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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.

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Gaza flotilla survivors recount ordeals during Israel’s assault

Tue, 08 Jun 2010 03:30:30 GMT

Press TV

The testimonials of activists onboard the Gaza aid Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked by Israel, have revealed disturbing evidence about the extent of brutality used by the Israeli forces.

“The ship became pool of blood,” one passenger recalled. “They came into the part where the women were, soldiers dressed in black and with gigantic weapons as if they were in a war.”

The findings from the autopsies performed on the nine Turkish men killed onboard Mavi Marmara were telling: They were shot a total of 30 times, with five killed by gunshot wounds to the head.

One survivor said based on his calculations during the bloodiest part of the assault, Israeli commandos shot one person every minute. Hence, a proposal by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an international inquiry has been suggested, though Israel has rejected the call.

The following is the transcript of Press TV’s interview with three of the flotilla attack survivors. They are Managing Director of Aloha Palestine CIC Ken O’Keefe in Istanbul, Human Rights Activist Tauqir Sharif in London and Media Officer of the National Committee for Lifting the Gaza Siege Nabil Hallak in Lebanon

Ken O'Keefe

Press TV: Ken O’Keefe, can you please recount your ordeal?

Ken O’Keefe: Well, it felt very much like the combat situations that I have been in the Marine Corp in the first [Persian] Gulf war. It was very clear from the start that the Israelis were not coming in any other way but with lethal forces. I saw one body very quickly and ultimately it was involved in disarming two of the Israeli commandos taking a pistol away from one of them, ultimately taking the bullets out of that weapon which were live rounds. They were real bullets not rubber-coated bullets and taking the bullets and separating them from the weapons, hoping that they might be used as evidence in future trials and also removing the assault rifle from another soldier. It got bloodier and bloodier and by the time we had control of the three Israeli soldiers, I had seen four dead bodies plus many injured. So it was a combat except that we weren’t armed.

Press TV: Ken, you were seen in pictures broadcast all around the world with your face covered in blood. Tell us what exactly happened when you were in Israeli jails?

Ken O’Keefe: The Israelis, the whole time from the beginning to the end, treated us like dogs. I mean really, the whole way through. And I just don’t take kindly the bullying tactics and the intimidation, I feel a duty if somebody is treating you that way, to do your best to let them know that you are not getting the better of you and they don’t like that kind of stuff. They want to feel that they can dominate you in every way. Even though they have complete control over you physically, you can still maintain control of your mind and you show them that you are not fearful of them and make clear that they only have control of your body which is the least important thing. I don’t think they like it very much. So eventually one of them cracked me over the head at the airport, Ben Gurion airport, they got me into a chokehold and seconds I came within seconds of blacking out completely, they got me in the ribs, hit me in the ribs, kicked me in the head and then I got another beating in the detention center at Ben Gurion airport the night before I left. I guess there is no real surprise. I’m just glad that no more people were beaten like some of us were.

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Press TV: Nabil Hallak, you have just recently returned. First, your ordeal, and more importantly, were you a witness when Israel used ammunition against the helpless activists?

Nabil Hallak: To tell you the truth, it is the time that people should realize that there is no way that the Israeli fibs and lies in order to divert the facts, what happened is yes, they used live ammunition with the intention of killing from the first second when they attacked. But they have been caught by surprise instead that they have been using this tactic with us, since that the guys with us they didn’t accept that they will be attacked in international waters from an aggression from the Israeli forces that were fully armed to the teeth, and our guys with hardly even having a stick. So, for that they have to defend the women that we have, and the elderly people which they didn’t really respect. So for that, the people, they had to stand and protect to defend themselves for goodness’ sake in international waters. We were not attacking, we have been attacked.

Press TV: Taquir Sharif, tell us if you experienced any abuses or witnessed any abuses.

Tauqir Sharif: We suffered abuse from the start, you know, I remember my recollection of events is we were praying ‘Fajr Sallah’ (morning prayer) and all of a sudden they attacked us when we were praying and we heard a shot, somebody saying “they’re here” and the next thing you know we saw flash grenades you know, all sorts of materials being flown onto the ship. People had been shot from the beginning and we were trying our best to get more or less as many injured down from the top deck into safety. And we suffered abuse all the way through and were cable-tied for 13 hours many of us, the males, we had our cable tied behind our backs and we were put in stress position. I have still got the marks on my wrists. Even the awful prison, while we were in the port of Ashdod to the prison of Beersheva we suffered many abuses, as Ken said they tried to abuse us but we remained strong. We worked for the humanity. When you fight for truth, nothing will stop you.

Press TV: Ken, you said while you were in Israeli custody you were subjected to “endless” abuse, in one case, to the point of blacking out: Tell us more about that?

Ken O’Keefe: Well, there is such a long list, anything from denied water, from being denied food, being denied access to a lawyer, being denied access to your family to make a call, being lied to continuously. [Being told] You are going to do this; you are going to do that. Being intimidated, being stared at. Having elderly people abused and disrespected, separated from their doctor. I mean, we can go on and on; being kicked, beaten, having a dog bite you. That’s not a complete list. There is much more and aside from of course being killed and seriously injured.

All I can say is I am really happy that the world is finally starting to realize the power that we people have. It’s not up to anyone else. The United Nations would not be talking about a resolution about the blockade if it weren’t for what we did.

The United States would be talking about the blockade unsustainable if it weren’t for what we did. None of this stuff will be happening. None other governments of the world, not the United Nations, none of this would be happening except for those of us on that ship who were so honored and so blessed. Those of us on that ship applied the word of Gandhi and I challenge everyone in this world to look at what Gandhi said because Gandhi made clear that between cowardice and violence he would choose violence. We acted only in violence because of self defense. That’s it. If we weren’t being attacked there would be no need for us to act in a violent way at all. None. We were defending our lives. We were defending that corridor. More importantly, we were defending the means of Palestinians who have been ignored for decades. And we were defending the rights of people around the world and justice and peace in general. So, we had every right to defend ourselves and it’s clear to anyone who’s a thinking moral person who are the murderers and who are the defenders of justice.

Press TV: Nabil Hallak, six of the nine activists killed in Monday’s attack on the aid convoy were shot by a single Israeli commando who is now being considered for a medal of honor. How does that make you feel?

Nabil Hallak: This is ridiculous, really. I mean it’s disgraceful to address the people by nominating such criminal as an honored position. But the thing is we had any intention of using violence we could use the weapons in the hands of activists against them. And then they would lose a grave loss but don’t. This is not our intention anyway. So instead we are purely in a humanitarian mission while they’re in killing mission. And that’s one of their killers. And they’re now giving him a medal of honor for that, which is not a surprise really for us. This is their culture. This is their education. And this is hour culture and education. Bu as Ken said, this shows the power and determination of the humanitarian activists with what they really believe in even when it is going to cost lives. At the same time, the Israelis are ready to oppose any humanitarian aids by killing activists for going to save the children of Gaza.

Press TV: Ken O’Keefe, if Israel has nothing to hide, why is it rejecting an international investigation as suggested by the UN?

Ken O’Keefe: Well, because they are so used to it I imagine. I mean how many times has Israel committed blatant crimes that anybody with their eyes open would recognize and there’s nothing done about it.

It seems as if Israel is very used to impunity that allows to mass murder as routine part of their policy. And who can deny the fact that this has been so long that’s the norm. the world has done nothing the governments have done nothing. And what’s unique, and what’s most important about it is this again the fact that people, 600 people on that ship and supported it in a whatnot. Six hundred people. The next flotilla is going to have much more than 600 people. And I reckon it must have what one or people from every single nation on this planet on the next flotilla. Plus colonized people from all around the world so that the entire world is represented on the next one and the next time if need be, if Israel wants to do it again. Then let them kill more people, and let them expose themselves once more for the mass murderers that they are carrying themselves out as and who’s the defenders.

And the fact is, this is what makes it so special. And as much as I believe in nonviolence and I so much believe in nonviolence, it was right. It was to defend ourselves, and to use force where necessary to defend ourselves. There is nothing wrong with that. And in British-occupied India, Gandhi called for and the people under Gandhi applied the same tactics. This is a modern version of Gandhi.

Press TV: Tauqir Sharif, one passenger has said, based on his calculations during the bloodiest part of the assault, Israeli commandos shot one person every minute. Was there a time which that appeared to happen?

Tauqir Sharif: Yeah, definitely. There was a lot of adrenalin around. I was initially trying to film. Then we had so many heavy casualties I had to put my camera aside because so many people were injured that we tried to resist for a while and the emphasis has to be put that we were not the aggressors we were in international waters, we didn’t break any international law. They are the aggressors. They tried to board our ship and we tried to resist. It’s like somebody tries to break into your house you are not going to invite them in and let them take everything. It is very hard, people from every nation totally different people from different walks of life. This is very important. Anybody can get involved; and, Insha’allah, in the next convoy more people will get involved and represent more nationalities. Yeah, many people were injured.

Press TV: Nabil Hallak, how far is the civic international community is ready to go with building this huge momentum which has become Israel’s nightmare?

Nabil Hallak: Actually the purpose out of this mission from day one when the organizations started for that is meant to be a significant that will lead to a turning point. And that’s what we did achieve actually, and that’s how we see the international public opinion. And even from the closest allies they criticized the Israelis behavior. And they called for the lift of the siege of Gaza. Since we opened the door and the people realized all over the world that it’s a necessity now to open it wider in order to open the siege for good. And not only that is to recognize that the Israelis’ behave is condemned and unacceptable by every respect for the human values and for the human rights. So I think this is a new era now that Israel has to deal with it.

Press TV: Ken, now that we’ve heard about your accounts, will you take legal action against Israel?

Ken O’Keefe: There’s a lot of people with great legal capabilities, I work with Daniel Mancover, a man who is the champion of the universal jurisdiction and I’ll cooperate with him and other who are going to pursue that but as I have said already I am much more interested in what a common person, the working class person, the oppressed people, colonized people, people from around the world who have been sick and tired of the inaction and the shameless collaboration in the blockade and the oppression of the Palestinian people. Egypt opening up Rafah, thank God for that, how long has it been that Egypt has been collaborating directly with Israel only because of what we had been doing have shamed them so badly into opening up Rafah, finally. That is the power we have, can you imagine if we have a flotilla ten times stronger this time?

Does anyone think that if we do that then Israel is going to do the same thing? Or the blockade be done with and over with? I believe 100 percent it will be over done with. And it’s not only that we can affect justice in may areas. We can affect justice in Iraq which because if there’s going to be any justice in this world, the United States needs to be facing war crimes charges for what it’s done in Iraq. It’s got a million dead Iraqis. We need to employ the international law at and live in a big time but the only way it’s going to happen is we people make it sell. No one is going to make it but us. So let us realize our power and make it happen.

Press TV: Tauqir Sharif, will you take legal action against Israel?

Tauqir Sharif: As Ken said, we are cooperating with many people, with the Turkish government themselves and holding investigation. We are screened. People and psychologists talk to us as many people faced trauma after the things that they have seen. That’s not our main objective; our main goal is to lift the siege of Gaza. So our work and efforts is to do whatever we can to remove the siege.

Press TV: Same question, will you take legal action against Israel?

Nabil Hallak: That would be the inquiry of the Turkish behind it. As a witness, we can give testimony. But our aim here is not to bring anybody or drag anything. We are here to eliminate the unjust entirely and totally. That’s our aim.

Press TV: Ken, there seems to be an indication that there is going to be an easing of the siege after the aid flotilla attack, what is your reaction when you hear things like that?

Ken O’Keefe: Well, that’s because of people but for the last two years, since I was a captain on the Free Gaza journey that succeeded, the first one on August 23rd 2008. since that time I have been working on a company that would do trade with Palestine. I can see clearly that they need the aid. Anyone can see that but ultimately, nobody wants to live on handouts, everybody wants to live a dignified life that they can provide for themselves and for their family. And in order for that to happen, the blockade will need to end. Trade would need to begin; fair and safe trade. And with that the economy will be rebuilt. And a real and viable economic situation can be revived and the Palestinians people can once again stand ob their own two feet. And of course they are well capable of it all. I have once I have . I can see Gaza. It’s a pile of rubble right now. I see it in a few years, in ten years rebuilt magnificent; a testament to the well-aware people around the world to turn it around in great justice. I see that day and I really going to work on that day. And I am really ready to work with everyone who is serious on this matter. And I know that we can make that a reality not just in Gaza but throughout Palestine.

Press TV: Tauqir Sharif, many say this has affected Israel’s image, what is your impression?

Tauqir Sharif: Well, of course, they are the ones who have painted their own picture. This is something that we have known for a long time. It’s not been hidden. The only difference now is because nine of our brothers have been martyred, this has come to the world stage. Actually, it’s quite sad that it took nine of our brothers to get martyred and many international people to be injured for awareness to be raised. People are dying in Palestine every day. Four brothers were shot I think it was yesterday in Gaza on the beach and there was no uproar and no mass demonstration. So for the Palestinians people this is the norm. and I mean Israel have painted their own picture. Everything that occurred on that ship is the testimony of the kind of people that they are. While I was in prison I tried to interact with the soldiers and people who were doing their national services. I asked them “do you get sad about the loss of life?” and many of them couldn’t answer the question. And this is what we stand for. It’s about humanity, about the freedom of Gaza.