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‘Gaza heroes’ welcomed home

Headline News

‘Gaza heroes’ welcomed home

Published Date: June 03, 2010
By Abdullah Al-Qattan and agencies


KUWAIT: Eighteen Kuwaiti activists detained by Israel after a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla returned home yesterday, accusing Israeli troops of having opened fire without warning. The activists, including Islamist MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei and six women, were flown home aboard a government plane from Jordan after crossing by bus from Israel early yesterday, following hours of delay.

Tabtabaei, who was on the main vessel, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, told Kuwait Times that Israeli commandos fired live ammunition from the air killing two unarmed Turkish men instantly. This, he said, led to a firm unarmed stand by the civilians on the boats against fully armed soldiers that did not show any mercy.

“The resistance of the hostile takeover led to holding three Israeli soldiers captive that were freed later on when the flotilla surrendered,”

“We were assaulted, beaten and tied up for hours”.

Tabtabaei said the attack came in early hours of the morning,

“when we were getting ready for morning prayers without any warning of any kind. Later, we were forced to be interrogated but we refused to answer any questions.” Calling the Israelis “high seas pirates”,

Tabtabaei said he refused to answer any questions directed at him aboard the ship.

Israeli commandos started shooting from the air without warning,” lawyer Mubarak Al-Mutawa, who was also on the Mavi Marmara, told reporters. “They killed a number of volunteers even before landing aboard the ship,” he said. Young activist Ali Buhamd claimed he saw an

“Israeli soldier shooting and killing a wounded Turk in the head”

and that

“soldiers left another wounded Turk to bleed to death despite repeated appeals for help.”

Israel has blamed activists on board the Mavi Marmara for Monday’s confrontation in international waters, saying its troops were attacked as they boarded the ship and that nine passengers were killed in the fighting.

“I assure you that no one from the aid volunteers had any firearms. We had no other weapons, except kitchenware, and the volunteers did not start any resistance,”

Mutawa said.

Another Kuwaiti activist compared their subsequent detention by Israeli authorities to Guantanamo, the controversial US detention centre for terrorism suspects in Cuba.

“We experienced the Zionist crimes in the true meaning of the word. We lived two days as if we were in Guantanamo,”

Abdulrahman Al-Kharraz said.

Women activists Sundus Al-Abduljader and Senan Al-Ahmad said they were handcuffed, mistreated by Israelis and forced to go to the bathroom while still in handcuffs.

“They kept us confined inside the ship for 24 hours, handcuffed and with a number of the dead bodies with us. Five of the group were made to stay on top of the ship under the sun for hours,”

Tabtabaei said he was kicked by soldiers, who prevented him going to the toilet for 24 hours, while Mutawa, in his 60s, said his left hand was almost paralysed because of the tight cuffs. “With God’s will, we will not rest until Gaza and all of Palestine is free from the Zionist death grip” Mutawa added. The 18 men and women, some of whom looked exhausted, were received by Prime Minister HH Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, senior officials and a large number of relatives, carrying Kuwaiti and Turk
ish flags.

The Kuwaitis arrived home on an Amiri plane sent by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah at 10:45 am at the ministerial protocol hall where they were welcomed by National Assembly Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi at the moment and their families who preferred waiting in the hot sun rather than inside the hall. Tears of joy and cries of “Allah is Greatest” greeted the landing plane as families ran over rope barriers to hug their imprisoned relatives and welcome them back home while holding Kuwaiti and Turkish flags.

Abdul Rahman Failakawee, a Kuwaiti, said the Israelis had used an array of weaponry to subdue those on board the convoy. “The attack was totally barbaric,” he said by telephone from a bus taking the freed activists to Amman.

“They used legitimate and maybe illegitimate weapons: rubber bullets, live ammunition, sound bombs and tear gas bombs. They also used batons as they landed to beat those on board to control the ship.”

Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reporter Muna Shashter, who was one of the women detainees, called on all Arabs and all Muslims to take similar actions, urging them to be a part of freeing Gaza and stopping all the inhumane actions against fellow Arabs and Muslims by the Israeli forces. Shashter added that one day in detention by the Israeli forces is more than enough to show how much the people of Palestine are suffering and how brutal and cruel their treatment of Palestinians is.

Shashter described the Israelis as

“terrorists, liars, and brutal animals” that don’t consider others who are not Israelis humans. Shashter said the attack on the aid flotilla took place in international waters with three boats and a helicopter ordering the captains to turn back, all of whom refused and continued ahead. “After that, each boat was surrounded by vessels and a helicopter deployed men in black, armed from head to toe, who asked no questions and killed two Turkish men immediately,”

She said things got worse when they were forced to stand for five hours under the sun with their hands tied without allowing them to make any phone calls. Shashter thanked the people of Kuwait for their support along with officials who helped them get back home safely by starting a major campaign, while thanking people around the world who stood against the Israeli actions and their vicious acts.

Four Bahraini activists from the aid flotilla were also arrived home yesterday. Sheikh Jalal Al-Sharqi, a Bahraini who was on the Mavi Marmara, said in a telephone call from Amman that activists were

“not allowed to go to the bathroom, nor to pray”.

Other activists expelled to Jordan early yesterday accused Israeli commandos who carried out the raid of killing passengers cold-bloodedly. “What happened was unbelievable. The way the criminal Israeli soldiers beat us and killed Turkish activists in cold blood was like a bloody movie. They could have arrested them,” Morrocan MP Abdelqader Amara, 47, told AFP in a hotel in Amman.

“The Israelis used live ammunition and showed us all the barbarism and cruelty in the world although all of us were unarmed. The Israelis beat some of them up with the butts of their rifles before they shot them dead.”

The Jewish state early Wednesday deported to Jordan 126 people it held after Monday’s raid, among them 30 Jordanians as well as nationals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Mauritania, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Azerbaijan. Turkish nationals made up the bulk of the more than 600 passengers on the fleet, and four were killed in the attack, diplomats in Ankara have said, dragging Israel’s relations with Turkey to a new low.

Amara said the attempt by the “Peace Flotilla” to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip had served to highlight the “crimes” of the Jewish state. “What we did has exposed the Zionist entity to the world because its crimes took place in international waters. They did not warn us at all before storming the ship. It was a nightmare,” said Amara. He added that he and seven other Moroccans were to head home later yetserday. “We were beaten, humiliated, insulted and stripped of our clothes.

“An Algerian MP nearly lost his eyes after the Israelis beat him,”

said another passenger, Salha Nuweisreyh, 51, of Algeria.

Najwa Sultan, 48, also from Algeria, said Israel

“treated the activists as if they were terrorists”. “We were deprived of basic rights. They handcuffed us after the raid and kept us waiting under the sun for many hours. It was inhuman,”

“I think we have achieved our goal and broke the blockade despite all what happened. Israel has gone mad and it will not continue to exist forever.” Around 28 Algerian nationals are expected to head home today.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday instructed his government to facilitate the transfer to the kingdom of those wounded in the attack “and provide them with necessary treatment and care before sending them to their countries”. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. The Israeli operation has sparked global outrage, with many countries calling for international probe, and on Wednesday Nicaragua became the first country to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel over the incident.

Greece said several of its citizens were badly treated, reports emerged of an Australian journalist being Tasered and volunteers described Israeli “crimes”. Top Swedish author Henning Mankell – who was on board the fleet of six boats towed to Israel after the offensive on Monday that left nine people dead and dozens injured – accused the Jewish state of “brutality”.

“What will happen next year when we come back with hundreds of boats? Will they fire a nuclear bomb?”

the author of the Wallander crime series
said when he returned to Gothenburg airport on Tuesday night.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald said its photographer Kate Geraghty may have been hit with a stun gun by Israeli forces during the raid. On its website, the newspaper said Geraghty had told Australian Consular officials on Tuesday she had been hit in the upper arm with what she believed to be a Taser and had subsequently suffered a minor burn and felt nauseous. The photographer and Herald journalist Paul McGeough have been in Israeli detention since Monday.

“I did not see her being Tasered, but when we were all finally gathered into a room and they had subdued all of us and taken over the boat she did show us her wound on her arm and she said that she wasn’t feeling well and that she was hurt,”

said Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf, who was on the same boat.

The Israelis just attacked us without warning after dawn prayer,” said Norazma Abdullah, a Malaysian who crossed into Jordan.

“They fired with some rubber bullets but after some time they used live ammunition. Five were dead on the spot and after that we surrendered,”

said Abdullah, who was on the Marmara where most of the violence took place. Abdullah, speaking to Reuters near a Jordan river bridge, said the Israeli commandos had then kept the activists tied up for 15 hours until they reached the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Abdullah said the Turkish-backed flotilla had been more than 68 miles off the Gaza coast when it was intercepted.

“Our original plan was to stop there and ask for Israeli permission before we entered and, if they refused, to stay at sea in protest … but they attacked us before we had a chance to do that,”

Archbishop Hilarian Capucci, a Greek Catholic prelate from Jerusalem who was imprisoned by Israel in 1974 and later deported, said the maritime attack was unwarranted.

“Our trip to Gaza was a trip of love and God was with us. Israel by its actions had rightly drawn world outrage over its brutality against unarmed people carrying a message of love to an innocent occupied people under siege,”

Capucci said. – Agencies

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Fear, pain and propaganda: an activist’s story

british passenger

Scottish campaigner Theresa McDermott speaks exclusively to David Pratt and reveals what she witnessed when Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last week.

I was on Challenger 1, a 25-metre motor yacht that was the smallest in the flotilla. On board were 10 women and five men, among them a retired female US military colonel, two Australian journalists, four crew and the captain, Irishman Denis Healy. Our rendezvous point with the other ships was about a quarter of the way between Cyprus and Gaza.

As night fell the ships pulled closer together around the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the ships in the Free Gaza flotilla. During the night we noticed four big ships, two on either side of our group. One of the guys on our boat who had worked for the coastguard back in Ireland identified one of them as an Israeli frigate.

Just after midnight on Sunday the Israelis radioed the Marmara, which in turn contacted us, warning the flotilla would not be allowed to proceed. It was around four o’ clock on Monday morning, while early morning Muslim prayers were underway on the Marmara, that the Israeli boats and commandos arrived.

Obviously they had timed that raid to coincide with the prayers. To starboard we saw a row of lights appearing on the water as a group of small Israeli boats approached, while on the port side there were others, and we realised we were being surrounded. The fast inflatable Zodiacs with the commandos cut right through the flotilla, trying to separate us.

We were only a hundred yard off the Marmara, so really close, enough to see what was going on. The helicopter came across a few minutes after the Zodiacs.

The Israeli commandos were finding it hard to board, with those on the Marmara using fire hoses to stop them. As soon as the Zodiacs got close enough they fired smoke and percussion bombs.

Right from the beginning these weapons caused injuries. I’m assuming that at this point the Israelis were still using rubber bullets, but they definitely started firing live ammunition when the helicopter came in on its second attempt to drop off more soldiers.

It was all very loud, with people running around on the Marmara, which was shining its lights onto the helicopter. The crew even tried turning the fire hose on it but the downwash from the helicopters soaked everyone. I was told later by those on board the Marmara that the first two soldiers who abseiled down from the helicopter were overpowered and taken and searched by some of the Turkish activists.

On the commandos they found plasticised detailed maps of the layout of every boat and pictures of people on board including MPs, bishops and other VIPs. Maybe these were the people the Israelis were trying to avoid harming. I was told there were those on board who really wanted to have a go at the Israeli soldiers who were being detained, but were held back by others.

When the helicopter returned more commandos came down and that’s when the live firing started, and some on board the Marmara told me that bullets were definitely fired from the helicopter. I was on the flydeck of the Challenger on watch along with the captain and two Australian journalists, and it was maybe fifteen minutes after they boarded the Marmara that they came for us.

The captain had opened up the throttle to try and put as much distance between us and the Marmara when we saw that things were getting heavy on its deck, but the Zodiacs came up alongside us and fired more smoke and percussion bombs.

Our only resistance was to stand by the rail of the boat with our hands out, so they could see clearly we had no weapons, and try to block them from coming on board. We had no intention of fighting back.

One of the bombs hit the face of a Belgian woman, bursting her nose before exploding on the boat. She was in a bad way and started bleeding heavily.

At least 20 soldiers came on board and each had a number on the shoulder of his uniform. In charge was number 20, while a lower rank had the number one on his shoulder. They were all wearing ski masks and had on body armour and were fully armed and very aggressive. On seeing the female journalist on board, they Tasered her. I saw the electrical discharge shoot up her arm and she collapsed, vomiting, on the deck.

At least three of the soldiers had Australian accents.

Two of the women on board, Huweida Arraf, a Palestinian with joint US nationality, and a Dutch woman, Anna, who tried to block the stairs to the deck, were thrown to the ground, their hands cuffed with plastic ties that cut into their wrists and their faces pushed on to the deck that was full of broken glass.

They were also blindfolded and hooded. We shouted at them: “Are you proud of this, is this what your army teaches you, beating up women?”

At one point when I was shouting and wouldn’t sit down and trying to get to the girls they were beating, one soldier cocked his automatic pistol and put the gun to my head and said he would shoot me if I didn’t do as I was told.

I didn’t have time to be scared but realised it was probably time to back off and give him space.

The level of aggression they showed was way over the top, with rubber bullets scattered everywhere. When bullets hit they seemed to release a sort of dust that glowed, perhaps so they could be picked up by the commandos’ night sights.

When they took us into port in Ashdod, we were paraded from the moment we arrived and jeered at by the large crowd there. All the time they filmed us, especially when they gave us food. They even tried to distribute some of the captain’s beer but we didn’t drink because we knew it was a propaganda thing. We were processed through Ashdod and doctors there examined us, but never really treated us. When some of us pointed out the levels of bruising they told us it was just mosquito bites. They then searched us and gave us a bit of paper to sign that would allow then to deport us as illegal immigrants, but we refused.

We hadn’t entered Israel of our own free will but were kidnapped in international waters. We were moved to a jail in Beersheva, a new prison block ­apparently called LA block. It was so new that there was still dust and plaster on the floor.

Here they continued filming us, and we eventually had our first food. I think the reason they put us here was because it was so isolated and there was no news for us to see about what had happened to those on board the Marmara and other ships. Later our embassy staff told us they had been kept waiting at the entrance since one o’clock that day having been refused access to us.

Separated throughout from the men, in the jail we began to get news from the other women of what had happened on the Marmara. Some of the stories were horrific. One Turkish woman had lost her husband. In our cell there was also an Indonesian woman whose husband was a Turkish journalist on board.

He had described how when the Israeli soldiers came to the press room on the half deck of the Marmara, they walked straight up to the Turkish man whose job it was to coordinate facilities for the journalists, put a gun to his head and shot the man dead at point-blank range.

Two people who worked in the medical area on the Marmara also said they had at least three bodies, who had been shot in the head in what looked like an execution style.

Another thing the Israelis did that was particularly nasty while we were in the Beersheva jail was to take a woman into a room and ask her to identify her husband from photos they had taken after he was killed. Before leaving the Marmara the crew had time to clean and prepare the man’s body for burial. She was able to say her good byes then with his body properly wrapped and with the eyes closed. But in the photos his body had evidently been left to bloat virtually beyond recognition in the sun. She collapsed on seeing these and had to be comforted by the other women.

They were also extremely aggressive during our deportation to Turkey. We were woken at 6.30am and loaded into high-security wagons, two or three crammed into a tiny cell on board the vehicles. Though the journey to the airport was only an hour-and-a-half we were kept in the daytime heat in these cramped compartments for a whole five hours. One of the women, an Australian, was pregnant and we kept shouting at the guards that she was with us and that we needed the toilet, but they kept us there.

At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, we were jostled and jeered by huge numbers of soldiers who surrounded us, and I saw a number of the men beaten up by soldiers. One Irishman who refused deportation to Turkey, was hauled from his seat kicked and punched on the body by a large group of Israelis.

During the many hours we were forced to sit in the one spot there without moving, our consular staff were kept outside and never allowed access to any of us. At the airport too I saw many of the injured and wounded forced to make their own way to the planes the Turkish government had sent to fly us out. Unless they couldn’t physically walk, the wounded had to struggle unaided to the aircraft, some carrying drip and drainage bags and with bloody dressings that looked as thought they had not be changed that often.

Now all I have to do is draw up a list of all the things the Israelis took from me as I left with only the clothes I wore when we were arrested. Through our embassy I’ll try to get my possessions back.

If I’d had the chance I would have gone straight back and joined the crew on the Rachel Corrie, the next ship that was going to try and get into Gaza. The behaviour of the Israelis has only made us all the more determined to carry on helping with the Palestinian cause. If this is the level of random violence and humiliation internationals received, can you imagine what they do to the Palestinians?

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