It was the opportunity the 100 or so diplomats and journalists invited had all been waiting for - a chance to hear, first hand, one of Israel's heroic defenders giving a blow-by-blow account of his epic life-or-death struggle with an advance party of the Turkish Hordes, come to undo the good work of the Australian Light Horse back in 1917 and prepare Gaza as the beachhead for a coming Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, Hizbollah/Hamas Axis of Evil blitzkreig against plucky little Israel.
John Lyons, The Australian's Middle East correspondent, was there:
"On arrival [by bus] at the army offices at the Ashdod port we were taken into a lecture theatre. Cameras were set up, but an army officer asked for them to be dismantled. The commando about to speak to us could not be photographed or identified. Major Avital Leibovich, head of the IDF's media office, introduced a soldier she said we could identify only as 'Sgt Y'. On stage, Sgt Y appeared to be reading something. He slowly told an incredible tale. He said that after they were informed they were likely to face a human rights flotilla, the orders were to 'be calm and talk politely and just behave'. He was one of the first soldiers to climb down a rope from a helicopter, he said, and had gone only with 'bare hands' - no weapons. He qualified that, saying he had taken a civilian paint-ball gun 'that any 12-year old can play with'. Protesters tied the helicopters' ropes to railings, making it difficult to go down them, Sgt Y said. When it was time for Sgt Y to be filmed, he turned his back, and the dias, and began speaking for the cameras. What he said was word for word what he had expressed earlier. You could now see he was reading from a piece of paper. Once or twice he stopped and hesitated. He looked at Major Leibovich, she said something under her breath*, and he continued. Two friends were shot with live ammunition, he said. 'I saw my friends were on the floor spitting blood'. A buzz went through the auditorium when the audience saw a gun tucked in his back. Television reporters gestured to their cameramen to film the gun. A question that later became the subject of mirth among the audience: Why would he wear a gun to a news conference but not on a commando mission? Were journalists and diplomats more dangerous than six boat-loads of terrorists? But attempts to ask questions were shut down quickly. The audience had plenty of other queries: what happened to the two soldiers lying on the floor spitting blood? How was it they were both doing exactly the same thing? Why didn't the television footage show ropes being tied? Where were the guns allegedly used by the protesters? Could we talk to or photograph the soldiers who were shot? Journalists who asked earlier in the day if wounded soldiers could be photographed - or at least have their wounds photographed - were told 'soldiers' bodies are their own property so they will only be photographed if they want to be'. Our frustrated group got back on the bus. One journalist, who earlier had defended Israel's handling of the media in a debate with a colleague, had changed his tune. 'They would have been better having no briefing at all rather than that one'." (Damage control mission backfires, 3/6/10)
[*MERC can now reveal, via its hidden mike, ingeniously installed the night before in Major Leibovich's dentures as she lay illicitly dreaming of her dashing young colleague, Mark Regev, her rapt, handsome face marred only by a goofy, toothless grin, what she muttered: Listen, schmuck, I know it's crap, but if you don't get on with it, I'll have your guts for garters, OK?]