The following is the transcript of an exclusive interview hosted by Lauren Booth with Osama Qashoo, filmmaker, journalist, ISM observer on attacked flotilla who was used as a human shield.
Press TV: As someone who has been involved in the Free Gaza movement now for two years since its beginning, what did you expect Israel was going to do once you saw those ships?
Qashoo Well from my experience with the Free Gaza Movement and from what we were talking in the leadership and that ship about what was the scenario that we were going to face by the Israeli army. I mean we did really expect that the Israeli army will interfere but we thought they were going to stop us from reaching the Strip that they would try their best to drag the ship towards the Ashdod board. We knew that they might rain us with tear gas and rubber bullets we did expect that we might encounter a few injuries, but it never ever came to our head that they would use live ammunition.
Because using live ammunition on civilians who were going in the middle of the sea is absolute inhumane, and a massacre and that’s why that option was completely far away from our thoughts so we didn’t even kind of prepare our self for that option.
Press TV: Why would the Israeli’s attack an aid ship?
Qashoo I don’t know, arrogancey, piracy, I don’t know, I don’t think it’s an act of heroism to attack a civilian humanitarian ship in international water, I don’t understand how these people work.
Press TV: What happened to some of the Israeli soldiers that were disarmed on the ship?
Qashoo The soldiers who were disarmed aboard the ship, they were disarmed, some of them got injured, there were some excited people who tried to attack them, but we protected them, I was one of the guys pushing them away from the soldiers not to beat them up. And these soldiers were taken to a special hospital that we had in salon number 2 to the female nurses and doctors who would treat them with bandages and then they were taken back to the [rest of the] soldiers.
If we were to use violence we had the guns with us, the guys had the guns of Israeli soldier with us, we decided that we will not going to use violence, we decided that we are not going to kill any of those Israeli soldiers, and we decided that we were not going to kidnap any of those Israeli soldiers. Under the circumstances it was not very difficult to kill or kidnap not five but ten Israeli soldiers.
But the intention was this: We were going to defend the ship non-violently as much as possible using whatever we have but we were not going to go that extreme to the Israeli soldiers or kidnap them, so that was not intentional at all we took the soldiers back to other Israeli soldiers .
Press TV: Who was the first person that you personally witnessed being injured?
Qashoo I don’t really remember names, but there were like a few people that were being shot, I could see them screaming as they were taken down, and they were covered with blood, they were Turkish and one of the Kuwaiti guys was hit in the eye.
We didn’t know what was exactly happening but he was screaming and couldn’t see, we couldn’t tell what happened, and at that point with the live bullets bloods were coming from everywhere, we were bringing injured people from every single door, and it was really like the Judgment Day.
Every body was coming from everywhere with blood in their hands it was really hard to tell who’s injured, who got blood of his friend and we started asking to take a shelter and my friend, who was responsible for internet connection on board, he was taking photos of soldiers that were shooting at him from the helicopter and he was shot taking those picture, right here between his eyes and he fell on the ground and his brain was all over so this was the first direct witnessing that I had seen when he was just hit right in front of us .
And they took his camera and memory card.
Press TV: You talked about human shield, but there was nothing to shield the Israelis from, how does that work?
Qashoo Well, I was left with injured people and a member of the Israeli Knesset parliament Haneen Zuabi who were also doing her best to intermediate between the soldiers and trying to convince them that we need more time to evacuate the injured people and because of that I was left the last passenger with two doctors and more than fifteen injured passengers, who Israeli soldier decided to take to Israeli hospitals by helicopters.
And then they decided to take away who was injured and who was not seriously injured, one of the guys that was shot in his leg who could limp a little bit was left on the top roof and few other passengers that could limp and walk were not taken to Israeli hospitals, we had at least 39 injured
Press TV: What was the treatment at this point?
Qashoo It was really rough, they were handling these injured people like a sack of potatoes, they weren’t listening to the doctor that was completely warning them that ‘if you move this injured guy he will die because he was internally blooding and he’s got fractions,’ so their interest was to look at their faces and examine them against their papers and decide who they think should be evacuated.
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!”
A war of words has been raging ever since the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid convoy, as the two sides offer conflicting accounts of what really happened. Three people who were on board the Mavi Marmara tell their version of events. By Spiegel Staff
When the Hamburg resident Nader El Sakka, 58, tried to board the Challenger I in the port of Agios Nikolaos on Crete, he was told he had to sign a four-page document pledging that he would not engage in violence and that he possessed no weapons. He also had to provide the name and telephone number of a family member in case of an emergency. If he didn’t sign, he was told, he wouldn’t be allowed on board the Gaza-bound convoy.
The document was in English, a language that El Sakka — a businessman who was acting as a delegate from the Palestinian community in Germany — does not speak well, so he only filled out three pages. He thought he could skip the fourth page. “But that wasn’t enough to be allowed on board,” he says. “They insisted that I also fill out the fourth one.”
El Sakka embarked on board the Challenger I, one of eight boats and freighters headed for Gaza with a load of cement, structural steel, medicine and children’s toys. Two days later, off the coast of Cyprus, El Sakka disembarked and went on board the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish passenger ship. The flagship of the small fleet, it had Gaza activists on board from a dozen countries, the majority of whom — around 400 people — hailed from Turkey.
Like a Pleasant Cruise
El Sakka describes the atmosphere on board as “euphoric,” almost as if “we were on a pleasant cruise,” he says. The ship was linked via satellite with the Internet and a number of TV stations and continuously sent out images and interviews to the world. A reporter from the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera filed a report on Sunday afternoon that made headlines a number of days later. A group of Arab activists could be seen chanting: “Remember Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! Muhammad’s army is returning!”
This is an intifada battle cry, a fighting slogan that recalls a victorious battle fought by the Prophet Muhammad’s army against the Jews. El Sakka, a veteran of many pro-Palestinian demonstrations, knows the words well — and he disapproves of them. “We avoid such slogans at our rallies,” he says. “I didn’t personally see this group on the ship. But I recognize the reporter. He was definitely there.” The other footage in the report also stems from the Mavi Marmara, he says — including a woman standing on deck and saying in Arabic: “Right now we face one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza.”
That evening at 6:00 they ate köfte (grilled meatballs) and cucumber salad. Four-and-a-half hours later, Captain Mahmut Tural spotted Israeli ships on his radar. In response to their demand that he change course, he responded: “Negative. Our destination is Gaza.” Then he ordered an exercise to prepare the passengers for an emergency.
‘I Was Well Prepared’
“But right after the alarm the various groups continued with their speeches and singing,” said Norman Paech, a former member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the far-left Left Party, who was also on board the ship. “I stayed for a bit on deck and observed it all — out of anthropological interest.” Then he went to bed.
The activists suspected that an attack was imminent. They began to assign watches on deck. One of the men on watch was the Turkish doctor Mahmut Coskun, 40. “They chose well-built doctors for the job, because in a crisis we would have to bring the injured below deck,” he recalls. “I’m an emergency doctor with a motorcycle unit. I was well prepared.”
He saw men preparing for a showdown by reciting poems and songs, but there were no real extremists on board, he says:
“Between 5,000 and 6,000 people had applied for the mission. Radicals were not taken along.”