“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.
Polish-British journalist and human rights activists, a memeber of the Free Gaza Movement, Ewa Jasiewicz was detained after Israeli commandos attacked the Freedom Flotilla on its way to Gaza.
Almost two weeks ago, Israeli Navy attacked a convoy of six ships carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza, killing nine and wounding around twenty pro-Palestinian activists.
Among the human rights activists in the convoy was a Polish-British journalist, a memeber of the Free Gaza Movement, Ewa Jasiewicz. She was briefly detained after the Israeli raid.
She is now in Poland and interviewing her for News from Poland, Michal Kubicki asked her first about the goal of their action.
- By Graham Huband
- Published in the Courier : 07.06.10
- Published online : 07.06.10 @ 12.32pm
Ali El-Awaisi (front, centre) back with his very relieved family in Dundee, while (below) brother Khalid protests in Dundee against the attack.
Ali El-Awaisi arrived back in his home city on Sunday night, a week after being caught up in the attack on the Mavi Marmara ship.
At least nine people died and others were injured when government forces boarded the vessel as a flotilla of ships attempted to break the blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid.
Safely back home in Rankine Street, 21-year-old Ali — who was arrested and put in jail by Israeli authorities before being deported — said the confrontation had been the most horrendous experience of his life.
He said troops used gas and flash bombs to overwhelm them before embarking on their shooting spree.
Ali told The Courier,
“It was the early hours of the morning and we were just finishing morning prayer when, with no advance warning at all, we started getting shot at.
“When the first person was killed we started to wave a white flag but they kept on shooting.”
“We didn’t think they would be shooting live ammunition at us but within five minutes there were four people dead and 20 people injured.
“I was just trying to help the injured people. It was terrible — there was blood dripping down the walls. People were getting shot in front of me in their chests and legs.
“One guy had nothing but a camera in his hand but they pointed the laser (sighting from a gun) at him and bang, he was shot.”
Ali said he thought his own life was about to end when another soldier lifted his rifle and trained his laser sights on his face.
Fortunately, he did not pull the trigger and Ali continued his frantic efforts to help the wounded — some of whom bled to death in front of him. Ali said,
“It was a complete nightmare — it was something absolutely traumatic. It was cold-blooded bloodshed. It was a complete and utter massacre.
“We didn’t have any weapons. We didn’t have anything to defend ourselves with.”
He added, “I am a victim of many crimes — I witnessed murder, I was a victim of kidnapping and I was the victim of attempted murder when the laser was pointed at me.
“I am also the victim of theft as they stole all of my money, my clothes, everything.”
Ali — who said he was mentally and physically abused while in custody following the ship’s seizure — said his experience had strengthened his resolve and he vowed to return to the region to do whatever he could to help its people.
He said, “Even though they put me through what they put me through, I have not completed my mission.
“I set off from Dundee to deliver the aid collected from Dundee and Tayside from people who are against inhumane action and against orphans dying of starvation.
“My mission was to go and deliver that aid to Gaza and I will not stop with this until the siege is broken.”
Ali was eventually placed on a flight from Tel Aviv to Turkey, the home of several of the activists who died in the onslaught. He finally flew home to Scotland on Sunday and was greeted by family and friends at Glasgow Airport.
Brother Khalid spent much of the last week desperately trying to find out if Ali was safe and then arranging for his younger sibling’s homecoming.
He said, “We are just delighted Ali is back home. He has done a wonderful job and in going through this he has seen what Palestinians go through every day.
“I am glad he is back but both me and my other brother have said we are going with him on the next ship.”
The MV Rachel Corrie — which is carrying almost £30,000 of aid for Gaza donated by the people of Dundee among its hundreds of tonnes of cargo — was stopped from entering Gaza at the weekend and has now docked at Ashdod in Israel.
The operation was carried out peacefully after the ship’s crew refused an offer from the Israeli authorities to unload its cargo on land and accompany it over the border into Gaza.
Postal worker Theresa McDermott (43), from Edinburgh, was on the Challenger, one of the boats in the convoy.
She returned to Scotland on Friday and said in Glasgow on Sunday, “We only had a small taste of what the Palestinians have to go through on a daily basis.”
She added, “I think us normal people have to keep reaching out to the normal people of Palestine.
“If we don’t, these people just feel abandoned, forgotten and hopeless.”
Another Scot, 25-year-old journalist Hassan Ghani, from Glasgow, is due to return home next week.
8:45am Wednesday 9th June 2010
- Tauqir Sharif
A SURVIVOR of the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza has spoken of the “horrific” events he witnessed, as he tries to adjust to life back home in Chingford.
Tauqir Sharif, of Warwick Road, was on board the lead Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara in the Mediterranean sea when it was boarded by troops in an assault which led to the deaths of nine men.
The convoy of boats, carrying medical supplies, food and toys, was trying to break an Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza strip, which has been in force ever since Hamas won elections there in 2007.
The 23-year-old returned home to England at the weekend after being held in an Israeli prison for two days.
He said: “I’m disappointed that the aid never got to Gaza, because that was the sole point of the trip, despite the media attention. It wasn’t about shaming the Israeli Government – they do that for themselves.
“I’m still taking everything in. I’ve learnt so much about myself I can’t even begin to describe it.
“I’ve seen things – I’ve seen dead bodies and very badly injured people. I’m not sure what effect it’s had on me, it’s all still sinking in and I get flashbacks.
“But I do know that it has made me more determined and I want to go back to Gaza as soon as possible. I don’t want to stop there, I want to train as a paramedic and go to places like the Sudan and Haiti.”
Mr Sharif survived the raid with only minor injuries.
“When it began a group of us were on the middle deck praying. Someone shouted ‘they’re coming’ and then they started shooting at us and coming on board.
“During it most people were just trying to hide, but there was resistance. I had a camera and I was trying to film as much as I could. But the Israelis took it along with my laptop and everything else so I’ve lost the footage.
“I was very, very lucky because another guy on the boat who was filming got shot in the head.
“I don’t know how anyone could say that we attacked first. They were the ones carrying guns and they were the ones that were boarding the ship.
“It was horrific. I saw the body of man who had been shot and half his head was hanging off.
“We managed to get some of the injured into a room and then the troops surrounded us and made us come out one by one.”
One of those killed, 60-year-old Ibrahim Bilgen, had become a close friend of Mr Sharif in Turkey as they prepared to set off for Gaza. He was shot four times in the head.
Mr Sharif said: “He was like a grandfather I never had. Before we set off I visited his home and family in Turkey, we went fishing together.
“It was very upsetting.”
He added: “Whatever scratches, cuts and bruises I have it is nothing to what the Palestinian people have to go through on a regular basis.
“While there were nine people killed and it got a lot of attention around the world, Palestinians get shot and killed by the Israeli troops on an almost daily basis and it doesn’t get coverage. Only the other day four were shot dead by a beach.”
Israel has rejected UN calls for an independent investigation into what happened, saying it will carry out a probe itself.
Mohammed Abid Mahi, 31, from Walthamstow, was also on board and has now returned home. He has been reluctant to speak publicly about what he witnessed.
The Guardian understands his pregnant wife went into labour just days after the raid happened.
IHH are a charity which focuses on helping primarily Muslim people around the world who are victims of tyranny, misfortune, occupation, oppression. They feed the hungry, bring fresh water to the thirsty , aid the sick, help educate people without that opportunity. They fight global inequality, improve and save lives. They are a force for good in the world, to accuse them of terrorism is turning morality on its head. The aid effort to Gaza is just part of their global aid efforts. Unfortunately they had to come into conflict with Jewish supremacism, as Isreal is ultimately justified in committing any atrocity against the goyim IHH have to become the bad guys for Israeli slaughter to be palatable to the sheep. It is the IHH rather than the pale skinned passengers focused on because Westerners IMO are unconsciously islamaphobic by and large and as people generally don’t look into the news any further than the page it is printed on it is quite simple for the compliant, I’d say controlled press at this stage to make the notion believable to the gullible masses, despite their being no valid evidence.
This is just an example of their global efforts.
After Bosnia Herzegovina declared its independence, war broke out between Bosnians and Serbians in May 1992 and quickly spread across the country. Serbs attempted “ethnic cleansing” in the country. Young or adult many people were killed and lots of historical and cultural artifacts were destroyed as well.
The Bosnian tragedy is the largest genocide committed after the World War II. The world still remains silent against this war. However, Turkey is closely concerned with and affected by the occurrences.
A group of concerned people, who did not remain insensitive to the war, gathered and began working individually.
They protracted their efforts until the end of the war to alleviate sufferings from the war and to be a source of hope for helpless people.
This time war broke out in Chechnya while the world was still watching the savageness in Bosnia. Russian forces bombed Chechen lands and killed innocent civilians. Voluntary efforts were failing. There was a need for more organized relief works.
These volunteers who swiftly took steps with the outbreak of the Bosnian war and continued their efforts during the Chechen war gathered in 1995 and founded the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH). The basic objective was:
Wherever he or she is, distressed, victimized by war, disaster, etc, wounded, disabled, homeless and subjected to famine, oppressed, it is the IHH’s main objective to deliver humanitarian aid to all people and take necessary steps to prevent any violations against their basic rights and liberties.
Turkey’s IHH said during Ramadan, Turkish charitables did not forget the grandchildren of the King of Abyssinian Negash who protected Muslims coming from Meccah during the birth of Islam by accepting them.
IHH, Humanitarian relief Foundation, said in a statement, “teams in the first day of Ramadan distributed food packets consisted of flour, pulse,oil and sugar to the 180 orphan and widow families living in the Kofale village of the Oromiye region.”
“180 orphan children as the education aid were given notebooks, stationary materials and school bags”, IHH statement said.
As the cloth needs of 160 orphan children in the region of Habura were met, in the capital city Addis Ababa 350 orphan boys and girls were given iftar ( breaking the fast) meals.
In the Kofale region of Ethiopia that struggles with the drought country wide, two water wells built by the charitables from Kayseri were also inaugurated.
In Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, because of the malnutrition and infectious diseases thousands of children are losing their lives.
|Turkey’s IHH brought world orphans to Istanbul for the 4th International Orphans Meeeting on Saturday in Halic Congress Center.
The orphan children who came from Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Macedonia, East Turkistan, Chechenstan and Agri joined the press meeting before the mass gathering.
The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) said in a statement, Chairman Bulent Yıldırım told about the situations of the orphans in the world with numbers.
Yıldırım said, “After the searches we saw awful results.”
“Orphans can fall into the hands of organ mafia, human trafficker or missionary organizations. Some health organizations can use the children as subjects,” he said.
“The numbers that appear about the orphans are gory. In the world there are 143 millions of orphans and 400 millions of unprotected children. 60 millions of children sleep hungry.”
Yıldırım emphasized that they arrange orphans meetings to draw attention on the orphans and make the people sensitive in the world.
“143 millions of people suffer from insufficient nutrition. Because of hunger and insufficient nutrition 5 millions of children die under the age of 5. In the world in every 5.2 seconds a child dies of insufficient nutrition,diseases or neglection. In Africa each minute 8 children under 5 years old die because of lack of vaccine. Because of the war every year hundreds thousands of children remain orphans,” he said.
The chairman said, “due to the occupation, only in Iraq 5 millions of children are orphaned. In the world 2,5 millions of children half of them girls are sold by being kidnapped. 90 millions of children are living in the streets. There are 85 millions of orphans in Asia. There are 43 millions of orphans in Africa. There are 12.4 millions of orphans in Latin America. If all the orphans should be brought together in one country, that would be the 8th most crowded country in the world.”
Yıldırım said that till today 15 thousands of children were found sponsor families, adding they are aiming to increase this number to 100 thousand.
|Turkey’s IHH conducted a series of activities in Sudan’s Darfur for Ramadan campaing activities.
Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said, in a statement, it opened mosques, digged waterwells, distributed Qur’ans, organized iftars, aiding orphans and refugees in Darfur.
IHH volunteers also have been making cataract surgeries for 3 years in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum.
IHH said it opened a mosque and water wells, funded by volunteers of the foundation’s Izmit branch ( Izmit is a city in northwestern Turkey) in South Darfur’s Nyala as part of of the activities in “Ramadan 2009 http://www.worldbulletin.net/news_detail.php?id=46512
|Turkey’s IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation said it extended its help to Zimbabwe, where cholera has so far claimed 1,400 lives.
Hundreds of cholera patients were spared from death thanks to medication distributed by IHH teams in the country.
The officials of the IHH said they purchased required medication from producers in South Africa and delivered them to the Zimbabwean hospitals running out of cholera medication.
The medicines were handed to Epworth Clinic and Nazareth Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital, the biggest hospital of its kind in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
The medicines purchased from South Africa will help protect hundreds of affected people against cholera.
After being told by physicians that cholera patients could not recover easily due to undernourishment, IHH teams supplied the hospital with foodstuff. Cholera patients are expected to recover rapidly after taking enough food.
Zimbabwe is experiencing the worst cholera outbreak of its history. Cholera cases are rapidly spreading countrywide.
|“The IHH delivered 450,000 new Turkish liras (YTL) worth of humanitarian materials such as medication, medical equipment, blankets and foodstuff to Gaza within several days after the Israeli operation began. Families of the killed and wounded Gazans were donated YTL 200,000. Lately, 13 tons of humanitarian materials such as medication, surgery tools, painkillers, bandages, injections, etc. were handed to the Palestinian Health Ministry through Rafah border gate. The Palestinian Parliament and the Health Ministry sent letters to the IHH, expressing their thanks over aid.”|
|IHH officials distributed food packages of cooking oil, sugar and pulses to 800 needy families in and around the Crimean capital Simferopol. Food packages were handed to the families at their houses.
Crimean Muslims, who have a history of suffering, exile and massacre, were moved during the delivery of aid. The families who received food packages expressed their gratitude and recited prayers.
An aged Crimean woman first recited two surahs from the Quran and said, “God bless Muslims of Turkey and help Crimean Muslims in Uzbekistan to return to their homeland.”
The IHH delivered stationery materials to 1,500 students from İsmail Gaspıralı School. Another 150 orphans were given allowances and clothes.
The foundation is planning to carry on relief activities in Crimea.
|İHH aid reaches disaster-stricken Myanmar
Despite the reluctance of the military junta to authorize foreign aid, a Turkish humanitarian aid foundation has been among the first allowed access to Myanmar’s cyclone victims.
The Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) distributed emergency food aid through its partner organization to 500 families in villages 20 kilometers from the capital of Yangon, an İHH press release released on Tuesday reported.
İHH teams were allowed to deliver the aid to the victims on Tuesday although the reclusive military government is keeping most foreign aid workers out of the devastated Irrawaddy Delta, where around 100,000 people were killed and millions of people made homeless by Cyclone Nargis.
People who received food aid said they had been living without food or water since the tragedy, and expressed their gratitude to the people of Turkey for the aid.
Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, head of İHH diplomatic relations, and Şenol Öztürk, İHH representative for Asian countries, are waiting in Thailand to cross into Myanmar, and if granted permission, they will provide more aid to the region.
Huseyin Abdulkadir, representative of the İHH’s partner organization in Myanmar, said there are piles of bodies everywhere. “The people of Myanmar are in a dire situation. You come across bodies of dead women, elderly people and children everywhere. The military junta is busy with its own affairs, leaving the debris from the cyclone untouched. Impoverished people are trying to bury their victims and repair their houses. The situation in Myanmar is grave,” he stated.
Abdulkadir indicated that the injured people could not be treated because of a shortage of medication and other medical supplies and warned that the death toll would rise if the necessary measures were not taken. He said some deaths have already been caused by starvation and lack of water in certain regions.
İHH aid reaches disaster-stricken Myanmar
|İHH facilitates more than 3,000 cataract operations in Sudan
The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH) has started a campaign to finance cataract operations for 3,286 people in Sudan.
Bülent Yıldırım told the Anatolia news agency that an İHH visit to Sudan had highlighted how widespread an illness cataracts were in the country, leading them to initiate the “Africa Will See” campaign. The campaign’s slogans include “Let it be you who lightens the eyes of one of 100,000 Africans” and “If you see, they will also see.”
Yıldırım noted that the İHH established a Turkish eye hospital as a part of the campaign with the support of the Turkish Health Ministry and the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA).
“Many people in Africa develop cataracts at a very young age due to extreme temperatures, [insufficient] nutrition and climate conditions. Add to that the lack of doctors — many of the patients, particularly those living in rural locations, live in darkness. There are 5 million patients that have developed cataracts in Africa. Our campaign, in which we cooperate with the [Turkish] Health Ministry, has drawn significant public support. Approximately 40 operations are performed per day at the Turkish hospital,” Yıldırım emphasized. Yıldırım also said that approximately 20,000 people had been given eyeglasses and medicine by the İHH. Saying that there are four volunteer doctors and four nurses working at the hospital, Yıldırım noted, “Each month a volunteer health team goes to Sudan for the project, which will continue until 2009.”
Yıldırım noted that they would also perform operations in Somali, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Mali. “Infrastructural works to perform operations in these countries are continuing. The only thing we lack is volunteer doctors. We need this kind of support to perform operations in more countries at the same time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Yıldırım recalled that Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül visited their hospital in Sudan on Jan. 10, a visit during which he covered the cost of 12 operations as well as presented a plaque of thanks to the Turkish doctors there.
Each operation costs YTL 100 and 44,988 people have donated to the campaign so far. Those who want to contribute may visit www.afrikagorecek.com.
The İHH also runs charity and aid projects in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Mongolia
|Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation distributed 10 tons of millet and beans to needy families in Tsiau region of Niger.
The foundation is carrying on emergency aid and social development projects in different regions of Africa with donations from charitable people. The projects IHH had finalized in Niger were controlled by officials from the foundation and Istanbul Governorate.
Computer lab set up in University of Niamey
The IHH team in Niger attended with president, deans and departments heads of Niamey University, the only university in the country, the inauguration of a computer and a chemistry laboratory. The university president said the laboratories were the first modern facilities the university had since is was established three decades ago, expressing his thanks to benevolent Turkish people.
The team also visited an IHH-built maternity ward in Niamey. The next stop was Tisau, a city in Maradi province with a population of 130,000 people. The IHH officials and Tisau mayor inaugurated a thousand-meter long underground drainage canal. The mayor thanked the people of Turkey in his speech.
About 10 tons of millet and beans were distributed to 2,000 families that were living below the poverty line.
|Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation said it has decided to undertake caring for all the children made orphan in the latest Israeli strikes, adding that it has been taking care of thousands of Palestinian orphans.
IHH said will meet all expenses of the children made orphan by the recent Israeli operation into the Gaza Strip and existing orphan Palestinian children.
The foundation has been caring for 2,500 orphans in Palestine so far. Latest Israeli attacks on Gaza made another 1,500 children orphan. All the Palestinian orphans will be provided with shelter, education, health services and other basic services by the IHH.
The foundation has also included Palestinian orphans in the sponsor family system.
Charitable families can sponsor an orphan by donating 70 new Turkish liras monthly.
Since the outbreak of the latest Israeli offensive into Gaza, 400 families applied to the IHH to sponsor Gazan orphans.
|Turkey’s leading charity finished digging hundreds of water wells across Africa with donations of Turkish beneficents before Islamic holy month Ramadan starts, the foundation said.
Hudreds of water wells were digged and fountains were built in a aid move under the leadership of Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) across African countries, the charity said on website.
The last projects in Chad, Sudan and Burkina Faso were also finished before Ramadan.
One of the first foundations which started water well projects, IHH has built 392 water wells in Somali, Chad, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Niger with the donations of beneficents so far.
Chairman of IHH Bulent Yildirim said that “1.4 million people have to live without water around the world.”
“In Africa 250 million people are suffering from drought” Yildirim said in his statement about the issue.
“Some of them have to carry water from the wells that are kilometers far away from their villages. Because not all of the villages have water wells.”
“We are solving two problems when we are building water wells. First of all, we are supplying water for them and secondly, we are preventing the illnesses that are caused by the unhealthy resources,” Yildirim added.
|Turkey’s IHH said distributed food packets to 600 families and held mass iftars in Kazakhstan during Ramadan.
IHH, Humanitarian Relief Foundation, said in a statement, “in Kazakhstan’s Almaty, Aaras, Shymkent, Turkistan and Qyzlorda cities and the towns of them 600 families were given food packets and mass breaking the fast meals.”
Dr Hasan Uysal assisted by IHH member Murat Akinan treating an Israeli commando (left) protestor displays photo of one of the aid worker killed by Israeli forces (right) injured Turkish aid workers return home. (R-bottom) Israeli commandos aim their weapons on aid workers
Despite claims by Israel Officials that the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) members had initiated the violence, Murat Akinan, the man seen standing next to Dr Uysal in the photos of him treating a commando said that the captured soldier had been entrusted to him by IHH Director, Bulent Yildirim, who instructed him to
“make sure that he’ll be safe. Be careful, don’t allow anyone to touch him.
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
06 June 2010, Sunday
With most survivors back in their home countries, details are continuing to emerge about exactly what happened during the course of a bloody Israeli military attack on a humanitarian aid convoy heading to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The haunting testimonies of the deported activists recount the sheer horror of the attack and its aftermath. Humiliation, maltreatment and brutality meted out by Israeli soldiers dominate the survivors’ accounts.
They all note that they were unarmed but resisted the soldiers in self-defense while the soldiers used live bullets, a claim that has been confirmed by autopsies performed on the nine peace activists killed in the attack and medical examinations of the over 30 who were wounded. Photographs capturing images of even injured passengers with handcuffs on have also emerged, sparking an international outcry. Activists who returned to Turkey after being deported by Israel have confirmed to the press that they were poorly treated by Israeli authorities between the time of their detention and deportation.
The returnees’ accounts also reveal that in order to secure their release, they were forced to sign a deportation document pledging that they would never travel to Israel again. Some said they could not even understand what was written as documents provided to them were in Hebrew.
‘Wounded people were shot’
Peace activist Ali Buhamd said:
“I saw a soldier shooting a wounded Turk in the head. There was another Turk asking for help, but he bled to death.”
Kevin Ovenden of Britain, who arrived in İstanbul on Thursday and was on the Mavi Marmara, said a man who had pointed a camera at the soldiers was shot directly through the forehead, with the exit wound blowing away the back of his skull.
Lawyer Mubarak Al Mutava, who was on the same ship, also shared recollected moments of horror that the passengers of the humanitarian aid ship faced at the hands of their Israeli attackers.
“Israeli commandos opened fire at us. They killed many activists even before they got on board. I should assure you that not a single volunteer possessed any kind of firearm.”
Israeli naval commandos used batons, teargas, stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition during the storming of aid ships bound for Gaza, activists deported by Israel to Jordan said on Wednesday.
“The Israelis just attacked us without warning after the dawn prayer,”
said Norazma Abdullah, a Malaysian who was among the 124 activists who crossed into Jordan at about 7:30 a.m.
‘Israeli deputy prevented shot at me’
Osman Çalık, another flotilla survivor, said his knee was injured when he was shot by one of the soldiers and that an Israeli parliamentary deputy prevented the soldier from taking a second shot at him.
“While I was lying on the ground after my knee was injured, he was about to shoot a second time. Israeli deputy Hanin Zuabi, one of the volunteers aboard, shouted at the soldier in Hebrew to stop. And he did not shoot at me again,”
‘Soldiers humiliated us’
Algerian Izzeddine Zahrour said Israeli authorities
“deprived us of food, water and sleep, and we weren’t allowed to use the toilet.”
“It was an ugly kidnapping and subsequently [we were subjected to] bad treatment in the Israeli jail,” he said. “They handcuffed us, pushed us around and humiliated us.”
“The Israelis roughed up and humiliated all of us — women, men and children,” said Kuwaiti lawmaker Walid al-Tabtabaie who was on one of the ships with other activists from Muslim countries.
“They were brutal and arrogant, but our message reached every corner of the world: that the blockade on Gaza is unfair and should be lifted immediately,” he added.
The lawmaker claimed there
“was not a single weapon with the passengers aboard all the ships.”
Recai Kaya, a representative of the Enderun Association, said that Israel forces brutally attacked and handcuffed the peace activists while saying “one minute” to try and humiliate them, a reference to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s walkout in Davos last year. During a panel discussion on Gaza at the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) on Jan. 29, 2009, Erdoğan walked off the stage in protest of a moderator who did not allow him to speak in response to Israeli President Shimon Peres, who made remarks supporting the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
‘We were deprived of water, food’
Mihalis Grigoropoulos told reporters at Athens International Airport that Israelis rappelled down from helicopters and threw ropes from inflatable boats to climb aboard, adding that teargas and live ammunition were used in the raid.
“We did not resist at all; we couldn’t, even if we had wanted to. What could we have done against the commandos who climbed aboard? The only thing some people tried was to delay them from getting to the bridge by forming a human shield. They were fired upon with plastic bullets and were stunned with electric devices,”
He also said they were faced with mistreatment after they were arrested.
“There was great mistreatment after our arrest. We were essentially hostages, like animals on the ground. … They wouldn’t let us use the bathroom, wouldn’t give us food or water and they took videos of us despite international conventions banning this,”
Another Greek peace activist, Dimitris Gielalis, who was with the flotilla, said:
“They came up and used plastic bullets. We had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method you can think of, they used.”
He said the boat’s captain was beaten for refusing to leave the wheel and had sustained non-life-threatening injuries, while a cameraman filming the raid was hit in the eye with the butt of a rifle.
‘Captivity in Israel just like Guantanamo’
Anne De Jong, a Dutch activist on the Mavi Marmara, said that she felt like she was waking up from a horrible nightmare. Saying that they suffered mistreatment while they were detained, De Jong said, “What we went through while we were jailed brought Guantanamo to our minds,” in remarks to Dutch television channel NOS. She also said Israeli officials attempted to force the prisoners to sign certain documents to be used as evidence against them, noting that she and other activists resisted this.
“People fell to the floor when they started shooting. It is a huge lie that people attacked the soldiers or provoked them.”
She also said the soldiers used force and violence when detaining the activists and that they were not allowed access to lawyers.
June 04, 2010
Three Pakistanis, including TV anchor and columnist for Express Tribune Talat Hussain, who were detained by Israel following the brutal Israeli army raid on Freedom Flotilla, arrived in Islamabad on Friday.
After a warm welcome, Talat thanked the journalist community, organizations and people from cross sections of the society for this respect and the prayers for their safe arrival.
Talat Hussain, said that he and his team “had seen death from very close,” as Israeli commandoes boarded the boat and fired indiscriminately.
“They started firing and two people died close to where I was,”
said Hussain, who arrived in Lahore on Thursday.
Hussain said that he and his team had gone to Turkey to board the peace flotilla “because we thought it would be our only chance to visit Gaza and also set foot on the land with which so much Muslim history is attached.” He said that the plan was not to get into any confrontation with anyone.
The AAJ TV staffer also rejected Israeli allegations that there were guns on board the boats.
“There were no weapons on board,”
said Hussain as he was flanked by several newsmen. He said that the Israeli troops had stopped them in international waters and then took them into Israel where they were charged with illegal entry.
Hussain said that he was not happy to be the news as against report it. He said that his only fear as he was kept in confinement by the Israeli authorities was that the true of story of what happened on the peace flotilla would not be told to the world.
Kevin Neish of Victoria, British Columbia, didn’t know he was a celebrity until he was about to board a flight from Istanbul to Ottawa. “This Arab woman wearing a beautiful outfit suddenly ran up to me crying, ‘It’s you! From Arab TV! You’re famous!’” he recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she told me, ‘I saw you flipping through the Israeli commando’s book! It’s being aired over and over!’”
A soft-spoken teacher and former civilian engineer with the Canadian Department of Defense, Neish realized then that a video taken by an Arab TV cameraman in the midst of the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza of him flipping through a booklet had been transmitted before the Israelis blocked all electronic signals from the flotilla. The booklet had pictures and profiles of all the passengers, and he’d found it in the backpack of an Israeli Defense Force commando.
Neish, 53, was on the second deck of the flotilla’s lead ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, with a good view of the stern, when the IDF, in the early morning darkness of May 31, began its assault with percussion grenades, tear gas and a hail of bullets. He then moved to the fourth deck in an enclosed stairwell, from which he watched and took photographs as casualties were carried down past him to a makeshift medical station. Several IDF commandos, captured by the passengers and crew, were also brought past him.
Kevin Neish, Canadian activist aboard the Mavi Marmara, witnessed the Israeli commando assault
“I saw them carrying this one IDF guy down,” he recalls. “He looked terrified, like he thought he was going to be killed. But when a big Turkish guy, who had seen seriously injured passengers who had been shot by the IDF, charged over and tried to hit the commando, the Turkish aid workers pushed him off and pinned him to the wall. They protected this Israeli soldier.”
That was when he found the backpack which the soldier had dropped. “I figured I’d look inside and see what he was carrying,” Neish says. “And inside was this kind of flip-book. It was full of photos and names in English and Hebrew of who was on all the ships. The booklet also had a detailed diagram of the decks of the Mavi Marmara.”
Meanwhile, he says, more and more people were being carried down the stairs from the mayhem above—people who’d been shot, and people who were dying or people already dead. “I took detailed photos of the dead and wounded with my camera,” he says, adding,
“There were several guys who had two neat bullet holes side by side on the side of their head–clearly they were executed.”
Neish smuggled his photos out of Israel to Turkey despite his arrest on the ship and imprisonment in Israel for several days. “I pulled out the memory card, tossed my camera and anything I had on me that had anything to do with electronics, and then kept moving the chip around so it wouldn’t be found,” he says. “The Israelis took all the cameras and computers. They were smashing some and keeping others. I put the chip in my mouth under my tongue, between my butt cheeks, in my sock, everywhere, to keep them from finding it,” he says. He finally handed it to a Turk who was leaving for a flight home on a Turkish airline. He says the card ended up in the hands of an organization called Free Gaza, and he has seen some of his pictures published, so he knows they made it out successfully.
Neish says that claims that the Israeli commandos were just armed with paint guns and 9 mm pistols are
“Bullshit–at one point when I was in the stairwell, a commando opened a hatch above, stuck in a machine gun, and started firing. Bullets were bouncing all over the place. If the guy had gotten to look in and see where he was shooting, I’d have been dead, but two Turkish guys in the stairwell, who had short lengths of chain with them that they had taken from the access points to the lifeboats, stood to the side of the hatch and whipped them up at the barrell. I don’t know if they were trying to hit the commando or to use them to snatch away the gun, but the Israeli backed off, and they slammed and locked the hatch.”
“I never saw a single paint gun, or a sign of a fired paint ball!”
He also didn’t see any guns in the hands of people who were on the ship.
“In the whole time I was there on the ship, I never saw a single weapon in the hands of the crew or the aid workers,”
Indeed, Neish, who originally had been on a smaller 70-foot yacht called the Challenger II, had transferred to the Mavi Marmara after a stop in Cyprus, because his boat had been sabatoged by Israeli agents (a claim verified by the Israeli government), making it impossible to steer.
“When we came aboard the big boat, I was frisked and my bag was inspected for weapons,” he says. “Being an engineer, I of course had a pocket knife, but they took that and tossed it into the ocean. Nobody was allowed to have any weapons on this voyage. They were very careful about that.”
What he did see during the IDF assault was severe bullet wounds.
“In addition to several people I saw who were killed, I saw several dozen wounded people. There was one older guy who was just propped up against the wall with a huge hole in his chest. He died as I was taking his picture.”
Neish says he saw many of the 9 who were known to have been killed, and of the 40 who were wounded, and adds, “There were many more who were wounded, too, but less seriously. In the Israeli prison, I saw people with knife wounds and broken bones. Some were hiding their injuries so they wouldn’t be taken away from the others.” He also says, “Initially there were reports that 16 on the boat had been killed. The medical station said 16. There was a suspicion that some bodies may have been thrown overboard. But what people think now is that the the other seven who are missing, since we’re not hearing from families, may have been Israeli spies.”
Once the Israeli commandos had secured control of the Mavi Marmara, Neish says the ship’s passengers and crew were rounded up, with the men put in one area on deck, and the women put below in another area. The men were told to squat, and had their hands bound with plastic cuffs, which Neish says were pulled so tight that his wrists were cut and his hands swelled up and turned purple (he is still suffering nerve damage from the experience, which his doctor in Canada says he hopes will gradually repair on its own).
“They told us to be quiet,” he says. “But at one point this Turkish imam stood up and started singing a call to prayer. Everybody was dead quiet–even the Israelis. But after about ten seconds, this Israeli officer stomped over through the squatting people, pulled out his pistol and pointed at the guy’s head, yelling ‘Shut up!’ in English. The imam looked at him directly and just kept singing! I thought, Jesus Christ, he’s gonna kill him! Then I thought, well, this is what I’m here for, I guess, so I stood up. The officer wheeled around and pointed his gun at my head. The imam finished his song and sat down, and then I sat down.”
While the commandeered vessels were sailed to the Israeli port of Ashdot, the captives were left without food or water. “All we were given were some chocolate bars that the Israelis pilfered from the ship’s stores,” says Neish. “You had to grovel to get to go to the bathroom, and many people had to just go in their pants.”
Things didn’t get much better once the passengers were transferred to an Israeli prison. He and the other prisoners with him, who hadn’t eaten for more than half a day, were tossed a frozen block of bread and some cucumbers.
On the second day, someone from the Canadian embassy came around, calling out his name. “It turned out he’d been going to every cell looking for me,” says Neish. “My daughter had been frantically telling the Canadian government I was in the flotilla. Even though the Israelis had my name and knew where I was, they weren’t telling the Canadian embassy people. In fact the Canadians–and my daughter–thought I was dead, because people had said I’d been near the initial assault. The good thing is that as they went around calling out for me, they discovered two Arab-born Canadians that they hadn’t known were there.”
“Eventually they got to my cell and I answered them. The embassy official said, ‘You’re Kevin? You’re supposed to be dead.’”
After being held for a few days, there was a rush to move everyone to the Ben Gurion airport for a flight to Turkey. “It turned out that Israeli lawyers had brought our case to the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of our capture on international waters. There was a chance that the court would order the IDF to put us back on our ships and let us go, so the government wanted to get us out of Israel and moot the case. But two guys were hauled off, probably by Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency). So we all said, ‘No. We don’t go unless you bring them back.’”
The two men were returned and were allowed to leave with the rest of the group.
“I honestly never thought the Israelis would board the ship,” says Neish. “I thought we’d get into Gaza. I mean, I went as part of the Free Gaza Movement, and they had made prior attempts, with some getting in, and some getting boarded or rammed, but this time it was a big flotilla. I figured we’d be stopped, and maybe searched. My boat, the Challenger II, only had dignitaries on board including three German MPs, and then Lt. Col. Ann Wright and myself.
At one point in the Israeli prison, all the violence finally got to this man who had witnessed more death and mayhem than many active duty US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I broke down and started crying,” he admits. “This big Turkish guy came over and asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Sixteen people died.’”
“He said to me, ‘No, they died for a wonderful cause. They’re happy. You just go out and tell your story.’”