THE captain of one of six boats in a flotilla raided by Israeli forces to prevent aid reaching Gaza said commandos roughed up women passengers and humiliated others, in an interview published on Sunday.
“It was traumatic; we were obviously expecting some hassle from the Israelis – but nothing like they dished out,” the 55-year-old Cyprus-based British skipper, Denis Healey, told the Cyprus Mail.
He said about 4am (11.00 AEST) last Monday, as the aid flotilla steamed towards Gaza but while still in international waters, he saw the lights of Israeli patrol boats and helicopters.
He ignored orders to halt and pressed ahead at full speed towards the besieged Palestinian territory.
“We were travelling at around 18 knots, so we managed to hold them off for about 20 minutes; then they sent one of their bigger steel vessels so I thought they were going to ram us or shoot us with the gun on the front,”
“I had to slow down because I was fearful of being rammed, then the commandos boarded – there were no shots fired – but they used a taser on one female Australian journalist then they shot a paintball in the face of a Belgian woman, which made her nose bleed,”
“They were very rough with the female passengers.”
A much larger boat in the Free Gaza Movement flotilla, the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara with about 600 passengers, was being boarded about the same time by commanders who rappelled from helicopters onto the deck.
In the mayhem that followed, nine activists were killed and scores injured including seven navy seals.
Israel says its commandos only resorted to force after being attacked as they reached the deck, but activists claim the soldiers started firing first.
The situation on Healey’s boat was calmer but no less tense.
“The commandos had stun guns, tasers, paint balls, machine guns and they even brought a dog on board – poor thing,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
“The passengers on the lower decks were trying to conduct a non-aggressive defence of the boat by linking arms, but the soldiers just pushed them down and even walked over them.”
Healey was ordered to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod under military escort, before being hauled off the ship, paraded before local television cameras and taken to a makeshift detention centre.
“They lined up their police and marines on the quayside to make a spectacle of us, they had people with cameras. We were then taken into detention, they denied us access to telephones, and they wouldn’t let the British consulate in to see me. They told me nothing – their policy is to say nothing, and when they do, its lies.”
On Friday, he was sent in a police car to Israel’s international airport and put on a plane to Istanbul. From there he flew to Cyprus.
Healey, from Portsmouth, has a longstanding involvement in the Palestinian movement and has captained boats on previous aid journeys to Gaza, including one two years ago in which his boat was rammed by an Israeli gunboat.
“I would do it again,” he said in the interview. “Yes, I think I would – yes.”