“There was a lot of blood in the stairwells and then the sound of ammunition hitting metal changed again…
June 5, 2010
Mustafa Ahmet, a 33-year-old Londoner, is irreverent as he recollects events. Having completed his ablutions, he joined a big group engaged in morning prayers on the aft deck of the Mavi Marmara as it pushed south in the Mediterranean. But then a cry went up – “They’re here! They’re here!”
”They” were Israeli commandos coming alongside the Turkish passenger ferry in their assault craft. But the imam leading the prayers was unmoved. Instead of cutting proceedings short, he seemed to go on forever. As Ahmet observed the commandos’ arrival, “it was like a scary movie – their helmets were shiny, the sea was shiny and battleships sat off on either side. But the imam just kept on, holding us in position – it was bonkers.”
Elsewhere, the ship was being prepared – people were distributing lifejackets and taking up positions on the rails. Others were preparing to throw Israeli sound bombs and tear gas canisters back to where they came from. Groups had been rostered through the night, to sleep or be at the ready, and electric angle-grinders were brought in – to cut steel bars from the lifeboat bays along the main decks.
Despite thoughts of what might lie ahead, there was good humour. Matthias Gardel, a key figure in the Swedish delegation, was getting used to his lifejacket, unaware that even though it was 3am back home, his 12-year-old daughter was out of bed and watching a live-feed video from the ship on the Free Gaza Movement’s website. Seeing him in the video, she shot him an email: “Dad, take it off – you look ridiculous.” To which he fired back: “It’s past your bedtime.”
Ahmet was perplexed.
“We were a convoy of peace. But the Israeli choppers overhead, the smoke grenades … all the screaming, all the noise. People were running all ways and there was blood everywhere. But before we could do anything it was all over.”
But it was not all over. Two days before the Israeli assault – in which nine activists were killed by Israeli gunfire and up to 30 more wounded – the bullet-headed Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish non-government relief agency IHH, which in effect ran the flotilla, did an interview with the Herald aboard the Mavi Marmara.
He explained that Israel could not afford to pay the price of the disaster that he confidently predicted the Jewish state would make in its efforts to intercept the convoy.
Failure would add to the litany – the Gaza war and the Goldstone report; the Hamas assassination in Dubai and world anger over the abuse of the passports of several nations, including Australia. Now there was this high-seas venture on the eve of a meeting between President Barack Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, which was supposed to dilute the bad blood generated by the recent announcement of settlement expansion while the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, was in Israel.
It has been a spectacular week in the Mediterranean, with the Israeli government being the butt of domestic and international criticism for a botched mission against an unarmed, humanitarian convoy. Inevitably, there will be an inquiry – domestic or international; perhaps a mix of the two.
European diplomats in Tel Aviv openly scoffed at the government’s claim that the flotilla organisers had ties to al-Qaeda. One told the Herald that if such a claim was the government’s best opening shot, then it had a serious credibility problem.
Each side is documenting its case against the other. The flotilla organisers accuse the Netanyahu government of hijacking their vessels in international waters – killing and wounding in the process; of then taking almost 700 humanitarians and peace activists prisoner and forcibly taking them to Israel – and then charging them with illegal entry to the country. There will be hundreds of witnesses.
But, at an inquiry, the organisers will face government allegations that steel bars were used to beat troops; that weapons confiscated from captured commandos may have been used against their comrades.
The threads of an Israeli case, being leaked selectively in the Israeli media, argue that 60 to 100 ”hard-core” activists had been embedded on the Mavi Marmara. They included Turks, Afghans, Yemenis and an Eritrean, experienced in hand-to-hand fighting.
Yesterday, the Israeli navy claimed three commandos had been dragged unconscious into one of the ship’s halls ”for several minutes” before regaining consciousness and escaping. It was not clear whether any of them were among three commandos who the activists on board the Mavi Marmara have said were beaten, then sheltered and given medical treatment.
However, the flotilla crisis is not just about Israel. The virtual takeover of what was a coalition of groups from a dozen countries by Turkish non-government organisations plays into regional politics.
Long an Israeli ally, Turkey is flexing its muscles regionally, bonding with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and Hamas – and at the same time awkwardly exposing the Arab world’s about-faces on the Palestinian cause and, by its demonstrable actions, almost shaming them to do more.
Tucked in under all this is Washington’s role in the region. The rest of the world was quick to criticise Israel in the aftermath of the flotilla fiasco but the Obama White House lamely called for an Israeli inquiry, the kind of response that placates Israel but erodes US credibility in the region.
Some on the ship thought the Israelis did not put enough into their opening shots.
Espen Goffeng, a Norwegian, said: “I looked over the rail and saw the zodiacs. It seemed hopeless for the Israelis – they tried to lock on their grappling hooks but they were hit by the fire hoses and their own projectiles going back to them.”
He wondered if the boats had been a decoy to draw passengers to the rails while helicopters were used to land Israeli commandos higher on the ship. But that proved difficult, too, with the first two loads of chopper-borne commandos captured by the activists.
“The first ammunition I heard striking the ship sounded like paint balls,” Goffeng said. “But some people said there had to be glass in them, because of the wounds they caused. There was a lot of blood in the stairwells and then the sound of the ammunition hitting metal changed again – I decided that was the live ammunition. People were yelling, ‘Live ammo! Live ammo!’”
He said people in the television broadcast area on the aft deck were being targeted.
“I helped to carry one of the dead down to the second deck and as I returned a man who had been shot in the leg was being carried down. And when I moved to the press room, one of the men who worked there was dead, with a hole in his forehead and half his head missing.
”Then there was an announcement on the PA system telling us, ‘Keep calm; it’s over … they have taken the ship and we have lost.’”
Soon after, Israeli soldiers smashed the doors to the press room, the Herald was told, and then called the media workers forward one at a time. “They searched us,” said a cameraman who had unpicked the waistband of his underpants sufficiently to create mini-pockets in which he successfully secreted most of his camera’s discs – a strip-search revealed just one. ”They took cell phones and hard drives … and anything else that was capable of capturing or storing images.”
On the open decks and in the saloons lower in the ship, conditions were far less pleasant than the press room.
Gardel, the Swede with the fashion-conscious daughter, complained of people being forced to kneel for hours on the open deck area where prayers were held. An Israeli helicopter hovered constantly, its downdraft spraying the prisoners with wind and water, in the circumstances a freezing combination. “Keeping the choppers there seemed to be deliberate, as though they wanted to enfeeble us by holding us in such unpleasant conditions,” he said.
People were not allowed to go to the lavatories – they were made to soil their clothes. Gardel was especially horrified by witnessing the experience of a badly wounded man in his late 50s, who the Israeli troops forced to remain on the open deck.
“Suddenly, his right eye exploded in a gush of blood – and a blob of something fell out of it.”
The Israeli troops had come prepared. The Canadian activist Kevin Neish found a booklet which he believed had been dropped by one of the Israelis – it contained images of the key leaders, including Yildirim and the nerves-of-steel Palestinian woman who headed the Free Gaza Movement, Huwaida Arraf, a 34-year-old lawyer.
On being off-loaded at Ashdod, Arraf was last seen by the Herald being frogmarched away from the detainee processing centre where her activist confreres were put through a chaotic maze of bureaucratic and security checkpoints.
By the time the ship reached Ashdod, the passengers complained that most of their cases and other baggage had been strewn on the inside decks.
There was an infectious camaraderie among the protesters on the flotilla – bound by politics, prayer and song, it was a finishing school for almost 700 new and articulate ambassadors from dozens of countries for the Palestinian cause. And the Netanyahu government has given them a story to tell. As with Mossad’s assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January, halting the Free Gaza Flotilla was regarded as a tactical success that, in hindsight, appears to have been a strategic disaster. The cost to Israel’s international credibility and legitimacy is great.
And these new advocates for Palestine are going home prepared – many of the women prisoners were observed recording detailed accounts of their experience – with timelines and explanatory graphics.
Launching into their spiel back home, they will be better received than they might have been last week because of the tenor of the international trenchant criticism of Israel. The images broadcast around the world, despite Israel’s best efforts, dovetailed with the colourful rhetoric of the likes of Anne Jones, a former American diplomat and US Army colonel who cut through efforts by some diplomats to find words with precise legal meanings to describe what Israel had perpetrated.
“The Israel Defence Forces acted as pirates in shooting at us and stealing our ships in international waters,” she told the Herald. “They kidnapped us and brought us to Israel; they arrested and imprisoned us; they paraded us before cameras in violation of the Geneva Conventions.”
Jerry Campbell awoke at 4am to attend dawn prayers but she had hardly bowed her head before she was dragged off to a nursing station to help treat four gunshot victims. Worse was in store for this naif from Queensland’s Gold Coast – “I looked up as I was caring for a wounded Indonesian and saw my husband being carried in.” That was Ahmed Luqman Talib, 20, who had been shot in the leg. She cut his blood-soaked clothing away but then followed his instructions to tend to others. “I’m OK,” he told her.
She lost count of the number and nationalities of those she tended to -
“I saw two men die out there … the floor was covered in blood and the IV units were tied to the ceiling with bandages.”
Campbell went to and from her husband, who seemed to be deteriorating.
“One man’s stomach was opened – his intestines were out and the doctor reached inside and pulled out some bullets, before pushing everything back in and wrapping him up,” she said. “I don’t know if he survived.”
Late on the second day in detention, Israeli officials showed 45-year-old Gigdem Topcuoghe, a Turkish woman, a picture of her dead husband – she became catatonic. At the Ela Prison in Beersheva, she recounted to her fellow inmate, the Herald photographer Kate Geraghty, how during the attack on the Mavi Marmara she had found her husband on the floor. Shot in the forehead, he was bleeding from his mouth and nose.
“I think of first aid – I need to help him. I checked his breathing … he was bleeding faster. I gave him some water and started praying for him – I held him in my arms. He wasn’t conscious – I held him tight, but I realised he was gone when he didn’t react in any way, but my husband is not dead – he will live with and among us.”
Several witnesses have recounted in awe how Topcuoghe accepted condolences briefly – before leaving her husband’s body to throw herself into helping the injured.
Later in Israeli detention, the new widow addressed her tearful friends, turning to the state of Israel. Describing the assault on the Mavi Marmara as inhuman, she urged Allah to show the people of Israel the right path, but added:
“May they face more cruelty than we have and when this happens we’ll be there to help them – and to take humanitarian aid to them, just like centuries back when the Ottoman sultan sent aid and ships to rescue the Jews from Spanish cruelty …”
Brief as it was, time spent inside the Israeli apparatus was revealing. Whenever the flotilla prisoners were processed, security and other workers gathered to gawp – frequently producing mobile phones to shoot happy snaps of themselves in front of the prisoners.
As a big group of men – your correspondent included – waited in Block 5 at the Ela Prison at Beersheva for a bus to Ben Gurion Airport for deportation on Wednesday, a big group of security cadets was wheeled in to stare in wonderment – licking ice-creams as they did – even as a diabetic among the prisoners collapsed.
They were looking at the prisoners, but the prisoners were looking at them and their more senior colleagues who, among themselves, constantly displayed a brotherhood that seemed to cut across formal institutional structures.
Several Europeans were distressed by the clear distinction the Israelis made between their ”white” and ”brown” prisoners.
The Norwegian activist Randi Kjos, a woman of some refinement, was genuinely shocked by what she observed.
“They treated us with hatred – the old were made to kneel for long periods and women had to sit with their arms crossed. Some of the wounded were naked to the waist … many were in shock.
“Palestinians and Arabs were treated very differently to Europeans or Westerners. Palestinians who asked for anything were belted, pushed around or treated with contempt. People warned me of the hatred I would see – but still, I was shocked.”
The Norwegian observed that many of the women prisoners were denied a phone call on the grounds that a functioning telephone ”was broken”’ Others were furious on behalf of many Turkish women who were denied a call home because they could not satisfy their guards’ demand that they converse in English.
At Ela Prison it quickly became clear that the guards were under strict instructions not to inflict physical violence on the prisoners. In a system that has thrown up a steady stream of human rights reports on abuse, the Arab prisoners quickly realised that here was a rare occasion on which they were almost untouchable. In the circumstances, it was inevitable that the detainees would taunt the guards. “We’re all Palestinians,” one of the prisoners delighted in telling an officer, over and over; while another guard became visibly upset when one of the prisoners told him, when he already was upset about another matter: “You’re not really cut out for this job – you should have been a schoolteacher.”
Whenever a prison officer clenched his fist in such exchanges, a colleague would move in and take him away.
But amidst much taunting by prisoners, the refusal to lash out could last only for so long and at the airport a brawl erupted between deportees and their keepers, with several of the activists getting on the planes bruised and banged-up. And as they left a detention system in which some had been subjected to more than half-a-dozen body searches, many were still subject to a humiliating, painfully slow strip-search by smirking airport staff as they quit the country.
At the airport it became clear that the Israeli security forces could keep themselves on a leash only for so long.
As the Israelis continued to hold Yildirim, the head of the Turkish agency, until late into Wednesday night, a group of 15 detainees still being processed through the airport staged a protest when they observed Yildirim being put in a cell – “so the security guys just attacked us”, said Mohammed Bounoua, an Algerian who complained that he had been beaten three times during less than 72 hours in Israeli custody.
The ice-cream-licking cadets were seen late in the day at the airport – roughly dragging a deportee down a flight of stairs, after which they then celebrated with high-fives, back-slapping and smiling.
The 10-hour wait on the Ben Gurion tarmac and then the late-night flight to Istanbul were joyous.
Three Turkish aircraft were parked adjacent to Terminal 1 and, as the Israeli authorities processed passengers at snail’s pace, each arrival was welcomed onto the aircraft with clapping, cheering, crying. There was a festive, party mood as friends were reunited. There were pensive tears for those waiting for husbands, siblings, friends who had not been seen for days.
After several hours on the tarmac, the pilot announced that the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had insisted that none of the aircraft would leave until all the Turkish activists and the bodies of the dead had been loaded.
There were bursts of song. One in particular was a chant of praise for the Turkish leader and the Damascus-based head of Hamas, Khalid Mishal, the refrain to which was: “Peace and blessings be upon Muhammad.”
Sailing south towards Gaza last week, hopping between the boats in the flotilla, I wondered whether anyone in the Israeli establishment would have the smarts and influence to draft a response more substantive than the setting to sea of the Tel Aviv chardonnay set, which was back in the marina before sunset.
What if Israeli ships met the flotilla at the edge of the Gaza exclusion zone and escorted it to Gaza City, then stood back as the locals offloaded its 10,000 tonnes of emergency supplies? Israel could have announced an easing or even an abandonment of the Gaza blockade and instead found other ways to deal with its security concerns.
It would have stuck in Netanyahu’s craw for a few days but the boil of a failed policy would have been lanced, and there would be no need for further flotillas to cause bloodletting at sea. Instead, Israel is keeping the blockade and the Prime Minister and his ministers are not sure what sort of inquiry should investigate the flotilla disaster.
Thursday, June 3, 2010 ISTANBUL –
Funeral prayers are held in Istanbul for eight of the nine people killed on a Gaza aid flotilla as families around the country mourn their dead. At least three activists are still missing, the group that organized the flotilla says, vowing to send larger convoys to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
At least three members of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli commandos are still missing, the group that organized the convoy said Thursday as funeral prayers were given for eight slain activists.
“We have a longer list. There are still people who are missing,” Bülent Yıldırım, the head of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, one of the main organizers of the flotilla, told reporters at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport.
“Our doctors handed over to Israel 38 people who were injured, but they told us there were only 21 injured when we were returning.”
The İHH leader also said the group would send larger convoys to end the embargo on the besieged Gaza Strip.
Yıldırım and hundreds of other activists returned early Thursday to a hero’s welcome in Istanbul. About 1,000 people, some chanting anti-Israeli slogans, packed the city’s airport in the middle of the night to greet the planes carrying them back from Israel.
Seven planes were used to deport 527 activists to Turkey and Greece, said Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad, adding that seven other activists remained in Israeli hospitals for treatment of wounds suffered during the Israeli raid. Another plane brought 31 Greeks, three French nationals and one American to Athens.
The first plane contained the bodies of eight Turks and a U.S. national of Turkish origin. All were shot dead in the Israeli raid, according to forensic experts. The nationalities of the victims were determined after post-mortem examinations at a forensic institute in Istanbul, the Anatolia news agency reported. Forensic experts found bullet marks on all the bodies and determined that one was shot at close range.
The exact circumstances of the activists’ deaths are expected to become clear in a ballistics examination that will take about a month to complete.
The 19 wounded activists deported from Israel also suffered from gunshot wounds, according to the chief doctor of the Ankara hospital treating them. “The patients generally have serious injuries to their chests, abdomens and limbs. What we have is mostly gun wounds,” Metin Doğan said in televised remarks.
Israel charges that the passengers on the boat attacked its soldiers, but organizers of the flotilla say Israeli forces started firing as soon as they landed on the ship.
Funeral prayers for eight of the nine people killed onboard the Mavi Marmara were held at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on Thursday. The coffins of Cengiz Akyüz, Ali Haydar Bengi, İbrahim Bilgen, Furkan Doğan, Cengiz Songür, Çetin Topçuoğlu, Fahri Yaldız and Necdet Yıldırım were wrapped in Turkish flags. The crowd at the funeral chanted anti-Israel slogans before and after the prayers. The funeral prayer for journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar, an İHH member, will be held at the same mosque Friday.
Families of the victims also mourned in various provinces of the country. Photographs of Bilgen, who was a mayoral candidate from the Saadet, or Felicity, Party in the March 2009 local elections, were hung over busy streets in the eastern province of Siirt.
In Adana, Cumali Topçuoğlu, the brother of 54-year-old victim Çetin Topçuoğlu, said family members were happy because their brother had become a “martyr.”
In Diyarbakır, a condolence tent was erected in front of the Ulu Mosque for Bengi, the father of four children.
An official from the İHH identified 19-year-old Doğan, originally from the central Turkish town of Kayseri, as the U.S. national among the victims. Doğan, who held an American passport, had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest, according to the İHH’s Ömer Yağmur. The bodies were handed over to the victim’s relatives after the autopsies.
The United Nations and the European Union have harshly criticized Israel after its commandos stormed the six-ship flotilla in international waters, setting off the clashes. About 700 activists – including 400 Turks – were trying to break the Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade by bringing in 10,000 tons of aid.
Two Swedes aboard the aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces this week said they had witnessed “premeditated murder.”
“We were witnesses to premeditated murders,”
historian Mattias Gardell told Swedish public radio Thursday upon arrival in Istanbul.
“This was a military attack on a humanitarian aid operation far out in international waters,” said Gardell, a Swedish activist who was on the Mavi Marmara along with his wife, fellow historian Edda Manga, during the attack. “It was a very surprising and aggressive overreaction by Israel.”
Kuwait citizen Ali Buhamd said he saw a wounded Turkish citizen getting shot in the head. “The soldiers also left another Turk to bleed to death despite [his] calls for help,” he added.
Shane Dillon from Ireland, from the crew of the ship Challenger 1, said he witnessed some volunteers being beaten up and a Belgian woman’s nose being broken.
Of five Australians on the Gaza flotilla, two – journalists Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty, who was injured by a stun gun during the Israeli raid – have returned to Turkey, daily The Australian reported on its website Thursday. Three others – Ahmed Luqman, who was shot in the leg, his wife, Jerry Campbell, and his sister Maryam Luqman – are reportedly still in Israel
Scottish campaigner Theresa McDermott speaks exclusively to David Pratt and reveals what she witnessed when Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last week.
I was on Challenger 1, a 25-metre motor yacht that was the smallest in the flotilla. On board were 10 women and five men, among them a retired female US military colonel, two Australian journalists, four crew and the captain, Irishman Denis Healy. Our rendezvous point with the other ships was about a quarter of the way between Cyprus and Gaza.
As night fell the ships pulled closer together around the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the ships in the Free Gaza flotilla. During the night we noticed four big ships, two on either side of our group. One of the guys on our boat who had worked for the coastguard back in Ireland identified one of them as an Israeli frigate.
Just after midnight on Sunday the Israelis radioed the Marmara, which in turn contacted us, warning the flotilla would not be allowed to proceed. It was around four o’ clock on Monday morning, while early morning Muslim prayers were underway on the Marmara, that the Israeli boats and commandos arrived.
Obviously they had timed that raid to coincide with the prayers. To starboard we saw a row of lights appearing on the water as a group of small Israeli boats approached, while on the port side there were others, and we realised we were being surrounded. The fast inflatable Zodiacs with the commandos cut right through the flotilla, trying to separate us.
We were only a hundred yard off the Marmara, so really close, enough to see what was going on. The helicopter came across a few minutes after the Zodiacs.
The Israeli commandos were finding it hard to board, with those on the Marmara using fire hoses to stop them. As soon as the Zodiacs got close enough they fired smoke and percussion bombs.
Right from the beginning these weapons caused injuries. I’m assuming that at this point the Israelis were still using rubber bullets, but they definitely started firing live ammunition when the helicopter came in on its second attempt to drop off more soldiers.
It was all very loud, with people running around on the Marmara, which was shining its lights onto the helicopter. The crew even tried turning the fire hose on it but the downwash from the helicopters soaked everyone. I was told later by those on board the Marmara that the first two soldiers who abseiled down from the helicopter were overpowered and taken and searched by some of the Turkish activists.
On the commandos they found plasticised detailed maps of the layout of every boat and pictures of people on board including MPs, bishops and other VIPs. Maybe these were the people the Israelis were trying to avoid harming. I was told there were those on board who really wanted to have a go at the Israeli soldiers who were being detained, but were held back by others.
When the helicopter returned more commandos came down and that’s when the live firing started, and some on board the Marmara told me that bullets were definitely fired from the helicopter. I was on the flydeck of the Challenger on watch along with the captain and two Australian journalists, and it was maybe fifteen minutes after they boarded the Marmara that they came for us.
The captain had opened up the throttle to try and put as much distance between us and the Marmara when we saw that things were getting heavy on its deck, but the Zodiacs came up alongside us and fired more smoke and percussion bombs.
Our only resistance was to stand by the rail of the boat with our hands out, so they could see clearly we had no weapons, and try to block them from coming on board. We had no intention of fighting back.
One of the bombs hit the face of a Belgian woman, bursting her nose before exploding on the boat. She was in a bad way and started bleeding heavily.
At least 20 soldiers came on board and each had a number on the shoulder of his uniform. In charge was number 20, while a lower rank had the number one on his shoulder. They were all wearing ski masks and had on body armour and were fully armed and very aggressive. On seeing the female journalist on board, they Tasered her. I saw the electrical discharge shoot up her arm and she collapsed, vomiting, on the deck.
At least three of the soldiers had Australian accents.
Two of the women on board, Huweida Arraf, a Palestinian with joint US nationality, and a Dutch woman, Anna, who tried to block the stairs to the deck, were thrown to the ground, their hands cuffed with plastic ties that cut into their wrists and their faces pushed on to the deck that was full of broken glass.
They were also blindfolded and hooded. We shouted at them: “Are you proud of this, is this what your army teaches you, beating up women?”
At one point when I was shouting and wouldn’t sit down and trying to get to the girls they were beating, one soldier cocked his automatic pistol and put the gun to my head and said he would shoot me if I didn’t do as I was told.
I didn’t have time to be scared but realised it was probably time to back off and give him space.
The level of aggression they showed was way over the top, with rubber bullets scattered everywhere. When bullets hit they seemed to release a sort of dust that glowed, perhaps so they could be picked up by the commandos’ night sights.
When they took us into port in Ashdod, we were paraded from the moment we arrived and jeered at by the large crowd there. All the time they filmed us, especially when they gave us food. They even tried to distribute some of the captain’s beer but we didn’t drink because we knew it was a propaganda thing. We were processed through Ashdod and doctors there examined us, but never really treated us. When some of us pointed out the levels of bruising they told us it was just mosquito bites. They then searched us and gave us a bit of paper to sign that would allow then to deport us as illegal immigrants, but we refused.
We hadn’t entered Israel of our own free will but were kidnapped in international waters. We were moved to a jail in Beersheva, a new prison block apparently called LA block. It was so new that there was still dust and plaster on the floor.
Here they continued filming us, and we eventually had our first food. I think the reason they put us here was because it was so isolated and there was no news for us to see about what had happened to those on board the Marmara and other ships. Later our embassy staff told us they had been kept waiting at the entrance since one o’clock that day having been refused access to us.
Separated throughout from the men, in the jail we began to get news from the other women of what had happened on the Marmara. Some of the stories were horrific. One Turkish woman had lost her husband. In our cell there was also an Indonesian woman whose husband was a Turkish journalist on board.
He had described how when the Israeli soldiers came to the press room on the half deck of the Marmara, they walked straight up to the Turkish man whose job it was to coordinate facilities for the journalists, put a gun to his head and shot the man dead at point-blank range.
Two people who worked in the medical area on the Marmara also said they had at least three bodies, who had been shot in the head in what looked like an execution style.
Another thing the Israelis did that was particularly nasty while we were in the Beersheva jail was to take a woman into a room and ask her to identify her husband from photos they had taken after he was killed. Before leaving the Marmara the crew had time to clean and prepare the man’s body for burial. She was able to say her good byes then with his body properly wrapped and with the eyes closed. But in the photos his body had evidently been left to bloat virtually beyond recognition in the sun. She collapsed on seeing these and had to be comforted by the other women.
They were also extremely aggressive during our deportation to Turkey. We were woken at 6.30am and loaded into high-security wagons, two or three crammed into a tiny cell on board the vehicles. Though the journey to the airport was only an hour-and-a-half we were kept in the daytime heat in these cramped compartments for a whole five hours. One of the women, an Australian, was pregnant and we kept shouting at the guards that she was with us and that we needed the toilet, but they kept us there.
At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, we were jostled and jeered by huge numbers of soldiers who surrounded us, and I saw a number of the men beaten up by soldiers. One Irishman who refused deportation to Turkey, was hauled from his seat kicked and punched on the body by a large group of Israelis.
During the many hours we were forced to sit in the one spot there without moving, our consular staff were kept outside and never allowed access to any of us. At the airport too I saw many of the injured and wounded forced to make their own way to the planes the Turkish government had sent to fly us out. Unless they couldn’t physically walk, the wounded had to struggle unaided to the aircraft, some carrying drip and drainage bags and with bloody dressings that looked as thought they had not be changed that often.
Now all I have to do is draw up a list of all the things the Israelis took from me as I left with only the clothes I wore when we were arrested. Through our embassy I’ll try to get my possessions back.
If I’d had the chance I would have gone straight back and joined the crew on the Rachel Corrie, the next ship that was going to try and get into Gaza. The behaviour of the Israelis has only made us all the more determined to carry on helping with the Palestinian cause. If this is the level of random violence and humiliation internationals received, can you imagine what they do to the Palestinians?
Thursday, June 3, 2010
ISTANBUL — Daily News with wires
Activists detained after their Gaza aid ship was attacked by Israeli commandos earlier this week began detailing their accounts on Thursday of what some activists called “premeditated murder.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the activists as “violent supporters of terrorism,” charging that Israeli forces were “stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon” as they stormed the boat.
Eyewitness accounts differ from what Israeli security forces have said.
An Australian journalist on board the Gaza-bound aid ship said Israeli commando boats had circled their flotilla like “hyenas hunting animals in the night” before his colleague was shot with a stun gun.
Two Swedes aboard the Gaza-bound aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces this week said in a radio broadcast Thursday they had witnessed “premeditated murder” aboard the Turkish ship that came under the heaviest attack.
And the leader of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation or, İHH, Bülent Yıldırım, said he saw Israeli soldiers shoot a photographer and an activist who had already surrendered.
A ‘very ugly’ incident
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty were released from Israeli detention and deported to Turkey on Thursday, and said they were slowly recovering from their ordeal.
“We’re fine, we’re both fine,” McGeough told the Herald’s website from Turkey.
“We are leaving Israel on legal advice that we will be able to appeal our deportation in absentia,” he added.
McGeough said Israeli boats had circled the flotilla like “hyenas hunting animals in the night” before moving in suddenly, describing it as a “very ugly” incident.
“Kate and I got pushed around,” he said, adding that the atmosphere was “testosterone-driven.”
‘We could have died’
“We were witnesses to premeditated murders,” said Swedish historian Mattias Gardell who was on the Mavi Marmara along with his wife, fellow historian Edda Manga.
Manga and Gardell, who were among 11 Swedes taking part in the flotilla but the only ones on the Mavi Marmara, were on deck when the shooting began.
“I saw the ship’s security personnel trying to prevent divers from climbing onto the boats,” Manga said.
“Then one of our comrades said [the soldiers] were shooting and had killed three people … [and] that we had to throw ourselves to the floor. We were on deck. We could have died,” she said.
Shot after surrendering
Yıldırım, the leader of the Turkish İHH, said many people were wounded by gas bombs and that a journalist was taking photographs when he was shot by an Israeli soldier, adding that one of their friends was shot after he surrendered.
Yıldırım said passengers on the ship showed civil resistance, the press was there, and that the İHH called on the passengers not to allow Israeli soldiers in.
“We rendered ten of the soldiers who got on the ship ineffective, we took their weapons, but it would have been self-defense even if we had used those weapons,” he said. “Still, we threw the weapons into the sea.”
Compiled from AFP and AA reports by the Daily News staff.