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online only Gaza Freedom Flotilla eyewitnesses speak out

by Tom Walker

Osama Qashoo told a packed meeting how he carried an injured man,

“By the time I got to the corner of the room, there was a hot material in my hand – I didn’t realise it was the man’s brain.” He hadn’t realised the man was dead.

Osama was one of the eyewitnesses to Israel’s massacre of nine activists taking aid to Gaza who spoke at a 200-strong meeting at London’s Conway Hall last night. He is a filmmaker with the Free Gaza Movement.

He saw how the IDF treated one injured activist.

“His knee was completely shattered. The soldier just took him and dropped him.”

The Israeli soldiers stopped injured people getting the medical help they needed, the witnesses said.

Laura, an activist from north London, said,

“The floor was covered in blood. No-one expected such a vicious attack.”

A trained first aider, she was trying to help people but was forced to stop.

“Three Israeli soldiers pointed their guns at me and said they’d shoot if I didn’t come.

“I asked them to take people to hospital. They wouldn’t.”

Jamal Elshayyal is an al-Jazeera journalist who was on board the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Hanin, the member of the Knesset on board, who speaks Hebrew, announced over the tannoy that there were critically injured people who needed help,” he said.

“At least three critically injured people died who could have been saved.

“They were killed twice – the second time by the failure to come to their aid.”

Jamal exposed Israel’s lies that the IDF had been “provoked” by people on board.

“I checked and filmed every centimetre and there was not one weapon on that ship,”

“I saw one of the Turkish passengers shot in the top of his head from a helicopter. There was not one soldier on the ship when he was killed.

“After I’d seen two killed, the main organiser took off his white top to use as a white flag. Live fire was still used after that.

“There was an announcement in English and Hebrew saying the ship had been surrendered. There was still live fire after that as well.”

Osama said, “Everyone was panicking, running in different directions. Something fell on my head – it was a soldier. He got up and started shooting.

“We managed to disarm him – it was an act of self defence.

“I saw one of the soldiers’ pistols had fallen to the ground. The soldiers got very excited when they saw it. They took their camera and filmed their own pistol, saying they’d found a weapon – it was completely staged.”

One by one, the Israelis captured and cuffed the activists.

“I was forced to the ground and beaten,” said Osama. “I could see their laser spots on me.

“Three of the soldiers sat on me. Every soldier who’d come and go would kick me, or spit on me. They put a plastic bag on my head.

“They twisted our hands, twisted the fingers into each other. I’ve now got no feeling in four of my fingers.

“We had a one-year-old child on board, Akram. They were beating me in front of him and he was crying.”

During the long hours sitting on deck, the captives were denied food, water and toilet rights.

“One of the guys was asking to go to the toilet, and the soldier said, go on yourself, said Osama. “In the end, he did.”

Jamal said, “I was cuffed, thrown to the ground and kicked. My face was slammed against the wall.

“One of the Malaysian activists had his hands tied behind his back so tightly that they were turning all sorts of colours.

“He asked for his hands to be loosened. The third time he asked, an Israeli soldier came over and tightened them. And the scream that came out…” he trailed off.

Bilal Abdul Aziz was on one of the flotilla’s smaller ships. “For 18 hours I was gagged,” he said. “I’ve still got scars from where they tied us with cable ties.

“People were shot with stun guns and beaten with truncheons. Me and many others were tasered.

“We were all in the same boat,” he added, to laughter.

Alex Harrison of the Free Gaza Movement said, “Everyone was pushed to the floor, face down in the broken glass.

“Two of the women were hooded, Guantanamo-style.”

“We could hear the sound of live gunfire around us,” she added.

After a slow journey to the port of Ashdod, the activists were searched and thrown in prison.

“They asked me to lift my shirt up,” said Bilal, “and then all the soldiers standing near me ran away. I was wearing a money belt… I guess they thought it was something else.”

Jamal said, “I asked for a lawyer – I was refused. The British consulate – refused. A phone call – refused.

“That was one of the most difficult times. You don’t know what the world knows about you.

“Throughout my time there I did not see a British official.

“I still don’t have my passport – it’s in the custody of the Israeli government, just months after they used British passports for murder.

Ibrahim, an activist from Gloucester, told how he was interrogated by the Israeli secret services. “The guy started becoming abusive, banging the table,” he told the meeting.

“He said, ‘you see those scars on your hand? This is not the end.’

“Before I left, he said to me, ‘watch out for your life’.”

Alex of the Free Gaza Movement said, “One woman had seen her husband killed, but she was just pulled away from him and thrown into prison with the rest of us.

“Later she was shown a photo of him, then 36 hours dead, and told ‘identify him’.”

As they were deported, she said she saw injured people forced to march to the plane unassisted.

“They were covered in blood,” she said. “They had not even been given a change of clothes or allowed to shower.

“They’d been shot in the tops of their feet – and they weren’t even allowed crutches to get to the aircraft. If someone offered them an arm they were screamed at. They were made to hop.

“The British consul was standing there when I was being deported. I said to him, ‘this is illegal.’ He said, ‘I know, but they do what they do.’”

She added, however, that day to day life was far worse for the people of Palestine.

“What we went through was not even one percent of what the Palestinians go through every day,” she said. “That’s what this is about.

“There is not a natural disaster in Gaza. This is not about aid. This is about their human rights, freedoms and dignity.”

Source.

Four Lebanese flotilla passengers return home

‘Freedom Fleet’ members cross border at Naqoura
By Wassim Mroueh and Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 03, 2010

BEIRUT: Four Lebanese passengers of an aid fleet bound for Gaza were released by Israeli authorities on Wednesday.

Lebanese activists Hussein Shukor, Hani Sleiman and Al-Jazeera journalists Abbas Nasser and Andre Abou Khalil entered the Lebanese territories via the Naqoura border crossing.

On Sunday night, Israel’s navy stopped six ships dubbed “The Freedom Fleet” ferrying 700 people and 10,000 tons of supplies toward Gaza strip. A Turkish vessel was attacked by Israeli commandos, killing at least nine activists. The captured vessels were escorted into Israel’s port of Ashdod.

The passengers who came from different states are being deported by Israeli authorities. Six Lebanese passengers were aboard the “Freedom Fleet.”

Issam Zaatar, a carrier of a Lebanese-Belgian dual nationality, had left Israel for Brussels Tuesday morning.

Reports said Nabil Hallak, a Lebanese who holds an Irish passport will be deported by the Israeli authorities to Ireland.

Nasser, meanwhile, has been working for Al-Jazeera television since 2004.

The 34-year-old journalist has served in Al-Manar and Al-Alam TV stations along with Bahrain radio station.

As for 61-year-old Hani Sleiman, the lawyer was injured during the Israeli attack on the Turkish ship. He was also among the passengers of the “Lebanese Brotherhood” vessel that tried to break the Israeli siege on Gaza in February 2009.

The ship was held by the Israeli authorities and its passengers deported to their countries. Sleiman occupied senior posts in the Baath Party between 1966 and 1974 and has joined a number of associations. Sleiman is married and has three children.

Hussein Shukor lost his wife and four children when his home was hit by Israeli jets in 2006 summer Israeli war against Lebanon.

He also planned to join the “Lebanese Brotherhood” vessel but failed to do so.

Israel’s step drew waves of criticism from many states and international organizations.

Turkish Premier Tayyip Erdogan urged the immediate lifting of “the inhumane embargo on Gaza” on Tuesday.

“Israel’s behavior should definitely, definitely be punished,” Erdogan told a meeting of his parliamentary deputies, adding: “The time has come for the international community to say enough.”

Meanwhile, rallies protesting the Israeli storming of the “Freedom Fleet” continued in Beirut on Wednesday.

A sit-in was held by various Lebanese political parties along with Palestinian factions near the ESCWA headquarters in downtown Beirut.

The gathering was called by head of Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt.

The sit-in was attended by members of March 8 and March 14 camps, two rival political groups.

Participants in the sit-in decided to forward petitions conveying their united stance against the aggression to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Arab League Chief Amr Moussa and ambassadors of member states in the Security Council.

PSP official Sharif Fayyad outlined to the crowds the content of a petition that was handed to UN Media Center Director Bahaa Al-Qousi. The letter slammed “Israeli aggressiveness” calling it a “natural product of the racist Zionist culture.”

The demonstrators urged the Security Council to deter the ongoing Israeli aggression against civilians that “didn’t spare volunteers from different races trying to deliver aid to Palestinians besieged by Israel.”

They also called upon the Security Council to lift of the blockade on Gaza, impose sanctions on Israel and force it to pay compensations for the “humane and social” disasters it provoked.

Also, around 5,000 individuals gathered Wednesday afternoon near Fatima gate in the border village of Kfar- Kila protesting Israel’s aggression on Gaza’s aid fleet.

The Hizbullah-arranged gathering was attended by the party’s MP Ali Fayyad and Baaath Party MP Qassem Hashem along with a number of local figures.

Reports said the demonstrators remained near the Israeli-Lebanese borders until the Lebanese passengers were released.

Journalists on raided flotilla speak out; one journalist killed in attack

June 19, 2010 1 comment

9 June 2010
murdred
In the aftermath of Israel’s raid on the flotilla delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza on 31 May, journalists released from custody are providing first-hand accounts of abuse, interrogation and confiscation of equipment by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). One journalist was killed in the deadly attack. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have edited and distributed portions of video footage taken from foreign journalists.

At least 60 journalists from across the globe were on board. All the journalists who were detained have now been deported from Israel, and many are talking about what they endured. Accounts of mistreatment during the raid reveal that journalists were prevented from doing their jobs in the most brutal fashion.

Journalist Muna Shester, working for Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), reported to RSF that one photographer who spoke up and criticised the soldiers was beaten. “I could hear his cries,” said Shester. “Cameramen, press photographers and reporters were mistreated because they were filming or taking photos of the raid.” Journalists were searched, handcuffed and left in the sun for five hours, she said.

Al-Jazeera photographer Issam Za’atar said that as he was filming the raid, an Israeli soldier hit him with a stun gun. Za’atar suffered a broken arm and his camera was damaged. Once in detention, he told CPJ he endured a “long and exhausting interrogation.”
cevdet
But the worst violence was inflicted on Turkish journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar who was killed by a shot to the head, and Indonesian cameraman Sura Fachrizaz who was shot in the chest and seriously injured, report IFJ and RSF.

Paul McGeough, “Sydney Morning Herald” chief correspondent, said reporters were treated with “absolute disrespect.”

“Our job requires us to get the stories, and to reveal things that are not otherwise being revealed,” McGough said in a phone interview that appears on the paper’s website. “As Israel’s appalling handling of the flotilla demonstrates, you need journalists there to bear witness, to reveal what is happening out there.”

Israeli soldiers confiscated cameras, tapes, satellite phones and mobile phones, said Othman Battiri, a senior producer at Al-Jazeera.

The IDF released edited sections of seized video on its YouTube channel on 2 June. “Israel has confiscated journalistic material and then manipulated it to serve its interests,” said CPJ. The Foreign Press Association in Israel called it a “serious violation of journalistic ethics.” IFJ and its affiliate, the National Federation of Israel Journalists (NFIJ), as well as other IFEX members have urged authorities to return confiscated equipment.

Source

Issam Zaatar, Al Jazeera cameraman

I was filming, and then he [an Israeli solider] ran after me with a stun gun.

He could not catch me. One of his colleagues hit my hand from behind with a stun gun. My camera fell down. He ran to crush the camera with his feet.

I told him, don’t break my camera. If you want the tapes, I will give them to you. I told him these are media equipment. They had no limits.

They used rubber bullets. They used tear gas bombs. It was an unbelievable scene.

Othman Battiri, Al Jazeera crew member

At 4:15, tens of Navy boats carrying tens of soldiers tried to board the ships. They were met by resistance. Peaceful resistance. Helicopters came and tried to download soldiers. They could not.

At that moment, they started firing live ammunition.

First, they fired sound and gas bombs and rubber bullets. Some people were injured from the rubber bullets. Then, live bullets were used. I saw several men being wounded. We tried to help some of the wounded. I saw four people who were killed.

I saw two people die before my eyes. One of them had a bullet in the chest. The other was bleeding but I did not know where he was shot.

We went down to see the other dead people. One had a bullet in his head as if he was hit by a sniper. Live bullets were every where.

They did not respect that all those on the ships were civilians. There were no weapons.

There was not firing by the activists on the soldiers. As media we stand witnesses on that.

They four dead people that I saw were all Turkish. Two were old men. The other two were younger. One of the young people was a coordinator in the media room. His name is Juwdat.

We heard that more people were killed. I only saw four. Most of the fighting took place on the upper level around the room of ship captain, where the activist tried to prevent the soldiers from trying to control the captain’s room. This is where live ammunition were used.

The attack started at 4:15 and ended around 5:30 when we heard that the ship was controlled by the Israeli’s.

Around 7:00 they asked us to leave our rooms and they started tying our hands.

Mohamed Vall, Al Jazeera reporter

The Israeli assault took those of us on the ship by complete surprise.

During that hour an half in the early morning everybody on board the ship thought that no-one would survive the Israeli attack because we saw about 30 war vessels surrounding this ship and helicopters attacking with very luminous bombs, the sound of them makes you think you are dead

That was a fear of war, complete war, on a ship that was full of men, women and even children.

The first soldiers on the ship were not killed, they were not shot at, they were captured by the defenders of the ship.

Moments later another bigger helicopter landed more troops and this time they fired immediately at people and killed as many as they could so that they could reach the cabin and take control of the ship.

I saw blood spilt on the ship and everyone knew that there was no weapons. we all knew the Israelis would intercept us and try to stop us, but we didn’t think that they would open fire at the first moment.

I have been shown the picture of a Yemeni man, and this is ridiculous, who was on the ship and most people know that every Yemeni in the world has a Yemeni style knife, that is a cultural thing and does not have anything to do with violence.

I understand now that in Israel they are trying to make a big deal about that, saying that the boat was full of violent people and just because of that one man.

Passengers recount mid-sea horror – Andre Abu-Khalil, Al Jazeera cameraman

Andre Abu-Khalil, Al Jazeera cameraman

First they [the Israelis] tried to come by helicopter and tried to come down on the main deck. But the Turkish people were gathering on the rooftop and they managed to grab three of the soldiers, which led to a second helicopter to come and start shooting live bullets on the people.

People [on board] did not have any guns. All what they had were some wooden sticks which is normal.

I was on the Mavi Marmara [the lead ship of the flotilla].

I wasn’t on the rooftop deck. I was on the first deck floor where the Israelis tried to climb by the ropes on the deck.

There were 20 Turkish resistance guys throwing tomatoes, anything that they managed to throw, on the Israelis.

Then one of these Turkish guys got a bullet just in the head. When the Turkish people saw that, they pulled him inside when the Israelis started firing on the deck.

[After the Israelis took over the ship] they kept us tied up, hands behind the back, for nine hours until we reached the Ashdod port and from there they took us for individual interrogation and then shipped us all to Be’er Sheva jail.

The organisers [of the flotilla] swapped the four Israelis kidnapped, or caught, by the people on the ship, and because they were beaten up, because it’s kind of resistance from our side, we swapped the Israeli soldiers to [get] to treat our injured.