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Otherwise Occupied What Lies Behind the Mask?

You'll never know what the omniscient narrator doesn't want you to know about the Israeli commandos' takeover of the Dignite al-Karama.

Among the things the omniscient narrator omitted was the soldier, apparently the commander, who did not aim his weapon at the activists onboard the Dignite al-Karama. I do not recall if he was carrying a weapon. He probably was. But when his commando boat with its 15 soldiers, weapons drawn and faces covered, approached the yacht, he raised one hand for a few seconds. I could hear the hand's reassuring words, in Hebrew: There is nothing to worry about. True, the aimed rifles signal violence. And the black masks are ugly and frightening, and the activists will soon be drenched by water cannons, but the orders are not to injure anyone.

Is this the same person who an hour later would step onto the deck and say in English, "We will not harm you if you obey"? The omniscient narrator did not say, and apparently will not say, certainly not to me. This is, after all, part of the media deal: The omniscient one (the IDF Spokesman, the Foreign Ministry or the Prime Minister's Office, among others ) is a strainer. He filters the information (true or not, it makes no difference ) and the informants. This is how Israelis saw the passengers trapped on the Karama were being given water and fruit.

Karama passengers receiving fruit - IDF Spokesman - July 2011
IDF Spokesman

So here is another unimportant detail: I did not attempt to photograph the takeover (seven commando boats, three missile ships ). Experience from past flotillas has shown that the masked ones confiscate all cameras and search for memory cards in lapels and shoe soles (along with the fire and sulfur we hid so well that they didn't find it ). And another unimportant detail that was concealed: As in the past, all sorts of items disappeared from the passengers' baggage, which the commandos held for about five hours before it was brought to a platform at the Ashdod port.

Luckily, I found my camera on display atop a piece of fabric. I was allowed to take it along with its memory card and another card that belonged to someone else. But the camera did not work. "It got wet," admitted the soldier. It was taken out of my backpack, which had not gotten wet. In other words, it got wet after it was taken out of the backpack. How? Only the omniscient narrator would know. For some reason, after it had been returned, I had to hand it over again "because the camera had not been checked yet." So perhaps things were not as organized as they had pretended.

The Greek naval commando, also armed, said almost the exact same words ("Don't worry, we will not harm you" ) but was not masked. Unlike his Israeli colleagues, he did not jam the communication and did not confiscate cameras. On July 19, in international waters, dozens of Israeli soldiers boarded and took control of the French boat Karama and its 16 passengers. The Canadian boat, Tahrir, which left Greece without permission with 50 passengers on board, was taken over on July 4 by a dozen Greek naval commandos in Greek territorial waters. Because they were not masked, we could identify them afterward as well, when they guarded the rebellious Tahrir for another two weeks or so, lest it try to sneak out of Greek waters again.

Sometimes the first commander to board the Tahrir during the takeover, a drawn pistol in his hand, would sit with them. His black, bushy mustache and irate eyes stood out. Gradually the anger subsided. He even said "good morning." He is not exactly the commander, one of his subordinates told me, but he acts that way. I did not delve into the mysteries of ranks among the elite coast guard unit, whose task is to find unlicensed fishermen, boatfuls of African refugees and people in distress. Every day, a few of the Tahrir passengers would sit and chat with the guards in camoflage. One morning, one of the guards showed me (in utmost secrecy ) a picture on his cell phone: a Walt Disney character that resembled the commander-cum-not-commander, with that unmistakable mustache.

Next to the guard sat an old friend. During the takeover of the Tahrir he told me that he had had "mixed feelings." Now he and his friend had taken the initiative and began to interview me: Where are you from? Israel/Palestine, I answered. Their eyes indicated surprise. "So can you tell us to whom this land belongs." Forget about belongs. What is important is that two nations live there and one lives as if in prison, especially in Gaza, but not just there. That is why the Tahrir, which you intercepted, tried to sail to Gaza.

"They always taught us that the Greeks were heroes," he said. "Two thousand years ago, during the German occupation, during the Turkish occupation. Now I look at the boat and I have all kinds of thoughts about heroes." What thoughts? "You can guess. I have to guard my place of work." The second added: "In other times, maybe we too will be on board this ship."

Their Israeli peers, who are around 10 years younger, maintained their silence. Even when I asked the name of the heavy rubber dinghies loaded with munitions where we were placed, they did not respond. The masks on some soldiers revealed only their eyes, and sometimes also their noses. Others had their eyes and lips showing. But behind this anonymity, childish eyes flickered. From up close, the black masks ceased to be frightening and only prompted the question: What are the Israeli naval commandos worried about that they conceal their soldiers' faces?