by Tom Walker
Osama Qashoo told a packed meeting how he carried an injured man,
“By the time I got to the corner of the room, there was a hot material in my hand – I didn’t realise it was the man’s brain.” He hadn’t realised the man was dead.
Osama was one of the eyewitnesses to Israel’s massacre of nine activists taking aid to Gaza who spoke at a 200-strong meeting at London’s Conway Hall last night. He is a filmmaker with the Free Gaza Movement.
He saw how the IDF treated one injured activist.
“His knee was completely shattered. The soldier just took him and dropped him.”
The Israeli soldiers stopped injured people getting the medical help they needed, the witnesses said.
Laura, an activist from north London, said,
“The floor was covered in blood. No-one expected such a vicious attack.”
A trained first aider, she was trying to help people but was forced to stop.
“Three Israeli soldiers pointed their guns at me and said they’d shoot if I didn’t come.
“I asked them to take people to hospital. They wouldn’t.”
“Hanin, the member of the Knesset on board, who speaks Hebrew, announced over the tannoy that there were critically injured people who needed help,” he said.
“At least three critically injured people died who could have been saved.
“They were killed twice – the second time by the failure to come to their aid.”
Jamal exposed Israel’s lies that the IDF had been “provoked” by people on board.
“I checked and filmed every centimetre and there was not one weapon on that ship,”
“I saw one of the Turkish passengers shot in the top of his head from a helicopter. There was not one soldier on the ship when he was killed.
“After I’d seen two killed, the main organiser took off his white top to use as a white flag. Live fire was still used after that.
“There was an announcement in English and Hebrew saying the ship had been surrendered. There was still live fire after that as well.”
Osama said, “Everyone was panicking, running in different directions. Something fell on my head – it was a soldier. He got up and started shooting.
“We managed to disarm him – it was an act of self defence.
“I saw one of the soldiers’ pistols had fallen to the ground. The soldiers got very excited when they saw it. They took their camera and filmed their own pistol, saying they’d found a weapon – it was completely staged.”
One by one, the Israelis captured and cuffed the activists.
“I was forced to the ground and beaten,” said Osama. “I could see their laser spots on me.
“Three of the soldiers sat on me. Every soldier who’d come and go would kick me, or spit on me. They put a plastic bag on my head.
“They twisted our hands, twisted the fingers into each other. I’ve now got no feeling in four of my fingers.
“We had a one-year-old child on board, Akram. They were beating me in front of him and he was crying.”
During the long hours sitting on deck, the captives were denied food, water and toilet rights.
“One of the guys was asking to go to the toilet, and the soldier said, go on yourself, said Osama. “In the end, he did.”
Jamal said, “I was cuffed, thrown to the ground and kicked. My face was slammed against the wall.
“One of the Malaysian activists had his hands tied behind his back so tightly that they were turning all sorts of colours.
“He asked for his hands to be loosened. The third time he asked, an Israeli soldier came over and tightened them. And the scream that came out…” he trailed off.
Bilal Abdul Aziz was on one of the flotilla’s smaller ships. “For 18 hours I was gagged,” he said. “I’ve still got scars from where they tied us with cable ties.
“People were shot with stun guns and beaten with truncheons. Me and many others were tasered.
“We were all in the same boat,” he added, to laughter.
Alex Harrison of the Free Gaza Movement said, “Everyone was pushed to the floor, face down in the broken glass.
“Two of the women were hooded, Guantanamo-style.”
“We could hear the sound of live gunfire around us,” she added.
After a slow journey to the port of Ashdod, the activists were searched and thrown in prison.
“They asked me to lift my shirt up,” said Bilal, “and then all the soldiers standing near me ran away. I was wearing a money belt… I guess they thought it was something else.”
Jamal said, “I asked for a lawyer – I was refused. The British consulate – refused. A phone call – refused.
“That was one of the most difficult times. You don’t know what the world knows about you.
“Throughout my time there I did not see a British official.
“I still don’t have my passport – it’s in the custody of the Israeli government, just months after they used British passports for murder.
Ibrahim, an activist from Gloucester, told how he was interrogated by the Israeli secret services. “The guy started becoming abusive, banging the table,” he told the meeting.
“He said, ‘you see those scars on your hand? This is not the end.’
“Before I left, he said to me, ‘watch out for your life’.”
Alex of the Free Gaza Movement said, “One woman had seen her husband killed, but she was just pulled away from him and thrown into prison with the rest of us.
“Later she was shown a photo of him, then 36 hours dead, and told ‘identify him’.”
As they were deported, she said she saw injured people forced to march to the plane unassisted.
“They were covered in blood,” she said. “They had not even been given a change of clothes or allowed to shower.
“They’d been shot in the tops of their feet – and they weren’t even allowed crutches to get to the aircraft. If someone offered them an arm they were screamed at. They were made to hop.
“The British consul was standing there when I was being deported. I said to him, ‘this is illegal.’ He said, ‘I know, but they do what they do.’”
She added, however, that day to day life was far worse for the people of Palestine.
“What we went through was not even one percent of what the Palestinians go through every day,” she said. “That’s what this is about.
“There is not a natural disaster in Gaza. This is not about aid. This is about their human rights, freedoms and dignity.”
When Israel’s navy captures the Gaza solidarity fleet, our reporter on the spot. On the “Eleftheri Mesogeios” he witnessed how the elite unit climbs on board and approaching with drawn weapons on civilians. An eye-witness account of Mario Damolin.
06th Juni 2010 June 2010
For four days, my colleague Marcello Faraggi and I on board the “Eleftheri Mesogeios” (Free Mediterranean). W. We have decided, at the stop in Rhodes from pure passenger vessel “Sfendoni” to move here because the freigh that has on board, what is it really – supplies for Gaza: 1400 tons of parts for a hundred prefabricated houses from wood, tile, two Container water treatment plants, hundreds of electric wheelchairs, drugs. We both have small HD cameras here.
Yesterday, early evening, is a writer Henning Mankell come together with the Swedish doctor Viktoria sand and the parliamentarian Mehmet Kaplan of the Swedish Open on board. “. The “Eleftheri Mesogeios” is the result of a Swedish-Greek alliance, called “ship-to-Gaza”. In both countries, money for the purchase of the freighter and its cargo has been collected, the Greek crew was taken over. Mankell intended to be a celebrity as a parliamentarian and chaplain to give the ship some protection. “Chef de Mission” is the 63-year-old professor of water engineering at the Technical University of Athens, Vangelis Pissias. Total now 29 people are on board.
About noon General Assembly on deck.. Vangelis Pissias will discuss the strategy for the next day when you expect an attack by the Israeli navy. Pissias is gray-haired, gray beard, thin, as if from a film by Costa-Gavras, with a gentle melancholy in some weather-beaten face. He is revered by his mostly younger riders almost Greek: a socialist, old school, in times of Greek fascism in the background, since that time a friend of President Karolos Papoulias, the company also supports this.
Henning Mankell is a little uneasy
There are fast line: You want to make any physical resistance. It is thought that the freighter be consistent with the relief supplies in the center of Israel’s interest. Dror Feiler, 58 years old, musician, composer and artist, says that the Israelis would hardly dare to attack a passenger ship like the “Mavi Marmara” Muslims with 500 on board. Feiler is something of a spokesman for the Swedish group on board, always ready for a fun, quick-witted. He comes from a Jewish family, was born in Tel Aviv and had three years to do with the Israeli paratroopers until he refused to be one of the first soldiers in the occupied territories. He then emigrated to Sweden. „ “I know the army, which will most likely do not enter such a venture. Finally, the Turks still something of an ally, “said Feiler. Yesterday he was standing in the middle of the cargo deck on his saxophone with Überblastönen and Hanns Eisler’s songs frenetically the merger of the celebrated Freedom Flotilla “, now he looks thoughtful.
The round of the Masters decided to drive after dark in formation: at the head of the “Mavi Marmara”, then, slightly to the side, we are, behind us the “Sfendoni”, then the two Turkish freighter and in between the small American Challenger II. The pace is determined by us, because we have the weakest machine: We make an average of 7.5 knots. We agree, we gather in the event of ENTER on the bridge and defend the pilot house by our presence as long as possible.Marcello Faraggi and I are to the side of the cab on the small terraces get enough space to make perfect shots can. Finally, still divided guards.
Pissias and his colleagues have prepared a small hurdle for any attacker: razor wire, they draw now, just before dark, at the railing around the ship. The 30-year-old Athens Evyenia operation, which has followed her boyfriend on the ship, and Naim, the exiled Egyptians with a Greek passport, prepare dinner in the small kitchen. Then, from ten clock is coffee to the guards, and all those who sleep not provided. The Greek journalist Maria has bonded with adhesive tape on their jacket very large “Press”. We do the same.
At midnight I took up my three-hour guard. Henning Mankell is on my front side toward the bow, he is somewhat uneasy. Most can not sleep, across the deck are small groups, talking, smoking a lot and laugh. In the darkness you can see off a clock lights that accompany us. It is full moon shines the Mediterranean matt black. It is strangely quiet. I go get a coffee, set my camera, spare battery, spare chip, microphone and put myself as agreed at the left side of the ship’s bridge. Pissias is the master, he has tired eyes.
Shortly after four clock: helicopter noise. From the darkness come from behind more than half a dozen small speedboats, each with about a dozen crew members. They rush past us as if there is no us. . Front left the “Marmara” – this is obviously their goal. . The helicopter begins to circle, pursued by bright search lights, which are of the “Marmara” on him. The ship is only in the lower part lit properly, where the cabins are, above it is quite dark. The speedboats orbiting “Marmara” in rapid speed. A little further on is an Israeli frigate – apparently the command center and home station of the speedboats. Pissias comes for a moment out of the cab and said shortly: “You are crazy!” We all put on our jackets.
Ansagen, Befehle, Durcheinander Announcements, instructions, confusion
All have gathered on the ship’s bridge. The Israelis are digging up carefully. The second memory I’ll take out as they enter the lower part of the bridge.
With guns drawn they go on unarmed civilians.
Who does not vary, such as the large, comfortable Michalis, a 65-year-old small business, is cleared to shortest distance from the road. Michalis falls as if struck by lightning at my side when he was a soldier No. 14 – all have numbers – from ten centimeters away with the stun gun.
The same Soldier hits me in the chest and wants to tear the camera out of his hand. I I think initially against it, then let go to me not to let the hand break, and will paid down. Although I have several times pointing out that I’m from the press and show my ID card.
Pissias do not want to hand over the control in the driver’s that simple. He holds himself is beaten and kicked, limping and bleeding on the foot. Gradually we all are brought down and crammed into two benches. Mankell is trembling with rage and impotence, mutters to himself. We will now issue our passports. Some Greeks refuse to be dragged and brutally by soldiers on the deck – on sharp iron stairs, metal pipes and nozzles. . Mehmet Kaplan, the Swedish parliament, protested, referring to his immunity, but the Marines did not know that word probably. Dror Feiler, a born Jew with a Swedish passport, comes from the captain’s cabin with a bleeding ear.
Our invaders are all young people, probably 19 to 25. You are masked, helmeted and for the military Outsider Thus armed, as if they wanted to win the third world war. In many eyes is sheer terror, mixed with a determination to be ready for anything.. Any wrong move can be dangerous, so do the Greeks noticed the impulsive and provoke with words alone.
About eight clock, the sun beats down on the deck, after brief negotiations will allow us to feed a plastic sheet. Water and food are offered to us. We reject it. Only a Greek sandwich takes the proffered – and throws it, spiced with a scornful remark into the sea. I wonder how do I secure my shots. Since I expect to be frisked as film-saving particularly journalist, I ask Henning Mankell. As a celebrity he would probably felted less. Mankell nods, takes the two chips and puts it in his pocket. Two hours later he says that now everything was quiet, and she pushes me down again. Victorian sand, the Swedish doctor, took his place – successfully, as it turned out later.
Soldier No. 23 is the stumbling block on the ship. SShe brings in the Greeks to high temperature. At intervals, at least five times, she comes with her small, private movie camera around the corner and wants to film the group. A great outcry begins. The soldiers should note that this is not allowed under international rules. They care little. Dror Feiler, the Jewish Swede, is for the soldiers of a double offense: first, his impudent flap, secondly, he understands everything they say and translate it promptly.
Suddenly, excitement: A soldier comes running to head the brigade and shows him, trembling with indignation, what he has just found dangerous: two large fruit knife. An arms find! . Loud laughter, even Mankell can not resist a grin.
Henning Mankell is free sooner
More than ten hour drive in the heat, then arrival at the Israeli port of Ashdod. We will first locked down in the small cabins. I must be the first to step up from the ship and see myself from a lot vielhundertfachen. Countless press photographers, TV crews, soldiers, policemen. W We will be presented to the Israeli public. Single.
Right at the quay: a huge tent wing, extra set up. A young officer pulls me by the arm to the first table. A form is submitted to me. I’m supposed to sign that I’m illegally and will be deported. Otherwise, I would come into prison and have to face a trial. I refuse to sign. A translator will be appointed, because I claimed to understand no English. An elderly man with a beard and tipping is a friendly next to me and tried in a mixture of Yiddish and Hebrew to formulate German. I say, I was kidnapped as a reporter. He: “Jo, jo kidnappers.” And he laughs heartily. A medical examination I reject and will then lead to the body search. Access from the whole body, I need to undress down to his underpants. As I step out of the study area, I see how the American piano tuner Paul is on the harbor floor, two men hold him. Then they drag him to a wheelchair. The way I learn that Paul should have jumped into the water, now he is regarded as particularly dangerous.
A young Israeli official told me that there had been on the “Marmara” sixteen dead: ten passengers and six Israelis. And looks at me and accusing it of significance. Another officer asks me where I came from. Germany? He turns in disgust from his face as he stood over a Nazi criminal. Henning Mankell I look at a special table to sit, he is negotiating with several civil-dressed men. He will be freed sooner than all of us. At the back door of the tent city waiting for a barred, darkened prison van on us. Time and again we are photographed and filmed. All calls and demands that to let it be acknowledged with a laugh. In prison vans, it is very hot and stuffy. Ask Only after half an hour, the door is left open, one of the policemen is very courteous and distributed water. Vangelis Pissias angehumpelt comes, he is in pain, his face is sunken. . As he sits in this ancient prison vans, he reminded twice to Costa-Gavras.
Finally, the car drives off, it’s already dark. We will put in a prison. Where this is how it is, how long should be the will not tell us.
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?
THE captain of one of six boats in a flotilla raided by Israeli forces to prevent aid reaching Gaza said commandos roughed up women passengers and humiliated others, in an interview published on Sunday.
“It was traumatic; we were obviously expecting some hassle from the Israelis – but nothing like they dished out,” the 55-year-old Cyprus-based British skipper, Denis Healey, told the Cyprus Mail.
He said about 4am (11.00 AEST) last Monday, as the aid flotilla steamed towards Gaza but while still in international waters, he saw the lights of Israeli patrol boats and helicopters.
He ignored orders to halt and pressed ahead at full speed towards the besieged Palestinian territory.
“We were travelling at around 18 knots, so we managed to hold them off for about 20 minutes; then they sent one of their bigger steel vessels so I thought they were going to ram us or shoot us with the gun on the front,”
“I had to slow down because I was fearful of being rammed, then the commandos boarded – there were no shots fired – but they used a taser on one female Australian journalist then they shot a paintball in the face of a Belgian woman, which made her nose bleed,”
“They were very rough with the female passengers.”
A much larger boat in the Free Gaza Movement flotilla, the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara with about 600 passengers, was being boarded about the same time by commanders who rappelled from helicopters onto the deck.
In the mayhem that followed, nine activists were killed and scores injured including seven navy seals.
Israel says its commandos only resorted to force after being attacked as they reached the deck, but activists claim the soldiers started firing first.
The situation on Healey’s boat was calmer but no less tense.
“The commandos had stun guns, tasers, paint balls, machine guns and they even brought a dog on board – poor thing,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
“The passengers on the lower decks were trying to conduct a non-aggressive defence of the boat by linking arms, but the soldiers just pushed them down and even walked over them.”
Healey was ordered to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod under military escort, before being hauled off the ship, paraded before local television cameras and taken to a makeshift detention centre.
“They lined up their police and marines on the quayside to make a spectacle of us, they had people with cameras. We were then taken into detention, they denied us access to telephones, and they wouldn’t let the British consulate in to see me. They told me nothing – their policy is to say nothing, and when they do, its lies.”
On Friday, he was sent in a police car to Israel’s international airport and put on a plane to Istanbul. From there he flew to Cyprus.
Healey, from Portsmouth, has a longstanding involvement in the Palestinian movement and has captained boats on previous aid journeys to Gaza, including one two years ago in which his boat was rammed by an Israeli gunboat.
“I would do it again,” he said in the interview. “Yes, I think I would – yes.”
*Why did you prefer to join the Gaza Freedom Flotilla?
Perween Yaqub: The reason why I wanted to be a part of this flotilla was to contribute the humanitarian aid that was being taken for the people of Gaza, and to provide healthcare and educational resources for people that are desperately in need, i.e. children, widows, sick people etc. Instead of just sitting in the UK, I wanted to do something practical, to be a part of this experience, and to promote greater awareness of the Palestine.
Fatima el Mourabiti: I joined the Viva Palestina convoy before, because Palestine has always been associated in my life. Since I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, I have been hearing from my parents about what happened in Palestine. Now I am 26 and there is no change at all. So I asked myself “How could it happen?” Also I hate injustice. Because of these reasons, I thought that I should contribute to this convoy and I raised funds to help the people of Gaza.
Maryam Luqman Talib: I joined this group with my brother and his wife. The reasons, that my sisters have mentioned here, are also my reasons. But the main reason for me is that the issue of Palestine, the issue of Gaza and what is happening there, is like the sum of injustices that has been happening all over the world, I mean all happening in just one little land. Particularly what is happening in Gaza is just something which cannot be watched, something that has been going on for too long, something that has been purposely ignored by our government, by those people in power. So when I was blessed with this opportunity, I felt that I would be committing a crime to let go over it -having the door opened to me and me not having gone through with it. So that is my main reason.
*Were you expecting an Israeli attack before setting off? Israeli officials state that they warned in advance that they would not allow the flotilla to go through.
Fatima el Mourabiti: An attack? No, no. PM Netanyahu, before, was saying that they would use violence, but I was thinking they would only block the flotilla, not kill people, innocent civilian people.
Perween Yaqub: Israel made threats previously, but to be honest, I did not take it that seriously or as serious as the outcome. What I anticipated was that we would have some difficulty, perhaps they would try to block us, perhaps climb on the ship, check and find what we have actually, take humanitarian aid and be in a position to prevent us. That was my worst case scenario. As for the violent attack, I did not expect that, not even in my wildest dreams.
Maryam Luqman Talib: Personally I kept all the options open having read the news until the day we departed. I also did keep in mind that it is the Zionist regime’s nature to have no consciousness, no care, no heart for anyone who resists their thinking, their policies. A clear witness for this was the latest war in Gaza in which they killed hundreds of children. So keeping these in mind, I did keep this alternative open, but I did not know that they were so foolish and stupid to have done it within international waters. I knew they might have done something like that, but did not realise that they lack the intelligence, that they were blinded so much. Clearly the overwhelming international outcry that has followed this massacre has proven that really Israel is incapable of standing on its two feet. Israel is falling and everyone is watching.
*How was the atmosphere in the ship before the Israeli attack?
Perween Yaqub: The atmosphere in the ship was of solidarity and unity. It was quite neat and exciting. We were full of hope. People from every part of the world came together for a single purpose and for one destination which was to help the people of Gaza. So I think we were very blessed and privileged to be a part of that. Because it was such a historical, monumental and symbolic journey to Palestine.
Maryam Luqman Talib: The spirit on the ship before and after attack, and until now was one that was all just beautiful. I do not think that I will really experience such an atmosphere anywhere else. We had people that we could not communicate with, but our hearts could communicate. And we had people from different colours, religions, languages and races. Everyone knew that whatever we were going to get through, we would get through together. There was so much unity, so much love. There was just peace.
Fatima el Mourabiti: Each person found his/her place and each person contributed to the organisation. Everybody had a responsibility just like a big family. I did not meet many of the people, because I went to Gaza with Viva Palestina before. But when I meet all the people, woman and men, they were just amazing people.
You have just said everybody knows his/her responsibility. What were your responsibilities?
Perween Yaqub: I think there were a lot of unwritten responsibilities, naturally like a family does: taking care of each other, taking care of ourselves, taking care of the ship; contributing to the feeding and the cleaning, just engaging with the people, keeping the spirit really alive and so on.
*Could you please talk about what happened during the Israeli attack? How was the atmosphere? How was your experience in that terrible situation?
Perween Yaqub: I think we were all in different places, so perhaps our experiences would be quite different… I was actually awake for the whole night, because I was waiting to make a live interview. I was maybe becoming more anxious, because I was visually seeing the warships in sight. During one interview that IHH was making on TV, helicopters started circulating. The lights were cut so the interview could not take place. It started to become quite tense, and I went into the press room in order to send a couple of messages to my friends on facebook saying what was happening. Somebody came in just shortly before the attack and said that we were being surrounded by the warships. I could feel the panic in his voice. I was about to send another message to say please help us and do something, but they cut the communication system. Then I went out on the deck and found the firing on the ship like bombs, or I am not sure what it was, but I could hear shooting. Then I made signs to the cameras in the helicopter, my hands put on the stop gestures in order to make them stop. It was just very chaotic. Then somebody called me in to keep me safe. I did not realise until that time that they were actually firing live bullets. I ran up the stairs to the next floor and I saw a man with blood on his head and another guy bandaging him up. Then the injured person stood up and I realised that it was a soldier. He was very panicked and I said to him “It’s fine, it’s ok, no one is going to hit you”. He was taken to the medical area. It was crazy that I was thinking this is not happening, this is a movie. But at the same time I was trying to remain calm, because it was such a chaos. I was trying to help with the injured people. Then I took the role taking the tannoy system and sending messages to the armed forces, saying that “Please stop firing, people are dead”, “We need to get medical assistance”. I pleaded them to stop continuously for maybe an hour, maybe longer, and then they cut the system.
Fatima el Mourabiti: At 3 o’clock I was in the press room on the second floor to contact with people in Belgium. Because at 10 o’clock, two boats of Israeli military showed up on the radar. So we served the information that military were coming and so on. Then internet was cut.
At what time?
Fatima el Mourabiti: I think it was at 4.
Perween Yaqub: Yes, around that time. It was a very strange, very spiritual feeling. Because in one hand I was in the press room when the azan (call for prayer) was going out on the tannoy, at the same time the attack was just started. I just thought there was something symbolic about this situation. So perhaps because of this I was not as frightened as I should be.
Maryam Luqman Talib: God was with us, God was with us.
Fatima el Mourabiti: At 4 o’clock, I went outside with my camera. Because I was doing a documentary about the flotilla, I went outside, saw the helicopter, and heared the explosions and shooting.
Did you see the Israeli soldiers?
Fatima el Mourabiti: I did not see the soldiers. I think they were not there yet. But I was outside and I entered. I think two minutes after, injured people began to be brought in. For me it was not a realistic situation, it was like a nightmare. You see people with blood everywhere, shooting everywhere. I was thinking in my head that “No, no, I need to record” and then the next step “How can I do it?” Because normally I am very sensitive. As she said that God help us. I was so strong. I saw people dying. It was a shock.
(After this question, Fatima el Mourabiti had to leave the interview because of an urgent telephone call.)
Maryam Luqman Talib: My view is pretty different. The night before the massacre, they were trying to organise within the women an emergency aid team in case of anything. Because I am a pharmacy student at the second year, they put me in the aid team… Up until the azan I was on the deck with the press in order to see eventually what was happening. Just as the azan began I went down with the Turkish sisters. Because we wanted to pray salah al fajr with cemaah downstairs at the women’s cabin. I was downstairs praying my salah. Soon after that, one of the Turkish sisters who was in charge of us said “The emergency aid team, where are they? Where are they?” I and my sister, who is also a nurse, just ran to the room allocated for injuries and we were one of the first to get there. They brought in one body, one of the brothers who had a very severe injury. Until that time I had no idea what was happening. Even I did see the helicopter, because I was up there until the azan, I did not realise that they would attack so fast. Because we were in international waters. This is the main ground for me to keep calm…. The first, then the second, then the third and then the forth person was dragged in, I was still busy with them. The fifth person just dragged in, I saw his face, he was my brother. He was shot twice on his leg. But it was just his leg, whereas some other people were shot their chests, so I did not look so much on my brother. Actually it was the moment when I thought “So what he is my brother? These are all my brothers.” And also my sister, I mean his wife, was just behind me, I did not want to tell her. Because she might have fainted or do something else. But elhamdulillah nothing happened… It just kept, every every every few seconds more bodies and more bodies came. Everywhere was full of blood, the bodies were carried up to the couches. When I entered into the field of study, it was in my mind that eventually I can go to the war zones and help people. Having that kind of mind is what really pushed me and here you are! You wanted this, so here you are! But I did not witness the actual situation, I was just hearing in the background the speakers about what was going on. I heard the announcement that we surrendered and we were now officially occupied by the Israeli soldiers, and then I understood that it was big, it was very big.
How is your brother now?
Maryam Luqman Talib: My brother is fine, he just arrived at Istanbul last night. He is in the hospital now.
*Israel claims that there were terrorists in the ship. Who were in the ships?
Perween Yaqub: First of all, I would like to ask Israel what their definition of terrorist is. All I saw in the ship were people like me that came together for the same purposes: to take humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, to break the siege and to challenge injustice. There were individuals of all manners on the ship. There were a lot of elders, women, young people, even sick people; also there were academicians, diplomats, dignitaries… I am not sure what constitutes a terrorist. But if you ask me, whether there was anybody carrying guns, and shouting cihad or speaking of violence, I will say “No”. As I said before there was such a sense of peace on this ship. So for Israel, to make such a statement and say this word even in this context, I find it very ugly… By the way, I wonder whether they saw former US President George W. Bush or Prime Minister and President of Israel -Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres- on the ships, perhaps, if they claim there were terrorists!
Maryam Luqman Talib: I think we heard this question not just in this situation. It is a question that the superpowers and the Zionist regime repeatedly put forth trying to brainwash the minds of the masses. Clearly after having done such a fatal mistake to their own policy, to their own future, it is really ridiculous for them to put forth this kind of question. If they really think that we are terrorists, I have a message to them: I am proud to be a terrorist, I am proud to put terror in their hearts and the hearts of the Zionist regime. Because that is my form of resistance. On the other hand I am sure that people know very well we are only peaceful activist. So this is an invalid question and baseless.
*What was the most striking event, an event or events that you will never forget throughout your life?
Perween Yaqub: I do not think that we will forget any of what we saw. But for me there were perhaps three things. One of them was that when they surrouned us, I had to walk towards the soldiers with the guns with the S.O.S. message and the plea for help. Because they cut the tannoy system. I was just walking into a sea of machineguns asking for them to stop and help us, with a message of peace. It was just something that I had to do, you know, just try to stop more people from dying.
The other thing for me was just being among deaths, seeing people breathe their last breath, seeing people helplessly trying to bring people to preserve their lives. When I finished the annonuncement I came across one individual who was just injured and was bleeding. I think he had been shot in the head. My friend was praying gently like a lullaby into his ear and another sister was holding him and nursing him. I held his hand like he was my father, and that’s when I went for a second time with the message (announcement) again. The first time I went, they put the guns and said go away. I tried again because I felt I have to do something for him. I walked out and came back. Maybe five or ten minutes later they started to communicate asking for their own soldiers and their own weapons. Then very very slowly our injured brothers were taken up. I wanted to go with him and walked out to the door to the soldiers. When they opened the door, they put their guns in our faces. I looked to the guy who seemed to be in charge and said to him “Please, this man is dying, he has a serious head injury, he needs urgent medical assistance. Please take care of him.” And he said “You take care of him.” I said “Can I go with him?”, he said “No”. I said “Please, can I go with him”, he said “No”. He put the gun at me and said “Go back, go back” and I had to walk away.
The third thing that I will never forget is mashallah the courage of our brothers who were willing to give their lives, sacrifice their lives to defend everybody on the ship. I know I am here now because of them. Because they saved our lives and gave their lives. They saved the lives of the women in the ship. They were trying to save the lives of the people of Gaza, because we were taking hopes of life to the people of Gaza. We knew the people of Gaza were critically in need of the medicine and the medical equipment that we had. So there were more lives at stake then just the people on the ship and that is what I will never forget. It was absolutely immense, you know, the dignity with which they were dying and the bravery they were trying to defend the ship. One of the widows of the brother, who was shot in the head because he was taking pictures, that woman I will never forget. That woman’s subhanallah dignity and her sabr (patience)… I have never seen anything like that. [Meryem Lokman Talib: She was so strong, so strong.] When she was here at the funeral yesterday, I went to her; she smiled to me and did not let me cry; because her husband, you know, had gone as a martyr. Her son was there, and he was the same, he was smiling. I thought how can I cry when they cannot…
Maryam Luqman Talib: To be honest I do not think I have any specific situation, but I remember just the whole experience. I do not think there is anything that I can forget from the people to the incidents, to the Israeli soldiers… Really one thing I want people to know: I really felt that when there are people who are trying within their capacity, who are trying to use the resources which God gave them to fight for the truth, they will never feel anything of anxiety, anything of worry. Two hours after the massacre, we were all detained in one small room, no air conditioning and nothing at all, and many of us handcuffed. We were surrounded by the idiot soldiers. They got us, and just waited for anyone to do anything with guns in their hands. But with courage, having known that there is cold blood on their hands, yet, many of our brothers and sisters were mocking them, were shouting back and resisting. We know that they killed us, we know that our brothers gave their lives for this cause, but that did not stop us. They tried to detain us, they tried to put fear in our hearts, but it was only their hearts that felt this fear and we proved that to them. Many of them got agitated, because we were protesting even though we were under siege, even though we were all captives. But that peace, that courage and that tranquility, those from God. And people need to understand that.
*You were all captive in the ship and then you were brought to Israel. Could you please tell us your story about that time?
Perween Yaqub: We stayed in the ship for at least 18 or 20 hours. They turned off the air conditioning, so it was very hot and very humid. Previously it was very cold and windy windy, because it was early in the morning and the helicopter was just going at the top of us. When the helicopter moved away, it was getting hot; and when they brought us down, we were very very hot. People were fainting and feeling dizzy. The elderly man, when it was so cold, had their coats on; but when it was so hot, they could not take them off because they were handcuffed. So we were trying to help our brothers and take water to their side. We struggled to go to the toilet and we insisted to go alone, because they did not want to let us go. That was the situation on the boat. People just bewildered where to and what now. When we actually got Israel, it was light but they did not let us get off until it became dark. It was a very long, enduring process to get eventually. I was one of the last people to get off. There were hundred of people there, including the police, the army and other security forces. They were laughing like a big celebration, parading like they hunted us and showing what they caught. It was humiliating. I was getting more angry for everybody else, and especially for the brothers who were treated much worse. By the time I went out, I was really scared, but I was very protective of my principals even in that situation. I refused to walk out like a victim and let them see the fear on my face. So I walked out with a lolly in my mouth and stood there eating it. They were in a shock and looking at me like “What is she doing?” This made some of them mad… But before that, in the ship, I had an incident with one of the guys in charge. Because when I was inside I went to the toilet, and when I came back I saw some of the new security people. They were so happy like they watch a football match and this made me so upset. So when I walked out, I put my peace sign on the camera and said “Free Gaza”. They all turned the machine guns immediately, maybe about 9-10 men, and said “Shut up, shut up”. I said “No, I won’t be quiet”. They said “Be quiet and sit down”. I said “No, I won’t be quiet. Why, what you gonna do, shoot me?”. That man said “Try me”, and I said “Come on soldier”. And then the soldier that was little be okay with me, he said “Just go and sit down” and he moved me away. I was so angry, first what they did to us, and then how they treated us, you know, they were joyous in doing humiliation. The same guy that was on the ship, when I was going out and eating my lolly, was nodding at me and just saying “I’ll show you”. I was scared but I did not show it visually.
Maryam Luqman Talib: The process was the same for all of us. We all got through pretty much the same in terms of detention. They did not split us off, thank God, because of the brothers’ resistance. We were taken out and detained first in the ship on two different locations. They discriminated us based on nationality. Because I am Australian passport holder they took me and my sister in most separately. Obviously by this time, we split by my brother, too; he was taken off in the helicopter. To be honest, I did not even see him taken off but I heard it. My brother was shot twice in the leg, and was not critically able to walk. He was bleeding, until now he is bleeding so much that we had to look for blood transfusion. You can imagine the state he was in, fresh from his injuries. He was made to walk without any physical support or someone’s aid from where he was to the upstairs in order to get to the helicopter. For this reason he has fainted three times on the way to the helicopter. I think it is important to know this, so that people understand the true brutal nature of the Zionist regime. These people are not human! There is no humanity in them! They are becoming an insult for the human race and everyone needs to speak out.
*Did you meet any torture or abuse both in the ship and the detention centre or prison?
Perween Yaqub: The abuse in the ship was that we were all captives. We were denied food, and we had to struggle to go to the toilet. While searching us they were just making fun and trying to humiliate us. They were threatening us every time we moved. They even hit some people. Anybody who talked to each other, and anybody who looked at them in the wrong way, they just slapped or push them around. For example, one of the bothers, Usama, because he was protesting; they beat him, put him outside to the deck, tied his feet and also hands behind, did not give any water for hours.
Maryam Luqman Talib: His thumb became numb. He cannot feel his fingers anymore.
Perween Yaqub: So there was abuse in that sense. Personally my abuse was when I came off the ship. I knew that I was going to have some difficulty. But I did not want to appear like a victim. They scrubbed me, pushing me and pinching me. I had a sign on my t-shirt that was “Peace for Palestine”. Because of this they were trying to make me fall by kicking my chair, coughing in my face, swearing at me in Hebrew, mocking at me and all laughing… They did not give me the bottled water, but only a very little bit of water, saying “Have it” and laughing. Because of this I thought they had done something to the water, so I could not have any water… When I just want to change my shoes and put my trainers, they just keep showing to everybody else “ooov” as if they smelled bad; so when they gave the trainers back, I made “hmmm, nice smell” and put them back on, so they were getting more and more mad… While looking, I did not want to make eye contact with them, because otherwise their psychological gain would be more intense. So all the time I just chanted at their face saying “La ilaha illallah Muhammad rasulullah”, and not looking at them. This was worse than silence. So one of them began singing on top of me… If I would go crazy because of what they did, everybody was gonna come and beat me. But elhamdulillah, you know, Allah protected me.
Maryam Luqman Talib: Actually the whole thing was an abuse. You asked specific, of course, there were several instances like she said. For the sisters, it was mainly verbal abuse, psychological warfare, the staring and all this. The way I had chosen to combat was that the only thing I took when leaving the ship was my passport and my Qur’an so throughout the whole searching process I was just reading my Qur’an and they could not stop me. They gonna touch the Qur’an? No. They’re not gonna do that, It’s a holy book. At least I put them to the test and they did not seem to. Later on, I witnessed another thing. Once we had gone to the airport, they were trying to deport us. I was with a group of 13 sisters, not all from Blue Marmara ship, but most of them were from one of the other boats, the Challenger. Once we had arrived at the airport we were surrounded by good 40-50 soldiers and the police. By the way, before arriving at the airport we stuck in a van maybe for 11 hours, it was getting hot. So once we came out, we did not know what was happening, we requested for our embassy, which is in our legal right. We kept requesting and we stood for it. Since we resisted, the number of soldiers grew around us. We were forced upstairs. In the upstairs again we put forth our simple request. We were not asking for too much, we needed to see our consulate, our ambassadors in order to make a decision. Where are you deporting us? What is happening? They would not answer anything. We did not trust them already. Because we had resisted in this way, they started really to try to humiliate us, to try to weaken us. But it did not work to the extent that one of them decided that’s it and pushed one of us. We were in a tight group together, and so as soon as they pushed one of us, we were all like “What’s happening?” Then more and more came, and one ugly Zionist soldier in particular had come to one of our sisters (maybe Greek or Dutch) and whacked her in the head three times and started to pull her hair. I was standing just behind her. I was deadlocked in shock. But of course there was more fighting happening, because as soon as he whacked one of us, of course we were going to resist, we were going to defend ourselves. This was amazing. For a man to have done it, it was much more ugly. What is more, he was fully armed and we were just with our passports, defenceless.
*What do you think about IHH?
Maryam Luqman Talib: When I arrived in, I got to know IHH through a close friend of mine who was on the last convoy. She always spoke great about IHH and his leader Mr. Bülent Yıldırım. My first contact with IHH representatives was when they had come to Kuwait to help in the campaign. We organised several things in the universities so that they can come and speak about the issue, about the convoy and the flotilla. In one statement really, when I came to Istanbul I had the love in my heart for this movement. Right now, my love is only increased to the organisation, to anyone who supports it, and also to the president. He is such a humble and simple man. He really was a leader, a responsible leader. He takes every case personally. He has a mashallah very personal touch. Even in the case of my brother, he took me in his office to discuss in detail what is going on, what is the situation here. May God protect him and everybody in IHH.
Perween Yaqub: Before I came on the convoy I had little information about IHH. I heard from people that were on previous convoys such as Viva Palestina and other organisations. When I approached these people and expressed that I wanted to go on the next convoy, they explained that they were going through with the administration of IHH. Then I asked them who, where and why. Their responses were quite consistent. They said they had experience with IHH, and it is a real professional organisation, has a lot of trust, and capable of organising a huge and complicated movement. I also did some individual research on IHH, and I was really surprised and very very impressed with the spectrum of the work that they do across the world; it made me feel that not only inshallah would I be part of this project but also I can go on to involve other projects in different parts of the world, perhaps even in Europe that is much closer to my home. I felt very confident to go with IHH in terms of leading this convoy and they were a very capable organisation.
*You returned back, fortunately. What do you feel now? Would you like to join another organisation to Gaza again?
Perween Yaqub: Absolutely, I would like to go to Gaza with more determination. There was not a single second in the whole process where myself and the others that I know felt that we had made a mistake subhanallah. We felt we were privileged for what happened. Because we saw first hand the terror that the Israeli government and their military forces are capable of on citizens of the world from different status and dignitaries. So that experience gave us a very tiny tiny insight to what the suffering of the Palestinian people actually is. It made us feel and realise more the extremities that they are experiencing, and the urgency of their situation. It made us more determined, because we felt very angry that they could violate our rights. We felt more determined to uphold justice and uphold the rights of every human citizen in the world. It has become more our responsibility because of what we personally experienced. So yes, I will go to go Gaza tomorrow.
Maryam Luqman Talib: The amount of miracles we saw in this journey was just numerous. It was a blessed journey. Right now, my feelings are all over the place, I need to recollect and go through them. Then we, as the first hand witnesses of the Zionist terror, have to decide what the strategy should be, how should we make use of this experience to led a campaign. It is really very difficult for me to tell you in words how I feel now. I am very happy, and of course grateful. I am just waiting for the announcement to go back again. I hope to be a part of an organization from the Gulf, and mobilise the people of Kuwait where I currently live. If anybody announces that “We are going to be leaving again” I will definitely say “I’m coming, I’ll bring all my friends as well”. Because they need to see this.
*Do you think this flotilla was successful or what did you succeed? Because some people claim that, “No, many people died and injured, so it is unsuccessful”. What do you think about it?
Perween Yaqub: People are dying everyday in Gaza. So death is something that was part of why we were doing what we were doing. People died and that’s tragic. But they died honourably, and for the best of the values and principals they died for. I feel really sad and grieve for them, and I really admire the sabr (patience) of their families in this whole situation. When we talked to the families, we saw how proud they are of what their loved ones have been party to, what they have achieved. Mashallah it is very overwhelming. In terms of the question “Was it a success?”, when else globally can anybody remember the issue of Palestine was being discussed in every corner of the world? When else Israel and its regime of inhumanity were questioned in the way it is now? When else have we seen globally the plight of the Palestinian people are talked about. We have generated more support, more sympathy, more concern for this issue. So how can it not be a success? In history we have paid great prices, and much blood has been shed to achieve success. We would not have the rights we had today if people before us had not shed blood for us. So subhanallah I could not imagine the success and as I said to you before when the azan was going and we were being attacked, I thought this was symbolic. When we were under siege we had this conversation with the sister here and I said to her “Subhanallah, there is something bigger than what we are seeing now. We do not know what Allah’s answer is to this now. We do not know what Allah’s plan is. But this is bigger than we can imagine right now.” We had sabr and we continued to pray. And this peace went with me through this whole process and it came back with me. People can imagine the success that we have achieved, and the brothers that became shaheed (martyr) have achieved.
Maryam Luqman Talib: I think the only people who would see all these as tragedy are the people who did not want it to be a success. Everyone who understands the cause, everyone who understands the truth cannot see this anything else than a success. My friend covered a lot about the international outcry. I would like to give you an example back from Australia. The Australian state and the authority have stressed over the years to maintain some very very small coverage on Palestine and they succedded. After the incident, after my brother was shot as an Australian male citizen; Australian papers, radios, televisions are all focused on the subject. Many of the Australian citizens had very little or no idea about Gaza, and about the siege. They only know very small information which the Zionists want them to know of. So this is just completely blown the cover. People are wondering and asking “Why would they shoot?” and logic is starting to set in and people starting to look things up. So it is a success by all means. We feel honoured that Allah has given us the opportunity to have been part of this struggle and to have been part of this success. We are humble but we ask Allah to give us a bigger role in the liberation of Palestine and in the lifting of the siege biiznillah.
Perween Yaqub: I would like to add something else. The first thing the Israeli forces did when they came on our ship after the firing had stopped was to break the cameras, the cctv. So the world would not be able to see what they were doing. They confiscated our evidences, our cameras and recordings. They broke law upon law; they had no regard for international law. Despite concealing and destroying evidences of so many journalists and so many individuals, they cannot silence the testimonials of hundreds of people. So the world slowly and surely would hear the truths of hundreds of people.
Thank you very much.
Published 06 June, 2010, 10:32
Activist Youssef Benderbal gave RT a first-hand account of Israel’s attack on the humanitarian Freedom Flotilla which had been heading for Gaza this week.
RT: Mr Youssef thank you very much for talking to RT. We’ve already heard the Israeli point of view over the humanitarian aid ship seizure. We would now like to hear yours. Can you tell us how it all happened?
Youssef Benderbal: First of all, you should understand that all the ships that were taking part in that action had gathered in one place in international waters. I am insisting that they were in international waters because, in accordance with the free access principle, a presence in international waters doesn’t require permission from any country. This is the first thing I would like to say.
Second, the ships were close to each other. I was on the Greek vessel. There were also some influential people on board and peace activists of various nationalities: Greeks, Italians, Frenchmen and even Americans. I’d love to give credit to the US ambassador, the former US ambassador in Iraq. He is 81 years old, but he accompanied us all the time on our sea voyage.
I should say that there were all sorts of people there. Representatives of about forty nationalities were on board. It was a Greek ship. Its name was the Sfendoni. It was 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning. We were asleep. Some of us were sleeping on the floor, others were sleeping below. I was sleeping below. I woke up. I climbed to the deck. What did I see there? I saw my French friend. I asked him: “What’s up?” “Look, what’s up,” he answered. I saw a Turkish vessel which was well lit. It had several floors, two at least, I think.
There were at least 500 people on board that ship and I saw them. There were women, old people and children. A helicopter was descending from above, and then it dropped soldiers.
Then I saw commandos coming in motor boats. They were masked and armed and were heading for the ship. I heard shots being fired.
They were approaching, and were practically on board the vessel. As I turned my head, I saw a raincoat. I should say that the attack was simultaneous and well-co-ordinated. All the ships were stormed and captured simultaneously.
When I turned around, I saw a soldier, a commando who had climbed up on board. He was wearing a mask, and he was armed. What was I supposed to do? We had to do two things: to stay on top and warn the others about the commandos and the attack. We had received orders. There were three of them. First, we had to protect ourselves, but without using weapons. Therefore, we sat down as the activists of Greenpeace do: they sit very close to each other. So, we stuck together so as to prevent the Israelis from passing to the captain’s cabin and to protect it for as long as possible. We were putting up resistance. In short, we were showing our disobedience.
Second, we had to sit and guard the access to the engine room. Third, we had to meet the aggressors halfway, not to settle scores, but to establish dialogue. We wanted to talk to them calmly, as we are talking now, in order to defuse this military tension. I emerged in front of them just as I am now standing in front of you. I moved slightly, there was a stir. I rose to my feet like this and said that I was a peace activist and that we were all peace activists.
It was clear that I didn’t have any evil intentions. But they didn’t understand anything and they didn’t do anything. They had very clear orders. In a very aggressive manner they said to me: “Sit down! Shut up!” They took us and the Americans of whom I’ve told you, aside. They put us into a big room together with our friends where we ate and slept. It was our bedroom and our canteen. But the most terrible things happened to the people who tried to defend the captain’s cabin with their bodies.
My French friend was struck with a fist on his jaw. That was ruthless. We were unarmed and we didn’t provoke anybody. One of the activists was hit straight in the head and another one had something like a black eye. One more person suffered light injuries in the arm and body.
But the man who was worst hit was behind the ship’s wheel. Yes, he was the captain, and I admire his courage. He was seriously injured. He had a torn ear. Yes, it was the captain. He was wounded in his ear, it was torn.
He was holding something close to his neck to fix it because he was hurt. He also had a leg injury, but despite that he kept talking.
RT: Did you notice what was happening on board the Turkish ship at that moment?
YB: No, no. Since they neutralized us and placed us in one room. It was only upon my return to France that I learnt about those human casualties. This act deserves to be condemned.
RT: Did you hear of other people using guns?
YB: No, not a word.
RT: Cold steel?
YB: No, no one did that on board my ship. Please, believe me. We didn’t do that. We had very clear orders which banned us from provoking them. We stayed calm and defended ourselves only with our bodies.
RT: Were your instructions the same for all the ships?
YB: I don’t know what happened on other ships because each vessel had its own rules. It should be understood that we should consider the whole situation. It was at night when the Turks were praying. We heard how they were called to pray. We could hear those calls every evening through a speaker.
So that was clear. And what did the Israelis do? They approached the praying people. From that moment everyone was in danger. The Israelis expected those people to give them a hearty welcome and greet them with apples and tangerines. But that was impossible. It’s absolutely normal that they received that kind of welcome. But I disagree. Who gave them the right to climb onto my ship? It’s illegal.
RT: What happened after you all gathered on deck?
YB: We were detained from 4 o’clock in the morning until 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We had to be in the sun all the time. This is piracy. The Somali pirates have the same style of behavior.
They captured us and sent to the port of Ashdod. Later, I understood that the Israeli soldiers were shooting the whole thing on video: they picked up bottles and handed them over to us to show how humane they were. But all that was for the camera, because when they took me into custody I asked them for food and they refused to give it to me. They didn’t give me anything and left me hungry until the morning. They didn’t even bring me water. They locked us up and each time we needed to use a toilet, we had to bang on the door. First, we were locked up in terrible conditions.
Later, when we arrived in the port, the drapes were pulled down and we couldn’t see what was going on. We asked one man to tell an Israeli soldier that we wanted to meet the consuls of our respective countries. He said: “No problem.” He lied because when we arrived at the destination, there was no one there except Israeli soldiers. When we arrived, we saw a lot of Israelis dressed in uniforms of different colors. We were constantly taken somewhere: to pose for a photo, to get a medical history card or to fill in the questionnaire. And each time they subjected us to a humiliating search. That happened again and again. Four hours passed. They took each of us out individually, so we couldn’t communicate with each other.
RT: What were you asked to do after the interrogation?
YB: We were being told that we had committed a serious offence, but in fact we didn’t do anything wrong. The law was on their side and not on ours. They told us that we had provoked the soldiers, that we would face an Israeli court and that we would get long prison terms. But then they told us: “You either stay or leave. But if you want to leave, you need to put your signature here and then we are going to deport you.”
RT: What did they want you to sign?
YB: To sign a paper that we promise to leave Israeli territory by first flight.
RT: Was there any condition not to repeat what you had done?
YB: I don’t know about that.
RT: Did you know what you were signing?
RT: In what language was that document?
YB: It was in French. Even their translator who came to us said: “I am with them, not with them.” He said to me: “Here is the document, saying that you should leave.” So we solved everything. The reason for my presence here is to tell the world that France is expressing solidarity, because there they do what they like with you.
RT: Other ships are now heading to Gaza. Are you thinking of going back there or you doubt that you would?
YB: No, of course not. We don’t regret anything. But we wanted to bring home two things. On the one hand, we wanted to give the much needed aid to the Palestinians, the besieged Palestinians who are suffering from hunger and who were hurt after the terrible attack in December 2008. But on the other hand, we wanted to tell the world about the inhumane siege, which resembles a collective punishment banned by international law. Yes, we will keep sending help. Help is not a crime. Help is honor.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
In the predawn hours of May 31, I was aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, part of a convoy of humanitarian vessels aiming to deliver aid to besieged civilians in Gaza, when we were attacked in international waters by a unit of Israeli commandos.
Our ship had been inspected by customs agents in Turkey, a NATO member, who confirmed that there were no guns or any such weapons aboard. Indeed, the Israeli government has produced no such arms. What was aboard the ship were hundreds of civilian passengers, representatives of dozens of countries, who had planned to deliver the flotilla’s much-needed humanitarian materials for the Gazan people. These Palestinians have suffered under an illegal siege – first imposed by Israel in 2005 and strictly enforced since early 2009 – which Amnesty International has called “a flagrant violation of international law.”
The passengers on our ship – including elected officials, diplomats, media professionals and human rights workers – joined the flotilla as an act of peaceful protest. Israel’s powerful navy could have easily approached our boat and boarded it in broad daylight or pursued nonviolent options for disabling our vessel. Instead, the Israeli military launched a nighttime assault with heavily armed commandos. Under attack, some passengers skirmished with the boarding soldiers using broomsticks and other items at hand. The commandos and navy soldiers shot and killed at least nine civilians and seriously injured dozens more. Others are still missing. The final death toll has yet to be determined.
I feared for the lives of my fellow passengers as I heard shots being fired on deck, and I later saw the bodies of several people killed being carried inside. I had expected soldiers to shoot in the air or aim at people’s legs, but instead I saw the bodies of people who appeared to have been shot multiple times in the head or chest.
When it was over, the Israeli soldiers commandeered our ships, illegally kidnapped us from international waters, towed us to the port of Ashdod, and arrested all of us on board.
The Israeli government has confiscated all of our video equipment, hard drives with video footage, cell phones and notebooks. They detained the journalists aboard my ship, preventing them for days from speaking about what happened. Acting on Israel’s behalf at the U.N. Security Council, the United States has attempted to block a full, impartial, international investigation of the incident.
Nevertheless, even at this early stage the world has expressed outrage around a basic fact: There is no justification for launching a deadly commando attack in the dark of night on a humanitarian-aid convoy.
The Israeli government denies that its punitive blockade of Gaza is the source of hardship for civilians there. While its spokespeople actively work to create confusion in the media, the truth is clear for all who would care to see it. The overwhelming conclusion of highly respected human rights authorities is that the Israeli government, because it does not accept the legitimacy of the elected Hamas government, is pursuing a policy of what Human Rights Watch calls “collective punishment against the civilian population,” illegal under international law.
With regard to the flotilla I was on, the Israeli government says it would have permitted our humanitarian aid to enter Gaza by land had we submitted it through “proper channels.” But Israel’s “proper channels” – restrictive checkpoints that have repeatedly turned away World Health Organization medical supplies and rejected or delayed the delivery of U.N. food aid – are the very source of the humanitarian crisis.
Israeli spokespeople insist that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a provocation. It was, in the sense that civil rights protesters in the American south who sat at segregated lunch counters represented a provocation to segregationists, or in the sense that all nonviolent protests against the illegitimate acts of a government are by definition provocations. Under an illegal siege, the delivery of aid to civilians is a prohibited act; the intent of our humanitarian convoy was to violate this unjust prohibition.
At least nine of my fellow passengers were killed by the Israeli military for attempting to defy the ban on delivering aid. Far more Palestinian civilians have died as a result of the siege itself. What happened to our flotilla is happening to the people of Gaza on a daily basis. It will not stop until international law is applied to all countries, Israel included.
Iara Lee is a filmmaker and a co-founder of the San Francisco’s Caipirinha Foundation ( http://www.culturesofresistance.org/caipirinha-foundation).
“I felt that I needed to do non-violent resistance. That consisted of not following orders, not walking to the places that they wanted me to walk, they were forced into carrying me for example, but, they thought they could get me to do what they wanted me to do by applying pain and they beat me, essentially, six times in two and a half days.”
A US activist, who has survived an Israeli attack on a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, says Israeli forces are looting money from her bank card.
Former US nurse and aid worker Kathy Sheetz, who was on Mavi Marmara ship, has provided Press TV with bank statements proving her bank card, taken by the Israeli forces during the attack, has since been used in Tel Aviv.
“It looks as though they tried to use it without the PIN code and could not, but they could use it in a vending machine and had multiple accesses to my card to buy beer, according to the statement,”
“What it means is that I witnessed the Israeli Navy going and killing people and at the end buying beer with my card,”
Press TV has also learned that the Freedom Flotilla activists may have been robbed of cash and equipment, worth $3.5 million, by Israeli military after their ships were attacked on May 31.
The Israeli attack on the six-ship convoy in the Mediterranean Sea killed at least 20 peace activists, including nine Turkish citizens on board the M.V. Mavi Marmara, and injured over 40 others.
(06-02) 17:08 PDT EL CERRITO — An El Cerrito activist injured after being detained by Israeli forces who raided a Gazan aid flotilla arrived in Greece today.
Paul Larudee, 64, a retired linguistics professor who now works as a piano tuner, initially refused treatment by Israeli medics after he and 678 other activists were detained early Monday, according to his family and Israeli officials in San Francisco.
His wife, Betty Larudee, said she talked to her husband moments after he landed at a Greek military airport near Athens.
She said she had been told by U.S. Embassy official Andrew Parker that her husband, a co-founder of the Free Palestine Movement, suffered several injuries while in detention. Efforts to contact Parker, the consul general in Tel Aviv, were unsuccessful.
When she talked to him by phone Thursday night, he told her he jumped into the water with a life raft and when the Israeli officers plucked him from the water,
“They were so mad, they beat him down to hell.”
A spokesman at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco confirmed that Larudee had required medical attention. He said he did not know the extent of the injuries or how Larudee had suffered them.
Betty Larudee said her husband would recuperate in Greece before flying home sometime near the end of next week.
“I’m elated,” she said. “Paul’s lawyer saw him and said he managed a smile, but it looks like he’ll rest in Greece for a few days.”
Larudee was among five Bay Area residents detained as the flotilla tried to deliver thousands of tons of aid to Gaza. The detentions, and the deaths of nine activists, prompted international protests.
The other four Bay Area activists also appear to be en route to the United States after being deported, Israeli officials said.
Jan St. Onge, wife of Oakland resident Gene St. Onge, 63, said her husband and Janet Kobren, 67, also of Oakland, had tickets to board flights to Turkey this morning.
Steve Greaves, partner of Richmond resident Kathy Sheetz, 63, said he had not received direct word on her status but that it appeared she had been released.
Iara Lee, a San Francisco filmmaker, also was deported, Israeli officials said.
E-mail Justin Berton at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle