“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.
‘Gaza heroes’ welcomed home
KUWAIT: Eighteen Kuwaiti activists detained by Israel after a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla returned home yesterday, accusing Israeli troops of having opened fire without warning. The activists, including Islamist MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei and six women, were flown home aboard a government plane from Jordan after crossing by bus from Israel early yesterday, following hours of delay.
Tabtabaei, who was on the main vessel, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, told Kuwait Times that Israeli commandos fired live ammunition from the air killing two unarmed Turkish men instantly. This, he said, led to a firm unarmed stand by the civilians on the boats against fully armed soldiers that did not show any mercy.
“The resistance of the hostile takeover led to holding three Israeli soldiers captive that were freed later on when the flotilla surrendered,”
“We were assaulted, beaten and tied up for hours”.
Tabtabaei said the attack came in early hours of the morning,
“when we were getting ready for morning prayers without any warning of any kind. Later, we were forced to be interrogated but we refused to answer any questions.” Calling the Israelis “high seas pirates”,
Tabtabaei said he refused to answer any questions directed at him aboard the ship.
Israeli commandos started shooting from the air without warning,” lawyer Mubarak Al-Mutawa, who was also on the Mavi Marmara, told reporters. “They killed a number of volunteers even before landing aboard the ship,” he said. Young activist Ali Buhamd claimed he saw an
“Israeli soldier shooting and killing a wounded Turk in the head”
“soldiers left another wounded Turk to bleed to death despite repeated appeals for help.”
Israel has blamed activists on board the Mavi Marmara for Monday’s confrontation in international waters, saying its troops were attacked as they boarded the ship and that nine passengers were killed in the fighting.
“I assure you that no one from the aid volunteers had any firearms. We had no other weapons, except kitchenware, and the volunteers did not start any resistance,”
Another Kuwaiti activist compared their subsequent detention by Israeli authorities to Guantanamo, the controversial US detention centre for terrorism suspects in Cuba.
“We experienced the Zionist crimes in the true meaning of the word. We lived two days as if we were in Guantanamo,”
Abdulrahman Al-Kharraz said.
Women activists Sundus Al-Abduljader and Senan Al-Ahmad said they were handcuffed, mistreated by Israelis and forced to go to the bathroom while still in handcuffs.
“They kept us confined inside the ship for 24 hours, handcuffed and with a number of the dead bodies with us. Five of the group were made to stay on top of the ship under the sun for hours,”
Tabtabaei said he was kicked by soldiers, who prevented him going to the toilet for 24 hours, while Mutawa, in his 60s, said his left hand was almost paralysed because of the tight cuffs. “With God’s will, we will not rest until Gaza and all of Palestine is free from the Zionist death grip” Mutawa added. The 18 men and women, some of whom looked exhausted, were received by Prime Minister HH Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, senior officials and a large number of relatives, carrying Kuwaiti and Turk
The Kuwaitis arrived home on an Amiri plane sent by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah at 10:45 am at the ministerial protocol hall where they were welcomed by National Assembly Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi at the moment and their families who preferred waiting in the hot sun rather than inside the hall. Tears of joy and cries of “Allah is Greatest” greeted the landing plane as families ran over rope barriers to hug their imprisoned relatives and welcome them back home while holding Kuwaiti and Turkish flags.
Abdul Rahman Failakawee, a Kuwaiti, said the Israelis had used an array of weaponry to subdue those on board the convoy. “The attack was totally barbaric,” he said by telephone from a bus taking the freed activists to Amman.
“They used legitimate and maybe illegitimate weapons: rubber bullets, live ammunition, sound bombs and tear gas bombs. They also used batons as they landed to beat those on board to control the ship.”
Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reporter Muna Shashter, who was one of the women detainees, called on all Arabs and all Muslims to take similar actions, urging them to be a part of freeing Gaza and stopping all the inhumane actions against fellow Arabs and Muslims by the Israeli forces. Shashter added that one day in detention by the Israeli forces is more than enough to show how much the people of Palestine are suffering and how brutal and cruel their treatment of Palestinians is.
Shashter described the Israelis as
“terrorists, liars, and brutal animals” that don’t consider others who are not Israelis humans. Shashter said the attack on the aid flotilla took place in international waters with three boats and a helicopter ordering the captains to turn back, all of whom refused and continued ahead. “After that, each boat was surrounded by vessels and a helicopter deployed men in black, armed from head to toe, who asked no questions and killed two Turkish men immediately,”
She said things got worse when they were forced to stand for five hours under the sun with their hands tied without allowing them to make any phone calls. Shashter thanked the people of Kuwait for their support along with officials who helped them get back home safely by starting a major campaign, while thanking people around the world who stood against the Israeli actions and their vicious acts.
Four Bahraini activists from the aid flotilla were also arrived home yesterday. Sheikh Jalal Al-Sharqi, a Bahraini who was on the Mavi Marmara, said in a telephone call from Amman that activists were
“not allowed to go to the bathroom, nor to pray”.
Other activists expelled to Jordan early yesterday accused Israeli commandos who carried out the raid of killing passengers cold-bloodedly. “What happened was unbelievable. The way the criminal Israeli soldiers beat us and killed Turkish activists in cold blood was like a bloody movie. They could have arrested them,” Morrocan MP Abdelqader Amara, 47, told AFP in a hotel in Amman.
“The Israelis used live ammunition and showed us all the barbarism and cruelty in the world although all of us were unarmed. The Israelis beat some of them up with the butts of their rifles before they shot them dead.”
The Jewish state early Wednesday deported to Jordan 126 people it held after Monday’s raid, among them 30 Jordanians as well as nationals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Mauritania, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Azerbaijan. Turkish nationals made up the bulk of the more than 600 passengers on the fleet, and four were killed in the attack, diplomats in Ankara have said, dragging Israel’s relations with Turkey to a new low.
Amara said the attempt by the “Peace Flotilla” to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip had served to highlight the “crimes” of the Jewish state. “What we did has exposed the Zionist entity to the world because its crimes took place in international waters. They did not warn us at all before storming the ship. It was a nightmare,” said Amara. He added that he and seven other Moroccans were to head home later yetserday. “We were beaten, humiliated, insulted and stripped of our clothes.
“An Algerian MP nearly lost his eyes after the Israelis beat him,”
said another passenger, Salha Nuweisreyh, 51, of Algeria.
Najwa Sultan, 48, also from Algeria, said Israel
“treated the activists as if they were terrorists”. “We were deprived of basic rights. They handcuffed us after the raid and kept us waiting under the sun for many hours. It was inhuman,”
“I think we have achieved our goal and broke the blockade despite all what happened. Israel has gone mad and it will not continue to exist forever.” Around 28 Algerian nationals are expected to head home today.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday instructed his government to facilitate the transfer to the kingdom of those wounded in the attack “and provide them with necessary treatment and care before sending them to their countries”. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. The Israeli operation has sparked global outrage, with many countries calling for international probe, and on Wednesday Nicaragua became the first country to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel over the incident.
Greece said several of its citizens were badly treated, reports emerged of an Australian journalist being Tasered and volunteers described Israeli “crimes”. Top Swedish author Henning Mankell – who was on board the fleet of six boats towed to Israel after the offensive on Monday that left nine people dead and dozens injured – accused the Jewish state of “brutality”.
“What will happen next year when we come back with hundreds of boats? Will they fire a nuclear bomb?”
the author of the Wallander crime series
said when he returned to Gothenburg airport on Tuesday night.
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald said its photographer Kate Geraghty may have been hit with a stun gun by Israeli forces during the raid. On its website, the newspaper said Geraghty had told Australian Consular officials on Tuesday she had been hit in the upper arm with what she believed to be a Taser and had subsequently suffered a minor burn and felt nauseous. The photographer and Herald journalist Paul McGeough have been in Israeli detention since Monday.
“I did not see her being Tasered, but when we were all finally gathered into a room and they had subdued all of us and taken over the boat she did show us her wound on her arm and she said that she wasn’t feeling well and that she was hurt,”
said Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf, who was on the same boat.
The Israelis just attacked us without warning after dawn prayer,” said Norazma Abdullah, a Malaysian who crossed into Jordan.
“They fired with some rubber bullets but after some time they used live ammunition. Five were dead on the spot and after that we surrendered,”
said Abdullah, who was on the Marmara where most of the violence took place. Abdullah, speaking to Reuters near a Jordan river bridge, said the Israeli commandos had then kept the activists tied up for 15 hours until they reached the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Abdullah said the Turkish-backed flotilla had been more than 68 miles off the Gaza coast when it was intercepted.
“Our original plan was to stop there and ask for Israeli permission before we entered and, if they refused, to stay at sea in protest … but they attacked us before we had a chance to do that,”
Archbishop Hilarian Capucci, a Greek Catholic prelate from Jerusalem who was imprisoned by Israel in 1974 and later deported, said the maritime attack was unwarranted.
“Our trip to Gaza was a trip of love and God was with us. Israel by its actions had rightly drawn world outrage over its brutality against unarmed people carrying a message of love to an innocent occupied people under siege,”
Capucci said. – Agencies
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.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
From Paul Larudee’s Blog: http://hurriyya.blogspot.com/
Account of my Capture and Imprisonment as part of the Freedom Flotilla
Abuse at the Hands of the Most Moral Army in the World
Sorry if this account is a bit dry. It was created for legal purposes, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get a chance to improve upon it, so I thought I should make it available for those who might be interested. Please note that at no time did the prison authorities allow daily outdoor exercise, access to telephones, or access to a lawyer. This is illegal even under Israeli law.
Initial Questionnaire for American Citizens on Gaza Flotilla Boats
Paul Wilder AKA Paul Larudee
405 Vista Heights Rd., El Cerrito, CA 94530, USA
Date of Birth
25 April, 1946
Telephone contact details
English, French, moderate German, Spanish & Arabic, some Greek
Describe what happened upon initial Israeli contact
Spotted Israeli soldiers boarding from the rear of our vessel, joined them in going up the stairs to the upper deck. I locked arms with other passengers to defend the wheelhouse. (See more detailed description below.)
Twisted joints, widespread contusions, hearing loss (probably temporary), mild concussion
Medical treatment given, including location and any hospitalization
Taken to Israeli hospital, but I refused x-rays and treatment.
Forthcoming availability and willingness to give a full statement
Willing and can be available.
List confiscated equipment and any lost data, pictures, recordings, in detail: what sort of camera, how many photos, written texts – in what circumstances was it taken and by whom
Suitcase not yet recovered, nor hat and shoes. Suitcase had Blackberry and Greek mobile phone inside, along with personal belongings, medications and toiletries. These were all left behind on the Sfendoni when I jumped overboard. In addition, the medications that I had on my person were confiscated and the clothes that were torn off me were not returned to me.
Date Time Place Description 31/5/10 0200 Passenger vessel Sfendoni, 80 miles off the coast of Gaza in the Eastern Mediterranean Captain Theodoros Boukas alerts us of Israeli communications demanding that we change course away from Gaza. He orders us all to don life jackets. 0400 Israeli soldiers begin boarding from the rear, head upstairs to upper deck. I do the same. I join other passengers in blocking the wheelhouse by locking arms and preventing entrance. Soldiers break window(s), taser us (me twice on the left arm), throw stun grenades, fire paint pellets, beat us with batons (or something). Two stun grenades go off in enclosed space less two feet from my right ear, causing pain. My left leg is struck with a baton. They pry us away from the wheelhouse and take control, restraining us with plastic ties on the hands. At least one of the soldiers is regularly filming for as long as I am on board. 0430 I slip away and hide in the space between the wheelhouse and water tanks, where I can overhear the UHF communication from and to the other ships. Also Israeli communication, but I don’t know Hebrew. 0500 They spot me as the sky begins to lighten, but they do nothing. 0530 I decide to join the others and exit from my hiding area. I remove my own handcuffs, but the soldiers want to replace them even though they have been removed from everyone else. They order me to sit down; I refuse. The ship’s doctor (Khalid Qabbani) dresses my wounds. He notes that my shirt has been torn for most of its length. 0600 It is now fully light, and the soldiers have most if not all of the passengers seated on the upper deck. They begin to take them away one at a time for purposes unknown. I refuse and remain, but others comply. I challenge the others to refuse, but they comply. I decide to jump overboard in an act of defiance, to slow the progress of the operation and to encourage others to resist. I climb over the rail and jump into the sea. Most of the passengers as well as some of the soldiers witness the act. 0630 In the sea, 60 miles off the coast of Ashdod The Sfendoni stops. After 10 minutes, an Israeli naval vessel (number JL238 or similar) appears. One of the sailors throws a life preserver. I ignore it. They try a grappling hook. I catch it but let go before being pulled on board. After several tries, I attach it to the rope ladder they have slung over the side. They then try a pole with a hook, but I swim away. They manoeuvre the boat with side jets, but I am able to avoid by staying close to the axis. They reverse the boat and then come towards me, but I place myself in the path and they stop. They prepare an inflatable Zodiac and lower it into the water with a crew of four. The outboard gas line appears clogged, and by that time I am much farther away. They throw a line from the larger vessel and tow it close to me. Although the motor only works for 10 seconds at a time, it is enough to reach me at that range. They pull me aboard, punch me and slam my head into the rigid floor, injuring my right eye (black eye results). They fasten my wrists and ankles with nylon ties. They take me to the larger vessel, tie ropes around my mid section and try to hoist me up. The ropes slip and they grab me by the handcuffs and arms. The ties are cutting through my wrists and it feels like my arms are separating from their sockets, but they get me on board. At no time do I actively resist, push or strike back. 0800 Aboard the JL238 They blindfold me, then take me to the stern of the ship, where they seat me on some jagged material designed to provide traction for their combat boots. They tie me to a pole behind my back, with my hands still fastened in front of me. I am at an awkward angle, requiring me to arch my back, and unable to change my position. I am also getting very cold because of the wet clothes and being exposed to the wind. I begin to shudder uncontrollably. They bring a pair of sweatpants, tear off my own and try to put them on me, but are unable to do so much beyond my crotch. They give me water. My rear is exposed directly to the jagged gripping material and some sections of skin are exposed directly to the sun. I complain. They cover some of the exposed areas and bring the shirt matching the sweatpants to put under my rear. They tell me that they will take me below, but only if I agree to tell them my name and promise not to cause problems, like jumping overboard. However they do not let me answer until later, at which time I agree to not cause additional problems, but not to provide any information. Finally, after 3-4 hours, they take me below, where they feed me a sandwich and allow me to wear the sweatshirt matching the pants. As we reach Ashdod, I ask to use the toilet. They refuse several times, until I threaten to go without a toilet. They relent. Soon after, we arrive at the port. They remove my leg shackles. 1400 Processing center, port of Ashdod Around a half dozen officers, presumably from the prison service, are there to meet me upon arrival at the port. I collapse at the dock, refusing to speak, move or otherwise participate in my capture. The officers try to force me to walk by stressing my shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, to no effect except to cause me to scream in pain. They carry me roughly to the processing stations, but soon call for a stretcher, to which they strap me. Much of this appears to be filmed with several cameras, which I assume to be news media. I see a number of other passengers, many of them from the Sfendoni. I am transferred to a gurney, placed into an ambulance and taken to a hospital. 1500 Hospital At the hospital, they transfer me from the gurney to a hospital bed, banging my backbone against the bed rail. They look at my wounds and ask where I hurt. I do not respond. They assume that my name is Paul Wilder from the name in my passport, which is in their possession. I am taken for x-ray, but refuse to cooperate. I ask for aspirin, but they refuse and say they will send me back to the processing center. I point out that the sweatpants that were given to me on the boat now have a large tear in the crotch area and that I need a new pair. They refuse and say that a new pair will be given to me at the processing center. I see Sfendoni captain Theodoros Boukas at the hospital with an ear injury, but they don’t allow him to talk to me. I ask to use the restroom, but they say I will have to wait. I ask several more times, then announce that I will use the bed as a toilet. They make a real toilet available. At some point, metal handcuffs with hinge joints are placed on me. They are used to stress my wrists while transporting me to the processing center. 1630 Ashdod processing center When we arrive at the processing center, several officers carry me while stressing my hands and legs, suspending me from the metal handcuffs, and then place me in a wheelchair. The officers take me to several stations, where I am photographed and fingerprinted, passively, but without my cooperation. Most of the other Sfendoni passengers appear to be gone. I ask for a new pair of pants, but nothing happens. Passengers continue to be processed, but I recognize few of them. They are probably mostly Turks from the Mavi Marmara. I see Dr. Evangelos Pissias, head of the Greek delegation. He tells me that there were shootings and dead aboard the Mavi Marmara, but no details or confirmation. After at least an hour, I stand and demand a new pair of pants, demonstrating the problem of the wide open crotch area. Two passengers intervene and argue on my behalf. The officers get angry and speak in Hebrew. Approximately ten officers grab me and take me to the other end of the room, where they drop me to the floor, beat me, slam my head against the concrete floor and kick me in the head and midsection. I scream. Pissias comes to my defense and is beaten. I learn later that he suffers a broken leg and at least one broken rib. After they finish, I shout appreciation for the most moral army in the world and continue to demand a pair of pants in a loud voice. They place me in a prison van. I wait and then Captain Theodoros Boukas joins me. The van leaves. 1830 Givon prison, hospital ward, Ramle At the hospital ward of the prison, Boukas and I are issued hospital clothes and are processed. We are given a physical examination. My blood sugar is tested and I receive diabetes medication. A “social worker” calling himself Amit asks why I came to Israel. I respond that I was kidnapped and a victim of human trafficking across international borders, and that I would like to cooperate in the prosecution of the party that kidnapped me, i.e. the Israeli navy. Our room is in a special high security section that has only two cells. The television has been removed. We ask to see our lawyer and diplomatic missions. They say that this will be taken care of the next day. We ask to use the telephone. They refuse. I ask why everyone else has a television except us. They say that they have instructions that we are a special case. I ask for paper and pencil. They say that this is reasonable, but they do not bring it. We eat and shower, then sleep. 6/1/10 1100 Givon prison, Ramle We are taken from the room, with our belongings. We receive some medication and a medical discharge. Our hands and ankles are shackled. We are placed in a security vehicle and driven a short distance to the main prison. Our belongings are inventoried and we are given a receipt, except for my torn clothes, which they say they will destroy. I refuse. They say they will ask me before destroying my clothes. I ask for a receipt. They refuse. They issue me some clothes, but Boukas is allowed to wear his own clothes. 1300 We are placed in what appears to be a holding cell, near the processing area. It has no window and no fresh air. I ask to see a representative from my embassy. They say that my embassy will be notified. I ask to use the telephone. They refuse. 1800 I ask for a cell with a window. They refuse. I say that I will refuse food, water and medicine until we have improved accommodation. 1900 We are moved to a cell with window. The entire wing of the prison is empty of prisoners except for Boukas and me. The televisions have been removed. I ask for paper and pencil. They refuse. I ask to see the representative of my embassy. They say that my embassy has been notified. We both ask to use the telephone. They refuse. At no time are we permitted to go outside for exercise and fresh air. We are not in contact with any other prisoners, although we can see some through the glass of a door separating their section of the prison from ours. 6/2/10 1000 Givon prison, Ramle I ask when I will see my embassy representative. They say they don’t know. I ask for my lawyer. They refuse. I ask to use the telephone. They refuse. I ask for pencil and paper. They refuse. 1300 I announce that I will go on a hunger and medication strike until I see my embassy representative. They say that he will be there in the afternoon. 1400 The prison director says that the U.S. consul general has come to see me. He asks my to put on a shirt over my undershirt. I refuse. He says that it is prison regulations and that he will not allow me to see the consul general without the shirt. I tell him that I know he wants to cover the marks of the beatings, but I want everyone to see them. He gets angry, but allows me to see the consul general. 1430 I meet with the Consul General, Andrew Parker. He says that he brought reading material but that the prison authorities are refusing to allow me to have them. He is unable to provide me with pen and paper. I inform him of the beatings and other treatment, and authorize him to share all the information with anyone who wants it. He says he will call my wife as soon as he leaves the prison. I ask him to tell her to call my member of Congress, George Miller. He tells me that I am the last of nine Americans that he has visited, and that he had a hard time finding me. The others were at the prison in Bir el-Saba (“Beersheva”). I ask him to contact a lawyer for me. He says he cannot do that, but provides me with a list of lawyers and information about Israeli legal procedures. The prison authorities allow me to have the information. It is paper, but no pencil. I ask him to tell my wife to contact a lawyer for me. 1600 I ask to see a lawyer. They say we will be leaving before a lawyer can do anything. I say I want a lawyer, anyway. They say that it will be taken care of tomorrow. I ask to use the telephone. They refuse. 6/3/10 1100 Givon prison, Ramle Boukas and I are moved to another cell, which has one prisoner in it, a one-armed Yemeni businessman named Abdulhakim. He was on the Mavi Marmara and confirms the earlier reports of shooting and deaths. He was brought to the prison with others, including Turks, from the Mavi Marmara, who are in adjacent cells. 1300 The guards tell the three of us to gather our belongings because we are going to be moved to another prison. However, almost as soon as we do so, a representative from the Greek embassy arrives to talk to Boukas. When he returns, he has a pen and paper for me. He says that all the other Greeks are at the prison in Bir el-Saba. 1400 The prison director announces that we will be taken to the airport to leave the country. He says that it is required for me to wear a shirt over my undershirt in order to exit the cell. I refuse. He says that I will stay in prison if I don’t wear the shirt. I say I want to talk to my lawyer. He asks me the name of my lawyer. I say Gaby Lasky, and that if she is not available, I will talk to Lea Tsemel, and if not her then Michael Sfard, and if not Sfard then Yael Berda. He finally relents and lets me leave in my undershirt. 1430 They handcuff us. Our possessions are returned to us except for my medications and torn clothes. I insist on having them returned. They say they have no knowledge of my torn clothes. I remind them of what happened. They say that they have no idea where they are. I refuse to leave. They try to force me. I do nonviolent resistance. They pressure my arm joints and lift me by the handcuffs. I scream. They shout. They say that the clothes are in the van and that I will see them when I go there. I say I will not leave unless I see them first. They bring the clothes. I go to the van, but they do not give me the clothes. They force me into the van. The woman guard in the front seat keeps the orange bag with my torn clothes and promises to give them to me at the airport. Boukas and I are in one section of the prison vehicle on the way to the airport; Abdulhakim, a Turkish professor named Ibrahim and one or two other Turks are in the other section of the van. There are several other vehicles transporting other passengers who were imprisoned. 1530 Lid (“Ben-Gurion”) Airport We wait for about two hours in the van at the airport before entering. The guard does not give me my torn clothes. I am taken to a room that has around ten Flotilla passengers for processing. I know some of them. They provide more information about what happened on the Mavi Marmara. One of them has the telephone number of my lawyer, Gaby Lasky, and gives it to me. The officers tell me that I will be put on an airplane to Istanbul. They ask me to sign a paper. I refuse to sign the paper and to go anywhere without first talking to my lawyer. They say that I will not be allowed to leave without signing it. I still refuse, and say that I don’t want to leave without talking to my lawyer, anyway. They say that I will be taken back to prison and that I will not be permitted to see a lawyer for several days. 1700 The Greek nationals tell me that their government will send an airplane to take them to Greece, and they persuade me to go with them. They say that they have talked to a lawyer and that I will not have to sign anything. We are taken to an exit where several groups of Greeks are taken by bus. Only a few of us remain to be picked up. 1800 An officer asks me to come with him back through the passport control area. I comply, thinking that this is part of the processing to put me on the Greek aircraft. They take me to an area that has 30-35 passengers seated in several rows, being processed. I recognize some of them, including Nabil Hallak, Abbas Nasser and Ken O’Keefe. They tell me that I need to sign a form and then I will be sent to Istanbul. I tell them that I am not going to Istanbul and that arrangements have been made for me to go on the Greek transport to Athens. They say that this will not be permitted and that I have no choice. I tell them that I have the choice not to sign the form and that even if they force me on the Turkish transport, I will remove my clothes and they will refuse to take me. They tell me that in that case they will take me to prison again. I tell them that I also will not go willingly to prison, and I collapse on the floor. Four or five of them lift me by the metal handcuffs, cutting into the wounds that already exist and causing sharp pain. Others stress the joints in my arms and legs. I scream while being carried away. They start beating me. The other passengers begin shouting and fighting with the officers. I am dropped on the floor, where I hear the commotion behind me, but am in too much pain to do anything. 5-6 officers carry a struggling man to the wall opposite me, drop him on the floor, then beat him and kick him. It seems to me that he must have broken bones. After the noise dies down, they come back for me. They carry me as before, by the metal handcuffs and legs, stressing my joints. One officer hits me several times on the left side of my face. I challenge him to do it again. He does. I tell him it’s not enough, and that perhaps he should try shooting me in the head, and that he’s not very good at torturing a 64-year-old man. They bounce my head off the marble floor, then carry me down the stairs to the place where the busses pick us up. The Greek friends who had been awaiting transport when I was taken away are still there. 1900 The Greek friend, Dimitris Plionis, who has been acting as liaison, comes for me and apologizes that he didn’t stay with me. We wait for the documents of the other Greeks to be completed. In the meantime, other passengers, mostly apparently Turk, come individually to board another transport. Many of them were apparently part of the fighting on my behalf, and are bearing the wounds. We exchange solidarity words and gestures. The passenger who had been beaten in front of me is carried down by two others. He is obviously in great pain, probably broken ribs and limbs. Ken O’Keefe comes down, his face covered in blood and a split in his forehead. I thank him for his defence of me and ask about his family. He says he plans to reject deportation and fight the case in the courts. I give him the name and number of my lawyer, Gaby Lasky. We all finally leave on a bus, including Ken. 1930 The bus takes us to the Lid Immigration Detention Center, where the rest of the Greeks are awaiting transport. It is a place I recognize from a two week stay in 2006. I am surprised to discover Gaby Lasky there. We talk and I sign some papers for her to help with charges being filed against Israeli government agencies and persons. I introduce her to Ken. The Greek Ambassador meets with the Greek citizens. 2100 We are taken to the transport aircraft. After a long wait, apparently due in part to a discrepancy over my name, the plane leaves for Athens.
• Victims found with up to six gunshot wounds
• Israel ‘about to lose a friend’ warns Turkey’s US envoy
The autopsy results released today by the Turkish authorities after the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla reveal in chilling detail the intensity of the military force unleashed on the multinational convoy.
Each of the nine victims on the Mavi Marmara in international waters off the coast of Israel in the early hours of Monday morning was shot at least once and some five or six times with 9mm rounds.
The results also reveal how close the fighting was. Dr Haluk Ince, chair of Turkey‘s council of forensic medicine (ATK), said: “Approximately 20cm away was the closest. In only one case was there only one entrance wound. The other eight have multiple entrance wounds. [The man killed by a single shot] was shot just in the middle of the forehead with a distant shot.”
The details emerged as Turkey warned that it may reconsider its diplomatic ties with Israel unless it receives an apology.
The deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, warned: “We may plan to reduce our relations with Israel to a minimum.”
Namid Tan, the ambassador to Washington, warned that Israel was “about to lose [a] friend”. He repeated calls for an independent investigation of the raid and end its blockade against Gaza.
Asked if Turkey might break off relations, he said: “We don’t want this to go to that point.” But he added: “The government might be forced to take such an action.”
Speaking at the funeral of the youngest activist, prime minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of betraying its religion. “You killed 19-year-old Furkan Dogan brutally. Which faith, which holy book can be an excuse for killing him?” he asked.
According to the scientists at the ATK, Dogan, who held US and Turkish citizenship was shot five times – from close range in the right side of his nose, in the back of the head, in the back and twice in the left leg.
The oldest victim was 60-year-old Ibrahim Bilgen, a Turkish politician, engineer and activist who was married with six children. He had been shot once in the right temple, once in the right side of his chest, once in the back and once in the hip.
Cetin Topcuotlu, a 54-year old former Taekwondo champion who worked as a coach for the Turkish national team, was shot three times – once in the back of his head, once in his hip and once in his belly. His wife, Cigden, who was with him on the Mavi Marmara said at his funeral on Thursday she would take part in further flotillas to Gaza with her son.
The detail of the wounds came as yet more survivors returned to the UK and gave their account of the attacks.
In a hastily arranged press conference in central Londonshortly after his Turkish airlines plane touched down at Heathrow, Ismail Patel, the 47-year-old chairman of the Friends of al-Aqsa, condemned what he called “the cold-blooded murder and killing of our colleagues”. He said: “These deaths were avoidable and I lay the blame squarely with the Israelis.”
Israel has previously said its troops had been left with no choice after they came under attack from activists armed with knives and iron bars when they were dropped by helicopter on to the ship.
Patel claimed that as soon as the Israeli Defence Force helicopter appeared above the Mavi Marmara,
“it started using immediately live ammunition” without any warning being issued.
After the first victim fell the white flag was raised, he said, but Israeli forces continued firing. “I think the Israeli soldiers were shooting to kill because most of the people who died were shot in the top part of their bodies,” he said. He believed that later victims were injured in their legs after a “tactical move” by the commandos to wound rather then kill.
Alex Harrison, a Free Gaza activist who was on the smaller Challenger yacht, which was crewed mainly by women, said the Israelis used rubber bullets, sound bombs and tasers against them.
“Two women were hooded, they had their eyes taped,” she said, describing how the yacht was quickly overwhelmed. “We stood and tried to obstruct the armed, masked men and maintained no other defence and still they used violence.”
Harrison, 32, from Islington, north London, also witnessed the Mavi Marmara being stormed from above by helicopter and said the Israelis started firing before their troops touched down on the boat.
“I have seen some selective footage that the Israelis have chosen to put out suggesting that we responded with violence,” she said. “You must remember that these are unarmed civilians on their own boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. People picked up what they could to defend themselves against armed, masked commandos who were shooting.”
The violence was “initiated by the Israelis on a massive scale,” she said, adding she was pleased her colleagues on the Rachel Corrie, an Irish vessel, were continuing to Gaza this weekend.
“I am thrilled they are going,” she said. “They know exactly what risks they face. They are doing what our government’s haven’t and I thank them.”
Both Harrison and Patel criticised the British authorities for failing to provide sufficient consular assistance while the activists were detained in an Israeli prison in Beersheva.
Patel said he was not visited by anyone from the British mission and Harrison said the consul told her that Israeli officials had prevented him visiting captured Britons.
“I did see the British consul,” Harrison said. “He told me that he had sitting outside the prison all day … asking for access and not been given it. I see that as an insult from Israel to the British, that they were denying the British consul the right that citizens have. I also see it as a sign that the British don’t have the strength to stand up to Israel.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that a total of 34 of the activists on the aid flotilla were British, with all but two of them having been sent to Turkey by the Israeli authorities.
In Gaza City, the de facto Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, told crowds of worshippers at Friday prayers that Israel’s blockade was in its final stages.
“Now not only Gazans speak of the blockade, but also the [UN] security council and the international community. Everyone is demanding the siege be lifted.”
The nine victims
Cengiz Alquyz, 42
Four gunshot wounds: back of head, right side of face, back, left leg
Ibrahim Bilgen, 60
Four gunshot wounds: right chest, back, right hip, right temple
Cegdet Kiliclar, 38
One gunshot wound: middle of forehead
Furkan Dogan, 19
Five gunshot wounds: nose, back, back of head, left leg, left ankle
Four gunshot wounds: left chest, left leg, right leg twice
Aliheyder Bengi, 39
Six gunshot wounds: left chest, belly, right arm, right leg, left hand twice
Cetin Topcuoglu, 54
Three gunshot wounds: back of head, left side, right belly
Cengiz Songur, 47
One gunshot wound: front of neck
Necdet Yildirim, 32
Two gunshot wounds: right shoulder, left back
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?
Boarding party troops in deadly flotilla raid confiscated cards and spent on them, claim campaigners who were on board
guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 June 2010 18.59 BST
Israeli troops have been accused of stealing from activists arrested in the assault on the Gaza flotilla after confiscated debit cards belonging to activists were subsequently used.
In their raid of 31 May, the Israeli army stormed the boats on the flotilla and, as well as money and goods destined for the Palestinian relief effort in Gaza, the bulk of which have yet to be returned, took away most of the personal possessions of the activists when taking them into custody.
Individual soldiers appear to have used confiscated debit cards to buy items such as iPod accessories, while mobile phones seized from activists have also been used for calls.
Ebrahim Musaji, 23, of Gloucester, has a bank statement showing his debit card was used in an Israeli vending machine for a purchase costing him 82p on 9 June.
It was then used on a Dutch website, http://www.thisipod.com, twice on 10 June: once for amounts equivalent to £42.42 and then for £37.83. And a Californian activist, Kathy Sheetz, has alleged that she has been charged more than $1,000 in transactions from vending machines in Israel since 6 June.
Musaji and Sheetz were on board two separate boats – one the Mavi Marmara, on which nine Turkish activists were killed, the other on the Challenger 1. Both activists only entered Israel when arrested, and were in custody for their entire time on Israeli soil.
“They’ve obviously taken my card and used it,” Musaji told the Guardian.
“When they take things like people’s videos and debit cards and use them, and their mobile phones, it becomes a bit of a joke.
“We were held hostage, we were attacked, and now there’s been theft. If the police confiscate your goods in the UK, they’re not going to use your goods and think they can get away with it.”
Musaji cancelled his card on 7 June, the day after he returned to Britain, where he is a support worker for adults with learning difficulties. His bank has agreed to treat the transactions as fraudulent and he will not be charged for them. His mobile phone was also used for two short calls in Israel after it had been confiscated.
Another American activist, David Schermerhorn, 80, from Washington state, claims his iPhone was used, while Manolo Luppichini, an Italian journalist, said his card was debited with the equivalent of €54 after it was confiscated.
Activists say Israel still has possession of at least £1m of goods and cash, comprising aid and personal possessions, including laptops and cameras.
Some passports, three of them belonging to British citizens, have still not been returned. On Thursday, delegations in 12 countries, including the UK, held meetings with their respective governments to exert pressure on Israeli to return the seized property.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in London advised Musaji to register a formal complaint.
“We regard any misconduct as described in Mr Musaji’s allegations to be utterly unacceptable and intolerable, and suggest waiting until this subject matter is clarified,” she said. “As had happened previously, an Israeli soldier was found guilty of illegal use of a credit card for which he was indicted and sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment.”
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.