“There was a lot of blood in the stairwells and then the sound of ammunition hitting metal changed again…
June 5, 2010
Mustafa Ahmet, a 33-year-old Londoner, is irreverent as he recollects events. Having completed his ablutions, he joined a big group engaged in morning prayers on the aft deck of the Mavi Marmara as it pushed south in the Mediterranean. But then a cry went up – “They’re here! They’re here!”
”They” were Israeli commandos coming alongside the Turkish passenger ferry in their assault craft. But the imam leading the prayers was unmoved. Instead of cutting proceedings short, he seemed to go on forever. As Ahmet observed the commandos’ arrival, “it was like a scary movie – their helmets were shiny, the sea was shiny and battleships sat off on either side. But the imam just kept on, holding us in position – it was bonkers.”
Elsewhere, the ship was being prepared – people were distributing lifejackets and taking up positions on the rails. Others were preparing to throw Israeli sound bombs and tear gas canisters back to where they came from. Groups had been rostered through the night, to sleep or be at the ready, and electric angle-grinders were brought in – to cut steel bars from the lifeboat bays along the main decks.
Despite thoughts of what might lie ahead, there was good humour. Matthias Gardel, a key figure in the Swedish delegation, was getting used to his lifejacket, unaware that even though it was 3am back home, his 12-year-old daughter was out of bed and watching a live-feed video from the ship on the Free Gaza Movement’s website. Seeing him in the video, she shot him an email: “Dad, take it off – you look ridiculous.” To which he fired back: “It’s past your bedtime.”
Ahmet was perplexed.
“We were a convoy of peace. But the Israeli choppers overhead, the smoke grenades … all the screaming, all the noise. People were running all ways and there was blood everywhere. But before we could do anything it was all over.”
But it was not all over. Two days before the Israeli assault – in which nine activists were killed by Israeli gunfire and up to 30 more wounded – the bullet-headed Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish non-government relief agency IHH, which in effect ran the flotilla, did an interview with the Herald aboard the Mavi Marmara.
He explained that Israel could not afford to pay the price of the disaster that he confidently predicted the Jewish state would make in its efforts to intercept the convoy.
Failure would add to the litany – the Gaza war and the Goldstone report; the Hamas assassination in Dubai and world anger over the abuse of the passports of several nations, including Australia. Now there was this high-seas venture on the eve of a meeting between President Barack Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, which was supposed to dilute the bad blood generated by the recent announcement of settlement expansion while the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, was in Israel.
It has been a spectacular week in the Mediterranean, with the Israeli government being the butt of domestic and international criticism for a botched mission against an unarmed, humanitarian convoy. Inevitably, there will be an inquiry – domestic or international; perhaps a mix of the two.
European diplomats in Tel Aviv openly scoffed at the government’s claim that the flotilla organisers had ties to al-Qaeda. One told the Herald that if such a claim was the government’s best opening shot, then it had a serious credibility problem.
Each side is documenting its case against the other. The flotilla organisers accuse the Netanyahu government of hijacking their vessels in international waters – killing and wounding in the process; of then taking almost 700 humanitarians and peace activists prisoner and forcibly taking them to Israel – and then charging them with illegal entry to the country. There will be hundreds of witnesses.
But, at an inquiry, the organisers will face government allegations that steel bars were used to beat troops; that weapons confiscated from captured commandos may have been used against their comrades.
The threads of an Israeli case, being leaked selectively in the Israeli media, argue that 60 to 100 ”hard-core” activists had been embedded on the Mavi Marmara. They included Turks, Afghans, Yemenis and an Eritrean, experienced in hand-to-hand fighting.
Yesterday, the Israeli navy claimed three commandos had been dragged unconscious into one of the ship’s halls ”for several minutes” before regaining consciousness and escaping. It was not clear whether any of them were among three commandos who the activists on board the Mavi Marmara have said were beaten, then sheltered and given medical treatment.
However, the flotilla crisis is not just about Israel. The virtual takeover of what was a coalition of groups from a dozen countries by Turkish non-government organisations plays into regional politics.
Long an Israeli ally, Turkey is flexing its muscles regionally, bonding with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and Hamas – and at the same time awkwardly exposing the Arab world’s about-faces on the Palestinian cause and, by its demonstrable actions, almost shaming them to do more.
Tucked in under all this is Washington’s role in the region. The rest of the world was quick to criticise Israel in the aftermath of the flotilla fiasco but the Obama White House lamely called for an Israeli inquiry, the kind of response that placates Israel but erodes US credibility in the region.
Some on the ship thought the Israelis did not put enough into their opening shots.
Espen Goffeng, a Norwegian, said: “I looked over the rail and saw the zodiacs. It seemed hopeless for the Israelis – they tried to lock on their grappling hooks but they were hit by the fire hoses and their own projectiles going back to them.”
He wondered if the boats had been a decoy to draw passengers to the rails while helicopters were used to land Israeli commandos higher on the ship. But that proved difficult, too, with the first two loads of chopper-borne commandos captured by the activists.
“The first ammunition I heard striking the ship sounded like paint balls,” Goffeng said. “But some people said there had to be glass in them, because of the wounds they caused. There was a lot of blood in the stairwells and then the sound of the ammunition hitting metal changed again – I decided that was the live ammunition. People were yelling, ‘Live ammo! Live ammo!’”
He said people in the television broadcast area on the aft deck were being targeted.
“I helped to carry one of the dead down to the second deck and as I returned a man who had been shot in the leg was being carried down. And when I moved to the press room, one of the men who worked there was dead, with a hole in his forehead and half his head missing.
”Then there was an announcement on the PA system telling us, ‘Keep calm; it’s over … they have taken the ship and we have lost.’”
Soon after, Israeli soldiers smashed the doors to the press room, the Herald was told, and then called the media workers forward one at a time. “They searched us,” said a cameraman who had unpicked the waistband of his underpants sufficiently to create mini-pockets in which he successfully secreted most of his camera’s discs – a strip-search revealed just one. ”They took cell phones and hard drives … and anything else that was capable of capturing or storing images.”
On the open decks and in the saloons lower in the ship, conditions were far less pleasant than the press room.
Gardel, the Swede with the fashion-conscious daughter, complained of people being forced to kneel for hours on the open deck area where prayers were held. An Israeli helicopter hovered constantly, its downdraft spraying the prisoners with wind and water, in the circumstances a freezing combination. “Keeping the choppers there seemed to be deliberate, as though they wanted to enfeeble us by holding us in such unpleasant conditions,” he said.
People were not allowed to go to the lavatories – they were made to soil their clothes. Gardel was especially horrified by witnessing the experience of a badly wounded man in his late 50s, who the Israeli troops forced to remain on the open deck.
“Suddenly, his right eye exploded in a gush of blood – and a blob of something fell out of it.”
The Israeli troops had come prepared. The Canadian activist Kevin Neish found a booklet which he believed had been dropped by one of the Israelis – it contained images of the key leaders, including Yildirim and the nerves-of-steel Palestinian woman who headed the Free Gaza Movement, Huwaida Arraf, a 34-year-old lawyer.
On being off-loaded at Ashdod, Arraf was last seen by the Herald being frogmarched away from the detainee processing centre where her activist confreres were put through a chaotic maze of bureaucratic and security checkpoints.
By the time the ship reached Ashdod, the passengers complained that most of their cases and other baggage had been strewn on the inside decks.
There was an infectious camaraderie among the protesters on the flotilla – bound by politics, prayer and song, it was a finishing school for almost 700 new and articulate ambassadors from dozens of countries for the Palestinian cause. And the Netanyahu government has given them a story to tell. As with Mossad’s assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January, halting the Free Gaza Flotilla was regarded as a tactical success that, in hindsight, appears to have been a strategic disaster. The cost to Israel’s international credibility and legitimacy is great.
And these new advocates for Palestine are going home prepared – many of the women prisoners were observed recording detailed accounts of their experience – with timelines and explanatory graphics.
Launching into their spiel back home, they will be better received than they might have been last week because of the tenor of the international trenchant criticism of Israel. The images broadcast around the world, despite Israel’s best efforts, dovetailed with the colourful rhetoric of the likes of Anne Jones, a former American diplomat and US Army colonel who cut through efforts by some diplomats to find words with precise legal meanings to describe what Israel had perpetrated.
“The Israel Defence Forces acted as pirates in shooting at us and stealing our ships in international waters,” she told the Herald. “They kidnapped us and brought us to Israel; they arrested and imprisoned us; they paraded us before cameras in violation of the Geneva Conventions.”
Jerry Campbell awoke at 4am to attend dawn prayers but she had hardly bowed her head before she was dragged off to a nursing station to help treat four gunshot victims. Worse was in store for this naif from Queensland’s Gold Coast – “I looked up as I was caring for a wounded Indonesian and saw my husband being carried in.” That was Ahmed Luqman Talib, 20, who had been shot in the leg. She cut his blood-soaked clothing away but then followed his instructions to tend to others. “I’m OK,” he told her.
She lost count of the number and nationalities of those she tended to -
“I saw two men die out there … the floor was covered in blood and the IV units were tied to the ceiling with bandages.”
Campbell went to and from her husband, who seemed to be deteriorating.
“One man’s stomach was opened – his intestines were out and the doctor reached inside and pulled out some bullets, before pushing everything back in and wrapping him up,” she said. “I don’t know if he survived.”
Late on the second day in detention, Israeli officials showed 45-year-old Gigdem Topcuoghe, a Turkish woman, a picture of her dead husband – she became catatonic. At the Ela Prison in Beersheva, she recounted to her fellow inmate, the Herald photographer Kate Geraghty, how during the attack on the Mavi Marmara she had found her husband on the floor. Shot in the forehead, he was bleeding from his mouth and nose.
“I think of first aid – I need to help him. I checked his breathing … he was bleeding faster. I gave him some water and started praying for him – I held him in my arms. He wasn’t conscious – I held him tight, but I realised he was gone when he didn’t react in any way, but my husband is not dead – he will live with and among us.”
Several witnesses have recounted in awe how Topcuoghe accepted condolences briefly – before leaving her husband’s body to throw herself into helping the injured.
Later in Israeli detention, the new widow addressed her tearful friends, turning to the state of Israel. Describing the assault on the Mavi Marmara as inhuman, she urged Allah to show the people of Israel the right path, but added:
“May they face more cruelty than we have and when this happens we’ll be there to help them – and to take humanitarian aid to them, just like centuries back when the Ottoman sultan sent aid and ships to rescue the Jews from Spanish cruelty …”
Brief as it was, time spent inside the Israeli apparatus was revealing. Whenever the flotilla prisoners were processed, security and other workers gathered to gawp – frequently producing mobile phones to shoot happy snaps of themselves in front of the prisoners.
As a big group of men – your correspondent included – waited in Block 5 at the Ela Prison at Beersheva for a bus to Ben Gurion Airport for deportation on Wednesday, a big group of security cadets was wheeled in to stare in wonderment – licking ice-creams as they did – even as a diabetic among the prisoners collapsed.
They were looking at the prisoners, but the prisoners were looking at them and their more senior colleagues who, among themselves, constantly displayed a brotherhood that seemed to cut across formal institutional structures.
Several Europeans were distressed by the clear distinction the Israelis made between their ”white” and ”brown” prisoners.
The Norwegian activist Randi Kjos, a woman of some refinement, was genuinely shocked by what she observed.
“They treated us with hatred – the old were made to kneel for long periods and women had to sit with their arms crossed. Some of the wounded were naked to the waist … many were in shock.
“Palestinians and Arabs were treated very differently to Europeans or Westerners. Palestinians who asked for anything were belted, pushed around or treated with contempt. People warned me of the hatred I would see – but still, I was shocked.”
The Norwegian observed that many of the women prisoners were denied a phone call on the grounds that a functioning telephone ”was broken”’ Others were furious on behalf of many Turkish women who were denied a call home because they could not satisfy their guards’ demand that they converse in English.
At Ela Prison it quickly became clear that the guards were under strict instructions not to inflict physical violence on the prisoners. In a system that has thrown up a steady stream of human rights reports on abuse, the Arab prisoners quickly realised that here was a rare occasion on which they were almost untouchable. In the circumstances, it was inevitable that the detainees would taunt the guards. “We’re all Palestinians,” one of the prisoners delighted in telling an officer, over and over; while another guard became visibly upset when one of the prisoners told him, when he already was upset about another matter: “You’re not really cut out for this job – you should have been a schoolteacher.”
Whenever a prison officer clenched his fist in such exchanges, a colleague would move in and take him away.
But amidst much taunting by prisoners, the refusal to lash out could last only for so long and at the airport a brawl erupted between deportees and their keepers, with several of the activists getting on the planes bruised and banged-up. And as they left a detention system in which some had been subjected to more than half-a-dozen body searches, many were still subject to a humiliating, painfully slow strip-search by smirking airport staff as they quit the country.
At the airport it became clear that the Israeli security forces could keep themselves on a leash only for so long.
As the Israelis continued to hold Yildirim, the head of the Turkish agency, until late into Wednesday night, a group of 15 detainees still being processed through the airport staged a protest when they observed Yildirim being put in a cell – “so the security guys just attacked us”, said Mohammed Bounoua, an Algerian who complained that he had been beaten three times during less than 72 hours in Israeli custody.
The ice-cream-licking cadets were seen late in the day at the airport – roughly dragging a deportee down a flight of stairs, after which they then celebrated with high-fives, back-slapping and smiling.
The 10-hour wait on the Ben Gurion tarmac and then the late-night flight to Istanbul were joyous.
Three Turkish aircraft were parked adjacent to Terminal 1 and, as the Israeli authorities processed passengers at snail’s pace, each arrival was welcomed onto the aircraft with clapping, cheering, crying. There was a festive, party mood as friends were reunited. There were pensive tears for those waiting for husbands, siblings, friends who had not been seen for days.
After several hours on the tarmac, the pilot announced that the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had insisted that none of the aircraft would leave until all the Turkish activists and the bodies of the dead had been loaded.
There were bursts of song. One in particular was a chant of praise for the Turkish leader and the Damascus-based head of Hamas, Khalid Mishal, the refrain to which was: “Peace and blessings be upon Muhammad.”
Sailing south towards Gaza last week, hopping between the boats in the flotilla, I wondered whether anyone in the Israeli establishment would have the smarts and influence to draft a response more substantive than the setting to sea of the Tel Aviv chardonnay set, which was back in the marina before sunset.
What if Israeli ships met the flotilla at the edge of the Gaza exclusion zone and escorted it to Gaza City, then stood back as the locals offloaded its 10,000 tonnes of emergency supplies? Israel could have announced an easing or even an abandonment of the Gaza blockade and instead found other ways to deal with its security concerns.
It would have stuck in Netanyahu’s craw for a few days but the boil of a failed policy would have been lanced, and there would be no need for further flotillas to cause bloodletting at sea. Instead, Israel is keeping the blockade and the Prime Minister and his ministers are not sure what sort of inquiry should investigate the flotilla disaster.
Thursday, June 3, 2010 ISTANBUL –
Funeral prayers are held in Istanbul for eight of the nine people killed on a Gaza aid flotilla as families around the country mourn their dead. At least three activists are still missing, the group that organized the flotilla says, vowing to send larger convoys to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
At least three members of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli commandos are still missing, the group that organized the convoy said Thursday as funeral prayers were given for eight slain activists.
“We have a longer list. There are still people who are missing,” Bülent Yıldırım, the head of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, one of the main organizers of the flotilla, told reporters at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport.
“Our doctors handed over to Israel 38 people who were injured, but they told us there were only 21 injured when we were returning.”
The İHH leader also said the group would send larger convoys to end the embargo on the besieged Gaza Strip.
Yıldırım and hundreds of other activists returned early Thursday to a hero’s welcome in Istanbul. About 1,000 people, some chanting anti-Israeli slogans, packed the city’s airport in the middle of the night to greet the planes carrying them back from Israel.
Seven planes were used to deport 527 activists to Turkey and Greece, said Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad, adding that seven other activists remained in Israeli hospitals for treatment of wounds suffered during the Israeli raid. Another plane brought 31 Greeks, three French nationals and one American to Athens.
The first plane contained the bodies of eight Turks and a U.S. national of Turkish origin. All were shot dead in the Israeli raid, according to forensic experts. The nationalities of the victims were determined after post-mortem examinations at a forensic institute in Istanbul, the Anatolia news agency reported. Forensic experts found bullet marks on all the bodies and determined that one was shot at close range.
The exact circumstances of the activists’ deaths are expected to become clear in a ballistics examination that will take about a month to complete.
The 19 wounded activists deported from Israel also suffered from gunshot wounds, according to the chief doctor of the Ankara hospital treating them. “The patients generally have serious injuries to their chests, abdomens and limbs. What we have is mostly gun wounds,” Metin Doğan said in televised remarks.
Israel charges that the passengers on the boat attacked its soldiers, but organizers of the flotilla say Israeli forces started firing as soon as they landed on the ship.
Funeral prayers for eight of the nine people killed onboard the Mavi Marmara were held at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on Thursday. The coffins of Cengiz Akyüz, Ali Haydar Bengi, İbrahim Bilgen, Furkan Doğan, Cengiz Songür, Çetin Topçuoğlu, Fahri Yaldız and Necdet Yıldırım were wrapped in Turkish flags. The crowd at the funeral chanted anti-Israel slogans before and after the prayers. The funeral prayer for journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar, an İHH member, will be held at the same mosque Friday.
Families of the victims also mourned in various provinces of the country. Photographs of Bilgen, who was a mayoral candidate from the Saadet, or Felicity, Party in the March 2009 local elections, were hung over busy streets in the eastern province of Siirt.
In Adana, Cumali Topçuoğlu, the brother of 54-year-old victim Çetin Topçuoğlu, said family members were happy because their brother had become a “martyr.”
In Diyarbakır, a condolence tent was erected in front of the Ulu Mosque for Bengi, the father of four children.
An official from the İHH identified 19-year-old Doğan, originally from the central Turkish town of Kayseri, as the U.S. national among the victims. Doğan, who held an American passport, had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest, according to the İHH’s Ömer Yağmur. The bodies were handed over to the victim’s relatives after the autopsies.
The United Nations and the European Union have harshly criticized Israel after its commandos stormed the six-ship flotilla in international waters, setting off the clashes. About 700 activists – including 400 Turks – were trying to break the Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade by bringing in 10,000 tons of aid.
Two Swedes aboard the aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces this week said they had witnessed “premeditated murder.”
“We were witnesses to premeditated murders,”
historian Mattias Gardell told Swedish public radio Thursday upon arrival in Istanbul.
“This was a military attack on a humanitarian aid operation far out in international waters,” said Gardell, a Swedish activist who was on the Mavi Marmara along with his wife, fellow historian Edda Manga, during the attack. “It was a very surprising and aggressive overreaction by Israel.”
Kuwait citizen Ali Buhamd said he saw a wounded Turkish citizen getting shot in the head. “The soldiers also left another Turk to bleed to death despite [his] calls for help,” he added.
Shane Dillon from Ireland, from the crew of the ship Challenger 1, said he witnessed some volunteers being beaten up and a Belgian woman’s nose being broken.
Of five Australians on the Gaza flotilla, two – journalists Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty, who was injured by a stun gun during the Israeli raid – have returned to Turkey, daily The Australian reported on its website Thursday. Three others – Ahmed Luqman, who was shot in the leg, his wife, Jerry Campbell, and his sister Maryam Luqman – are reportedly still in Israel
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.
Henning Mankell, the renowned Swedish crime writer and author of the Wallander series, was on board the Sophia, which formed part of the Gaza Flotilla, when Israeli commandos raided the ship.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin after spending 24 hours in an Israeli cell, Mankell accused the Israelis of “going out to commit murder” and says he witnessed the shooting an elderly passenger with a stun gun.
Mankell described how he was woken at 4am and told that the ship Mavi Marmara was under attack.
Passengers on the Sophia could see helicopter spotlights and hear weapons firing. They couldn’t find out exactly what was happening because communication had been stopped by the Israeli military.
Then, at 4.35am, the Israelis attacked the Sophia. Passengers and crew had decided not to resist, and stood on the bridge. Masked commandos landed, carrying submachine guns and forced them all below deck.
“We had elderly people among us, who perhaps weren’t so quick on their feet,” says Mankell. “One of them was shot in the arm with an stun gun and he fell to the floor in pain. Another man was hit with a rubber bullet and also fell to the floor.”
The soldiers then searched the ship. After a while they came back and said they had found weapons. “We said, ‘What weapons? There aren’t any weapons on board this ship.’
“Then they showed us a wet razor—my razor. Then they showed us a little knife from the kitchen, which the Egyptian cook used to open provisions.”
“When we got to land, something happened that I will never forget. One after the other, we were led into a prison—we had to run a gauntlet between two lines of soldiers.
“The soldiers never identified themselves but they filmed us the whole time, though Geneva Convention forbids treating civilians like this.
“And I can testify that they stole everything I had. They stole my camera, my phone, my money, my credit card, my clothes—everything.
“A policeman said to me, ‘Either we’ll deport you or you’ll go to prison.’
“I asked, ‘What am I accused of?’ He said, ‘You have entered Israel illegally.’
“I replied, ‘What are you talking about? I was kidnapped and forced to come here’.”
Mankell angrily rejects accusations that people who protest against Israel are anti-Jewish.
“I’m not an antisemite. I am against the current policy of Israel towards the Palestinians. I’m against it, because it’s a kind of apartheid. I was against apartheid in South Africa and I’m against apartheid today.”
“I prefer not to be one of the useful idiots who sit around and cynically assert that solidarity isn’t worth anything. I’d rather not belong among them.”
Mankell vowed to continue the fight to free Palestine.
“This time we came with six ships, and we’ve seen the Israeli reaction,” he said. “But what if we came back in a year with a hundred ships? What would Israel do? Bomb us?
“Wouldn’t it be a better idea for Israel to lift the blockade?”
Written by Free Gaza Team | 03 June 2010
In an interview with Sweden’s largest news bureau TT, Mattias Gardell, professor of religion and spokesperson for Shiptogaza.se, said the Israelis shot live from the air, gave wounded no treatment. He said activists threw away Isreali weapons, and he fears activists drowned:
“- The Israelis committed premeditated murder. There were rangers with laser sights. Two people were killed by shots in the forehead, one was shot in the back of the head and one in the chest. Several of those killed were journalists. I saw one of the bodies and heard many corroborative testimonies
, says Mattias Gardell on the phone from Istanbul.
- First came the special forces of silent boats. Then the defenders of our boat used fire hoses and made it impossible for the Israelis to come on board. Some soldiers were captured. An Uzi and a pistol were seized, emptied of ammunition and were thrown into the sea. We would by all means show that there was a peaceful campaign and that we did not have weapons, said Gardell.
- Then came the paratroopers in four helicopters and they shot sharply already from the time they were in the air, he says.
Gardell says that the attack was launched at exactly 04:10 local time on Monday and that 14 military vessels circled around Mavi Marmara.
- There were three large frigates, four ironclads and a host of small quiet boats for boarding. There was even a small submarine.
- I think the explanation for this massive assault on an unarmed convoy is that Israel wanted to practise pre-emptive strikes at sea, said Gardell.
The death toll could rise, he fears.
- Many were severely injured by the attack and were treated in such a way that the damage was aggravated. They were tied on deck, some had hoods over their heads in the worst Guantanamo style. Some were bleeding and one was shot in the back but got no help, he says.
“And there are people who are missing, and it worries me a lot. People were thrown, and threw themselves, into the sea in the attack”
According to Gardell, there is no doubt that the Israelis were aware that the convoy was peaceful and unarmed. The vessels were inspected in accordance with all applicable rules for passengers and cargo before they left Greece and Turkey.
“Everything was filmed. The Turkish aid organization IHH wanted to show that everything really went right. And I really want to emphasize that it completely was a peaceful, humanitarian intervention, which consisted of generators, prefabricated houses and schools, tröskmaskiner and more,” he says.
After they are landed, the activists were placed in collection camps with prison discipline.
- We had to constantly remind the Israelis that we were not prisoners. We were accused of illegal entry into Israel, although we have been kidnapped out of international waters, said Gardell
- Now we are tired. We mourn the dead and think of their relatives. We are dirty and have not been sleeping. We have no other clothes. The Israelis cut our clothes apart and smashed cameras and computers, says Mattias Gardell.”
Thursday, June 3, 2010
ISTANBUL — Daily News with wires
Activists detained after their Gaza aid ship was attacked by Israeli commandos earlier this week began detailing their accounts on Thursday of what some activists called “premeditated murder.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the activists as “violent supporters of terrorism,” charging that Israeli forces were “stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon” as they stormed the boat.
Eyewitness accounts differ from what Israeli security forces have said.
An Australian journalist on board the Gaza-bound aid ship said Israeli commando boats had circled their flotilla like “hyenas hunting animals in the night” before his colleague was shot with a stun gun.
Two Swedes aboard the Gaza-bound aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces this week said in a radio broadcast Thursday they had witnessed “premeditated murder” aboard the Turkish ship that came under the heaviest attack.
And the leader of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation or, İHH, Bülent Yıldırım, said he saw Israeli soldiers shoot a photographer and an activist who had already surrendered.
A ‘very ugly’ incident
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty were released from Israeli detention and deported to Turkey on Thursday, and said they were slowly recovering from their ordeal.
“We’re fine, we’re both fine,” McGeough told the Herald’s website from Turkey.
“We are leaving Israel on legal advice that we will be able to appeal our deportation in absentia,” he added.
McGeough said Israeli boats had circled the flotilla like “hyenas hunting animals in the night” before moving in suddenly, describing it as a “very ugly” incident.
“Kate and I got pushed around,” he said, adding that the atmosphere was “testosterone-driven.”
‘We could have died’
“We were witnesses to premeditated murders,” said Swedish historian Mattias Gardell who was on the Mavi Marmara along with his wife, fellow historian Edda Manga.
Manga and Gardell, who were among 11 Swedes taking part in the flotilla but the only ones on the Mavi Marmara, were on deck when the shooting began.
“I saw the ship’s security personnel trying to prevent divers from climbing onto the boats,” Manga said.
“Then one of our comrades said [the soldiers] were shooting and had killed three people … [and] that we had to throw ourselves to the floor. We were on deck. We could have died,” she said.
Shot after surrendering
Yıldırım, the leader of the Turkish İHH, said many people were wounded by gas bombs and that a journalist was taking photographs when he was shot by an Israeli soldier, adding that one of their friends was shot after he surrendered.
Yıldırım said passengers on the ship showed civil resistance, the press was there, and that the İHH called on the passengers not to allow Israeli soldiers in.
“We rendered ten of the soldiers who got on the ship ineffective, we took their weapons, but it would have been self-defense even if we had used those weapons,” he said. “Still, we threw the weapons into the sea.”
Compiled from AFP and AA reports by the Daily News staff.
Thursday, 03 June 2010 11:16 Cameron Sumpter
Colombian activist Edda Virginia Manga Otalora described the Israeli special forces raid on a flotilla of aid ships headed for Gaza, which was intercepted Monday before reaching its destination.
Speaking from her home in Stockholm, Manga, who was released from Israeli custody Wednesay, said that the flotilla had been in international waters when it was attacked, reports El Tiempo.
“They tried to get on the boat in two ways: with divers who climbed on board, and men descending from helicopters,” Manga said.
“These men were from a special unit of the Israeli defense force, which carries out operations against terrorist groups; they are trained to kill,” added Manga.
According to the Colombian native, the first person killed was a photographer who had been recording the attack, and in total, sixteen people were killed.
Manga said that she had been treated “fairly well” because she had a Swedish passport, while the Turkish people had their hands and feet tied, and some had hoods put over the heads.
The activists were then told by the Israelis that they had no rights and were taken to a high security prison, where they were offered no means of communication to the outside world.
In order to secure a release, Manga said, she was told she must sign a statement saying that she had entered Israel illegally.
Manga thanked Turkish President Abdullah Gul for providing the plane to take her home to Sweden.
The Israeli raid caused protests worldwide. The United Nations Security Council issued a statement condemning the raid, and said there will be a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent” investigation.
Saturday, 05 June 2010 13:10 Added by PT Editor maysaa jarour
June 5, 2010 (Pal Telegraph) – The Israeli solidarity activist Dror Feiler declared that he will file a case against Israel as it attacked Mavi Marmara the lead ship of Freedom Flotilla, opened fire against the activist and detained them.
Feiler said that he was beaten when he was trying to speak with one of the Israeli soldiers who were in the board of the ship, so he decided to file a case against Israel because of detaining and imprisoning him.
He criticized the Israeli actions of raiding the ship and opining fire at its passengers.
” The passengers tried to defend themselves and there were no weapons with us, the Israeli army is trying to spread misleading info” he said.
They are tired and dazed, but relieved to be home.
- The last two hours last night, I was worried that they would leave me alone. Police in Israel showed such hatred towards me, “says the artist Dror Feiler.
Today at 16.20 landed the last seven Swedes from using the convoy In Gaza. They flew to Istanbul late in the night with over 500 activists who had been detained in Beer Sheva Elafängelset in southern Israel.
Taking on board the aircraft was Dror Feiler, Matthias Gardell, Edda Manga, Amil Sarsour, Kimberly Soto Aguayo, Saman Ali and Henry Ascher.
They hug each other again and again. Browsing in newspapers from around the world to know what has been written about their relief work.
Friends for life
- We knew each other before in this. Now, what we have been friends throughout their lives, “says Amil Sarsour.
Finally the plane came into Dror Feiler and Henry Ascher. All seven of the champagne toast and orange juice to celebrate that they are now free.
Their passports were stolen from them at the prison in Beer Sheva, says they.
- I got confirmation that they took my passport in prison. But before I could fly from Tel Aviv, they forced me to sign a paper certifying that the passport disappeared. Given what the Israelis did before with stolen passports, it feels unpleasant, “says pediatrician Henry Ascher.
Dror Feiler has always been kept isolated from the rest of the Swedes. He says that the soldiers pointed him out as soon as they got on the ship.
- They harassed me and took my film camera. When I wanted a receipt, they said to me that I had no rights. They pushed me down on the floor and let me sleep with her arms tied and face down at the floor, “he says.
Emptied his pockets
The tents in the Ashdod port in which vessels were in the country but Dror Feiler take off all clothes and jewelry. They emptied his pockets of everything, “he says.
- They did a full body search with all that implies, and then they interrogated me for hours. They had all my phone numbers and to my wife.
When he came to Elafängelset he was put in solitary confinement for 48 hours. He pleaded to see his lawyer Gaby Lasky.
- I am threatened with hunger, but I did not see her anyway. In one days I ate nothing.
When all detained activists were flown home last night it seemed that long to Dror Feiler would not get along. He was taken away and was finally on the last plane has left Israel.
- They seem to have such a hatred of us. When I saw the policemen and guards in the passport control treated us, I was terrified. They are brainwashed.
The Swedes said they first received a document in which they would write that they have illegally into Israel, was later revised the wording in the documents.
At half past five in the morning, after the Turkish planes landed at Istanbul’s airport, the Swedes were entitled to a medical center in conjunction with the more than 500 activists who were flown to Turkey after they had been imprisoned in Elafängelset in southern Israel. Outside thousands of people met them with cheers and flowers.
- It was great to meet people’s support. We woke up in jail and less than one day later, people throwing flowers for us in Turkey. It is unlikely, “says Henry Ascher.
All that came with the Turkish plan of Tel Aviv had their injuries documented and they could retrieve their luggage. But not all Swedes say they have lost the very personal possessions.
Apart from two sessions of all electronic devices such as cell phones, cameras and computers away.
- It is the systematic theft, “says Dror Feiler.
On the plane home was also tired. The Swedish activists have tried to get some sleep before it’s time to meet with relatives.
- In prison, we never sleep more than one and a half hours at a time, “says Mattias Gardell.