At 4:02 a.m. morning prayers began, and the men went below deck to worship. A few minutes later, Israeli navy speedboats pulled up alongside the ship. The soldiers threw stun grenades and teargas grenades on deck.
El Sakka, who was standing on the upper deck, tried to take pictures with his digital camera, but he only dared extend his arm over the railing. “The noise on the lower decks was so loud that for a few minutes I didn’t even realize that the first helicopter was already clattering just a few meters overhead.”
He ran below deck to check on his friend Norman Paech, the former Bundestag member. Men who apparently had experience with teargas pressed pieces of onion into his hands. “‘Rub it on your forehead,’ they told me, ‘it helps!’”
On the main deck, Canadian human rights activist Kevin Neish, 53, observed how the men prepared for battle. Some of them were wearing gas masks, one had “a kind of child’s slingshot,” while others had pieces of wood and metal pipes, he says. “It looked rather pitiful to me. Some of them had pulled things out of waste bins, wooden crates, batteries. Someone had even fished out a coconut.”
The only video footage initially released of the military’s Operation Sky Winds all came from the Israeli army. They showed soldiers rappelling from helicopters and being beaten down on deck by men armed with pipes and clubs. Towards the end of the week, details emerged from the films confiscated from the activists, including some that even surprised the Israelis. According to the newspaper Yediot Ahronot, one of the tapes shows an “Arab-looking woman” using a stick to keep men from beating up an Israeli soldier. Furthermore “a number of leftist European activists are trying to protect the soldiers.”
Pictures that showed how eight Turkish activists and an American were killed had still not been released by the Israeli army by Friday evening. The soldiers shot indiscriminately into the crowd, Turkish activists said after they returned home. They acted in self-defense, said the army.
El Sakka fled to the lower deck when he noticed that live ammunition was being fired. The ship’s sick bay was located next to the sleeping quarters. He observed that an increasing number of dead and wounded were being brought down, including three injured soldiers.
‘They Should Have Sunk the Ship’
The shooting stopped after an hour, and a message came through the intercom that the ship was now under Israeli command. All passengers, including Sakka and Paech, were tied up and forced to kneel on the bloodstained upper deck. The ordeal lasted for four hours. Paech and two current Left Party members of the Bundestag, Inge Höger and Annette Groth, who were also on board, later filed complaints against persons unknown for unlawful detention and war crimes.
It took 10 hours for the Mavi Marmara to reach the port of Ashdod. Nearly all the activists were put in jail, but then the Israeli government decided to deport them all — despite violent protests in Israel. “Do you know the only thing that the Israeli army did wrong?” said one demonstrator to an Israeli peace activist. “
They should have sunk the ship and killed everyone on board!”