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Israeli attack written into history with chilling survivor accounts

06 June 2010, Sunday

SUNDAY’S ZAMAN İSTANBUL

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.

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‘Troops boarded and ship turned into a lake of blood’

By Elena Becatoros and Suzan Fraser in Athens
Wednesday June 02 2010
Nefin

Activists returning to Europe after Israeli forces raided their aid flotilla said last night that the commandos had beaten passengers and used electric shocks during the assault.

Six Greeks and several others, including a Turkish woman and her one-year-old baby, were released yesterday, but Israel has barred access to hundreds of other people seized during the raid that killed at least nine and wounded dozens early on Monday morning.

Most of those killed were aboard the Turkish-flagged ‘Mavi Marmara’, and there have been conflicting accounts of what happened during the assault.

Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin, who had hidden with her baby, Turker Kaan, in her cabin’s bathroom, told reporters that she believed there were 11 dead.

“The ship turned into a lake of blood,”

Ms Cetin told reporters in Istanbul, having returned after Israeli officials warned that jail would be too harsh for her child.

She said she was aware of the possible danger of joining the trip but “there are thousands of babies in Gaza. If we had reached Gaza we would have played with them and taken them food”.

She said Israeli vessels “harassed” the flotilla for two hours starting at around 10pm on Sunday, and returned at around 4am on Monday, firing warning shots and telling the ships to turn back.

“When the ‘Mavi Marmara’ continued on its course the harassment turned into an attack,” said Ms Cetin.

“They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters. They started to descend on to the ship with helicopters.” The clashes that then erupted were “extremely bad and brutal”.

She added that the Israeli authorities had taken their telephones and laptops.

Her husband, Ekrem Cetin — the ship’s engineer — was still being held by the Israelis last night.

Some 400 Turkish activists were on the six-ship flotilla, along with more than 30 Greeks and people of some 20 other countries including Germany, the US and Russia.

The ships had been trying to break the three-year blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid, the activists said.

Dimitris Gielalis, who had been aboard the ‘Sfendoni’, said the attack happened very suddenly.

“Suddenly, from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat,”

said Mr Gielalis, one of six Greeks who was deported from Israel yesterday.

“They came up and used plastic bullets. We had beatings, we had electric shocks,” he said.

He claimed the boat’s captain was beaten for refusing to leave the wheel, while a cameraman filming the raid was hit with a rifle butt in the eye.

The returning Greeks said those still in custody were refusing to sign papers demanded by the Israeli authorities.

“During their interrogation, many of them were badly beaten in front of us,”

said Aris Papadokostopoulos, who was aboard the ‘Free Mediterranean’ that was travelling behind the ‘Mavi Marmara’.

Mr Papadokostopoulos said the flotilla was about 130 kilometres off Gaza when the raid occurred.

Aboard the other boats, he said, commandos beat activists, but nobody was gravely injured.

He said no one put up resistance on the ‘Free Mediterranean’, which was carrying a cargo of wheelchairs, building material and medical and pharmaceutical aid.

Crew member Mihalis Grigoropoulos said he was on the bridge of the ‘Free Mediterranean’ and heard shooting coming from the Turkish ship.

Several people who tried to stop the Israeli forces from getting to the bridge were hit by electric shocks and plastic bullets, he said. “We didn’t resist at all. Even if we had wanted to, what could we do?”

– Elena Becatoros and Suzan Fraser in Athens

Irish Independent