The lethal IDF raid on the Gaza flotilla has turned the almost unknown Turkish organization behind the flotilla into one of the most talked-about groups around the world. "We thank Israel for its raid," said Omar Faruk, a member of the organization's directorate. "We've become famous."
The New York Times on Wednesday reported that members of the group Insani Yardim Vakfi ("humanitarian aid fund"), known by its Turkish initials IHH, celebrated their success in Istanbul on Tuesday.
The organization was behind three of the vessels in the flotilla, including the Marvi Marmara where the clashes between IDF troops and activists took place. The vessels were bought from a company owned by the Istanbul municipality and cost around $1.8 million.
Members of IHH say the boats carried humanitarian supplies including construction materials worth some $10 million, including cement and iron, which are not permitted into the Gaza Strip because Israel fears they will be used for military purposes.
The organization says it is funded by donations only, and that the money comes mainly from Turkey's religious businessmen, the same social class that supported Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bid for power.
The organization was founded in the 90s, initially as a charity organization for Istanbul's poor, and later began supporting the victims of the war in Bosnia. Today, the organization collects charity donations and operates in more than 100 countries, including Haiti and various African states, according to Deputy Director Yavuz Dede.
'Harsh rhetoric against Israel'
The newspaper also presents Israel's take, according to which the flotilla was just a cover for an extreme Islamic organization. Israel says that in 1997 the Turkish authorities clamped down on IHH after weapons were found in one of its offices. Ali Adakoglu, another board member, denied that weapons were found, saying that the raid was carried out in the home of a member for political reasons. That same year the Turkish army began an extensive operation against Islamic organizations.
A pro-Israel organization, Project Israel, sent the newspaper a link to a website which described the IHH as an extreme Islamic organization with an anti-West orientation. The website accuses the IHH of supporting Hamas, because of a branch it opened in the Gaza Strip, charity donations it sends to Gaza, and a speech by the group's leader, Bulent Yildirim, and his meetings with Hamas members.
“This is an Islamist charity, quite fundamentalist, quite close to Hamas,” said Henri J. Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. “They say they do charity work, but they’ve been accused of gunrunning and other things, and their rhetoric has been inflammatory against Israel and sometimes against Jews.”
According to a document released by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center which overviews an extensive study carried out by a Danish research institute, IHH also had contacts with al-Qaeda and Global Jihad members during the 90s.