The Freedom Flotilla was, according to Israeli deputy foreign minister Daniel Ayalon, "an armada of hate and violence", full of vengeful terroristsympathisers with connections to al Qaida. The video released by the IDF purported to show Israeli soldiers comming under attack from so - called peace activists armed with knives, metal bars and even guns. In addition Israeli TV aired footage of defence forces uncovering caches of weapons hidden amongst the "humanitarian aid" that the turkish cruise ship Mavi Marmara was carrying to Gaza.
However, Tel Aviv's propaganda machine did not take into account the fact that some footage, no matter how brief would escape their hands and spill out into the world and so spoil their neatly honed version of events. Images of passengers fighting machine gun wielding special forces commandos with little more than deck chairs and poles and paying for their defiance with their lives brought to the world's attention the brutality of the military operation which took place in international waters, far from Israeli territory.
As more and more members of the Flotilla return to their home countries, including Greece eye witness accounts contradicting official Israeli accounts are starting to come out. According to Greek activists deported two days ago passengers aboard the Greek sponsored Free Mediterranean were beaten and attacked with tasor - like weapons and that shots were fired even before special forces boarded the ship. According to the Greek language Ship to Gaza website violence against those held continued even after their transfer to Israeli jails.
The news the deaths of those onboard has provoked a storm of reaction here in Greece as in many other parts of the world. Just hours after the story broke protest marches were organised in 21 cities across. Here in Thessaloniki thousands took part in marches condemning the killings and the demonstrations are set to continue in the forseeable future with many groups vowing to not let the deaths be in vain.
Twice in the last year I have covered events by groups who wanted to send aid to Gaza. In December the Viva Palestina aid convoy passed through the city with dozens of ambulances filled with medical supplies for Palestinian hospitals and during their two day stay here I had the chance to talk with those taking part. These were not the terrorists or fanatics that the Israelis would have us believe but rather ordinary people moved to help in what they see is a noble cause. I was moved by their passion and commitment which was not feigned or forced, the participants deeply impressed me with their moral strength and courage.
More recently I was asked if I could photograph a benefit concert which was held here to raise money for the ship that was stopped on its way to Gaza. Once again I was struck by the fact that so many were willing to donate time and money to the effort and that the atmosphere was one of friendship and solidaity rather than hate and mistrust.
Unlike so many tragedies we witness on our TV screens or read about on the internet this one touched a chord within me as I had, albeit slightly been involved with some of those present and had the chance to judge for myself the intentions and character of those taking part. This made me hate the claims made in defence of the killings all the more vile, a crime committed to hide even more heinous crimes. Yet as we have seen in so many other situations in which states use violence to deal with political questions the first reaction after the bullets have been fired and the bodies collected is the vilifcation of the victim, a concerted attempt by the authorities to "prove" that their use of murderous force was, as always, justified.
Once again thanks to Asteris for lending me his camera and o allowing me to carry on photographing what is happeneing here.