by Matthew Cookson
The first person from the Freedom Flotilla to arrive back in Britain has said that she believes more than nine people died in the Israeli attack on the humanitarian convoy on Monday.
“Many more people are missing and I believe the fatality figure will rise in the coming days,” Sarah Colborne, the campaigns director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told a press conference today. Sarah was on the Mavi Marmara boat, which faced the brunt of the Israeli onslaught on the flotilla.
She said, “We were kidnapped, and deprived of our liberty and belongings. People were held illegally.”
Her account severely undermines Israel’s propaganda about the events. It also lays bare the barbaric treatment meted out to pro-Palestinian campaigners.
Sarah said, “We were on a peaceful mission to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza and we were attacked in international waters by the Israeli military.
“Israeli boats were detected on the radar at 11pm on Sunday evening. The decision was made to move further back into international waters. An emergency medical room was assembled and we put our life jackets on.
“I went to sleep at 2am and woke up again at 4.10am. I went up onto the deck and saw boats and dinghies, bristling with guns and military, speeding towards the ship. There were helicopters above us, and gas and sound bombs were being used.
“There were then gunshots and the first passenger was fatally wounded. He was brought to the back of the deck but he’d been shot in the head. He subsequently died.
“The captain announced that live ammunition was being used and that we should stop resisting this act of piracy. At 5.15am we broadcast to the Israelis that we needed help to evacuate the critically injured so that they could get medical assistance. The saloon I was in was surrounded by soldiers targeting individuals with laser sights.
“It wasn’t until 7am that Israel started to allow the first critically injured people out. Then four dead bodies were laid out on the floor and all the passengers were moved out. We were cuffed with cable ties, our phones were removed and we were made to sit or kneel on the deck in the hot sun. After some hours we were moved back to the saloon, and we left the boat some time between 10am and 10.30am.
“We were then taken to Ashdod and placed in Beersheba prison. The British consulate was denied access to us until Tuesday afternoon.
“This is an attempt by Israel to stop humanitarian aid getting into Gaza. But we are all committed to continuing to campaign to end the blockade.
“I hope that the horrific death of people will not be in vain, and that it will act as a wake up call. The illegal and immoral siege of Gaza must end.”
In response to other journalists questions about the crew and passengers’ resistance to the attack, Sarah said, “All of the passengers and supplies went through the Turkish port authorities so there was no way any arms were taken on board. The only knives we had were kitchen knives.
“People were trying to stop Israel soldiers getting on the boat, which was an act of piracy. The guns were being used by the Israelis on unarmed civilians.”
She added, “We want the British government to take action to ensure that there are no further attacks on humanitarian aid convoys, that a search is carried out for those who remain missing and that those people who are still being detained are released.”
Daniel Machover, the chair of the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights group, laid out how Israel’s actions were illegal.
He said, “An unlawful act was perpetrated on a Turkish vessel in international waters. People have the right to forcefully get burglars out of their home. In this case the burglar has killed civilians inside their own property and needs to be brought to brook.
“But the burglar is taking charge of the investigation of those he has killed and whose bodies he left strewn around the house.”
British activists who took part in the Gaza aid flotilla have been deported from Israel, alleging they were abused, humiliated and beaten by troops after the raid on their ships
By Justin Vela in Istanbul
Published: 6:30AM BST 03 Jun 2010
She said she was later kicked and abused by two Israeli policemen.
“They were kicking my legs to make me fall and mocking me in Hebrew,” she said. “They were trying to take trophy pictures with me and they liked laughing in my face.
“They also searched me but I won’t go into that. They took pleasure in humiliating us.”
Speaking at Istanbul Airport, where planes full of hundreds of deportees landed on Thursday morning, she said the experience had been “a nightmare”.
“We were terrorized for the last few days by the Israeli authorities,” she said, visibly shaken and holding back tears. “It was an insane situation. I’m exhausted. I haven’t slept for days. I was on hunger strike for the last few hours.”
Ms Yaqub said that the Israeli authorities had tried to force her to sign a document written in Hebrew, but she refused.
Sarah Colborne, director of campaigns and operations at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was also on board the Mavi Marmara.
Insisting that no one on board the boat was armed, she said the attack was an act of piracy and a “massacre”.
At one point, she saw a man being shot dead by an Israeli commando.
“We still don’t know how many people were actually murdered because there are still many missing,” she said.
“When I was on the upper deck I saw an injured person being brought to the back of the deck being tended to by a doctor and someone who is trained in first aid. He was shot in the head. It was clear it was not some paint ball. It was a bullet.”
Ms Colborne described scenes of chaos on the ship in the moments after the Israelis boarded.
“As I walked up, the dinghies the Israelis used were bristling with arms. I couldn’t even count how many ships there were in the water. It was just literally bristling with ships, helicopters, gunfire. The whole thing was just horrific.
“All I know is that there was gunfire everywhere around.” The people on board the ship had no idea that the Israelis might use deadly force, she said.
“We had no weapons. We were on a peaceful humanitarian mission. We knew there might be problems with the Israelis because of the way they treated previous convoys in the past and because of the way they treat the Palestinian people.
“We never considered that they would murder so many people on a humanitarian mission. It was very clear there was no way we could have been carrying weapons on board. Yet we were attacked with live gunfire.”
Planes carrying 527 activists from the six ships seized by the Israeli navy finally left in the early hours of Thursday morning, most to Turkey but some to Greece.
Some of the almost 700 arrested had agreed to be deported immediately, while 126 from Muslim countries with no relations with Israel were driven over the Allenby Bridge into Jordan to be repatriated from there.
The Israeli authorities have defended their seizure of the boats, saying they had to prevent the blockade on Gaza, which they say is necessary to stop weapons supplies to Hamas, from being breached.
They also say their troops only opened fire in self-defence, after coming under sustained attack from activists wielding metal bars and knives. Members of the activist groups have admitted that the first troops to land on the boat were seized and had their weapons taken off them.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was unrepentant when he spoke on Israeli television on Wednesday night.
He said easing the blockade, in line with demands from the United Nations, the European Union and political leaders including David Cameron, the prime minister, would put Iranian missiles in the hands of the Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
“Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“The international community cannot afford an Iranian port on the Mediterranean. The same countries that are criticising us today, should know that they could be targeted tomorrow.”