Gaza and we can shake the world. We can make people to come to themselves. There has been such a boom of self-confidence.
How were the feedbacks you received?
People love us. There are also some who criticize and slander us in way that we can only settle accounts with them in the hereafter. Some have gone beyond being sympathizers and become fans. We are experiencing what Imam Ali and his son Imam Hussein lived through.
What was the negative thing about Mavi Marmara?
You begin a journey, make a plan, when you face with a trouble, you feel the need to defend yourself before the public and try to hide your mistakes. But believe me, in the case of Mavi Marmara, there was not a single thing for which we said: “It could have been better if we had done this this way.”
Nine peace activists on board the Mavi Marmara were martyred.
But the foundations of Zionism have been shaken. There was not a state mind before us. The attack on Mavi Marmara was something that should not have taken place. We went there to take humanitarian aid not to fight. Before beginning our journey, we examined many laws. The UN made statements twice regarding the attack and announced that the Israeli attack which took place in Palestinian waters was illegal. The IHH is an institution which is a member of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in the special consultative status. We fulfilled our responsibilities. We announced it to the entire world that we did not have weapons. We said we were aiming to take humanitarian aid to Gaza and began our journey. However, Israel declared a war against us as if saying, “I am Turkey’s master.” According to UN report, we acted in compliance with law. We began our journey foreseeing all these.
What is the thing that you wish had not done?
Today, I wish we had set out not with a six-ship flotilla but with at least a 20-ship flotilla. We never take a backward step; we are behind what we have said. For me, Israel said: “Bülent Yıldırım did not hide anything, he did what he said.” It is out of the question for us to be ashamed of what we have done To the contrary, we are proud of everything we have said and done. All we said were things acceptable from legal and humanitarian aspects. We can debate with those who oppose to these.
What kind of a speech did you make to those who joined this journey?
We were very clear to them. We did not excite the people by telling them something, which we would not dare to do. In the speeches we made across Turkey, we explained that we may face with five consequences. One of this was the prospects of our being killed. We said: “They [Israel] may kill us. The people who will board this ship for the elimination of the Israeli siege on Gaza will be people who take the risk of being killed. Those who accept this should join this journey.”
There was a baby on board the ship…
The ship crew had the right to bring their family members. If I had noticed that baby before, I would have convinced his father not to bring him; however, the baby later became a source of happiness and joy for all of us. There were the old, Jews, Christians, children, women wearing a headscarf as well as women who don’t wear a headscarf among the passengers of this ship. Everyone who wanted to raise their voice against Israel’s tyranny was there.
Was this a positive picture?
Certainly. By spending billions of dollars in Hollywood, Israel has presented itself as innocent since the day it was established. It has made many people to believe in its innocence. Now, its innocent image has been strongly shaken.
Has Mavi Marmara proved to be so much influential?
Of course, now the peoples of the Islamic world know what the Palestinian cause is. Many leaders have stood with us fearing a backlash from their people. Those with a conscience have seen the real face of Israel. The imperialists in the world cannot lend support Israel the way they used to. Everyone who spoke against the Mavi Marmara faced with a trouble.
[Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi. There were also some statements against Mavi Marmara in Greece and Ireland.
Who failed to show the necessary reaction in the Islamic world?
In the level of their publics, the Islamic world showed the necessary reaction against the attack on the Mavi Marmara. In the level of the administrators of Islamic countries, Turkey was the one which showed the harshest reaction; however, the Turkish public’s reaction was not at the desired level.
Was it due to lack of courage or due to indifference on the part of leaders of the Islamic world?
I think it was because of love for the world and a fear of death. It was because of the fact that they lost all the wars they fought with Israel in the past and did not accept the reasons that led to their defeat. They actually know the reasons that led to their defeat very well.
It is because of a sprit of slavery. The leaders of the Islamic world will no longer have any relief because there is new work going on. The Islamic world will no longer accept slavery and it will resist against terrorism.
How missionary is the IHH?
With regard to influence, we have gone beyond the influence of the missionaries but with regard to our financial resources, we are much behind them because missionary work is something supported by the state. It is an important tool used by imperialism for colonization. Relating IHH to the missionary work is not a right thing to do but we, too, have a mission. Our foundation is comprised of pious people. We do not deny this. When we take aid to people, we do not tell them: “You convert to Islam so that we can provide aid to you.” Missionaries approach people in this way.
Why did people think you made jihad?
This may be due to people’s perception of jihad. Everything done for Allah’s sake is jihad. The West took this very important concept for us from a single perspective. They acted the same way in questioning Israel’s attacks. After questioning everything, they say: “OK, we raided the ship and a clash erupted but you resisted and attacked us with sticks.” This was the same in the history. They ate the bodies of Muslim during Crusades. When a Muslim asked them what they were doing, they accused Muslims of being barbarians. But the Islamic society seems to have accepted the charges directed to it by the West.
Is it our fault?
Certainly. The Islamic society thinks this way; “No matter what they say to us, we are not that.” A mentality which fails to defend resistance cannot defend freedom. We were in our ship, we were in international waters but they came and attacked us. Since the moment they tried to harass our ship at 10 pm to 4 am in the morning, I made a call to the entire world. I said: “Israeli soldiers are harassing our ship, they will attack us. Some should intervene and we should have negotiations.” Israeli soldiers raided the ship at 4:30 am opening fire at the passengers. Their first shots hit our friends in the first floor. After hearing the voices of weapons and explosion of gas grenades, passengers moved to protect themselves. Israel is like saying: “We opened fire at you and killed you but why did you protect yourself. If you had not protected yourself, we would perhaps not have shot you.” What if Israel had shot more people in the event of our silence? There are some reckless people in Turkey who shares the same with Israel.
How was the Israeli public aware of the developments?
To Israeli TV channels, we said in clear terms: “Look, the Israeli public, we would like to show how retarded your administrators are. We do not have any weapons; they deceive you claiming that we have weapons. The moment they attack us, they will be in a big trouble. The entire world will see this. If Israel allows us to reach Gaza, this will be newsworthy for several days but if you prevent us from going on our way, we will stay here for days and this will receive much more coverage. If you attempt to attack on us, the entire world will see how tyrant Israel is. You, the Israeli public, will also be held responsible for the attitude of your administrators. An embargo is not only imposed in Gaza, you will face an embargo in the minds and hearts of people.”
If the IHH had not been an independent institution, would you face so much difficulty?
Israel told us to apply it if we want to take humanitarian aid to Gaza, noting that it would assess the applications and then give a permission. We applied to Israel and waited for two years. The ones who claim that they took aid to Gaza by receiving permission from Israel are not telling the truth. There is a right granted by the international law. Israel does not let us exercise this right. It keeps the aid materials for a year and demands a big amount of tax for this. Israel causes food that is for Gaza to be spoiled and allows only one truck carrying humanitarian aid to enter the city. We were just exercising a right granted to us by the international law.
Before boarding the ship, did you fulfill all your promises? Were there any promises you did not keep?
No, there were no promises unkept. In the latest speech I delivered in Antalya, I explained everything in clear terms. I explained the world’s perception of us, our decision, the things that we could likely face. I made everyone who boarded the ship to sign a document which said the ship will do nothing other than taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Did everyone sign that document?
Everyone signed that document except for a journalist. Following the attack, that journalist wrote a book relying on wrong and missing information. This book which saddened all the passengers of the ship was used by Israel to confirm its theses. This book was even presented things wrongly which were seen during live broadcasts by people.
What is that journalist’s name?
I don’t want to mention his name. He was a Turkish journalist. He revealed some photos taken in the ship. I remember that moment. An Israeli soldier was holding a weapon. I took the weapon and knife from his hand. After rendering the soldier ineffective, our friends treated the soldier. That journalist photographed the first part of this event. He later escaped and hided. But he wrote his book with lies as if he witnessed everything on board the ship.
Following the attack, was there a change of attitude among Gülen community against you?
The statement made by Fethullah Gülen [an Islamic religious scholar who currently resides in the United States] saddened all of us. When we met with leading figures from the community, they said they had no negative feelings toward us; however, some groups and individuals within them made statements which were tantamount to slander. As we hear such talk, we share them with leading figures of the community and they take measures against such statements. I think there are some reckless provocateurs who try to show themselves as a member of the Gülen community. There are some other groups in question who want to spoil relations between us and the Gülen community.
How do you evaluate this reaction?
Not the entire Gülen community thinks we acted wrongly. There are some who support us. Those who speak against us are few in number. I think they will be silenced by the reasonable figures of the community.
AN ARREST WARRANT SHOULD BE ISSUED
There is the issue of Israel’s offering an apology for the attack. What do the victims and martyr families think about this?
As they mentioned at a recent news conference, martyr families want Israel to be tried for charges which are mentioned at the UN report into the incident.
What are their demands from Israel?
First, they want the elimination of Gaza blockade, then they want the arrest of soldiers who attacked the ship and they demand a big amount of compensation from Israel. Their lawyers say they have not yet made any demand for compensation.
On Dec. 26, Mavi Marmara ship will be in İstanbul. Who will be on board the ship?
There will be martyr families and peace activists across the world. They will set sail from Çanakkale and have a nine-hour-long journey. The excitement at the ship will be experienced again.
WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ISRAEL WILL DO
There are preparations to send a new flotilla to Gaza on May 31. What will not you do again?
We will not take weapons with us again. The biggest measure we will take will be transparency and right granted to us.
Are you hopeful about entering Gaza?
We will enter Gaza anyway. Problems will disappear and humanity will win. We want to acquire merit during this process.
What do you think you will go through this time?
I think, we will again receive the support of the world public. Israel may continue its illegitimate actions. Israel likes suicide attacks because all it does is a suicide attack. Yet, we will continue to work for justice, for humanitarian aid and supremacy of law.
Do you think there will be another Israeli attack?
Israel can do anything because it is impossible to talk to Israelis within the framework of reason. Israel has not listened to anyone in the world…When you sit around a table with them, you cannot get anything. Israel has not complied with any of the agreements it made for years.
Will you take children to the ship?
I can’t say anything on this. Individuals from every age should be accepted to the ship. This is not an event held only by the IHH. Our friends in Europe are organizing this aid project and we will be a participant.
Will you make eliminations among people who want to take part in this project?
Yes, because there are so many applications already.
According to which criteria will you eliminate people?
We have many criteria, we want the individuals who will board this ship to be renowned and not have any bad reputation in their past. If we say: “We will take everyone who applies,” tens of thousands of people would like come. This year, people from more than 50 countries will come. Perhaps, there could be people from 100 countries.
If Israel prevents us from entering Gaza and attacks, it will have confronted with people from 100 countries and human rights institutions. By not allowing us to enter Gaza, Israel increases the number of its enemies and damages its international standing.
How many ships will take part in the flotilla?
It is not yet clear but there will be more than nine.
What will you take to Gaza this time?
Almost the same things, food and things for children as well as construction materials. The IHH is not only an aid organization it is The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief.