Polish-British journalist and human rights activists, a memeber of the Free Gaza Movement, Ewa Jasiewicz was detained after Israeli commandos attacked the Freedom Flotilla on its way to Gaza.
Almost two weeks ago, Israeli Navy attacked a convoy of six ships carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza, killing nine and wounding around twenty pro-Palestinian activists.
Among the human rights activists in the convoy was a Polish-British journalist, a memeber of the Free Gaza Movement, Ewa Jasiewicz. She was briefly detained after the Israeli raid.
She is now in Poland and interviewing her for News from Poland, Michal Kubicki asked her first about the goal of their action.
- By Graham Huband
- Published in the Courier : 07.06.10
- Published online : 07.06.10 @ 12.32pm
Ali El-Awaisi (front, centre) back with his very relieved family in Dundee, while (below) brother Khalid protests in Dundee against the attack.
Ali El-Awaisi arrived back in his home city on Sunday night, a week after being caught up in the attack on the Mavi Marmara ship.
At least nine people died and others were injured when government forces boarded the vessel as a flotilla of ships attempted to break the blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid.
Safely back home in Rankine Street, 21-year-old Ali — who was arrested and put in jail by Israeli authorities before being deported — said the confrontation had been the most horrendous experience of his life.
He said troops used gas and flash bombs to overwhelm them before embarking on their shooting spree.
Ali told The Courier,
“It was the early hours of the morning and we were just finishing morning prayer when, with no advance warning at all, we started getting shot at.
“When the first person was killed we started to wave a white flag but they kept on shooting.”
“We didn’t think they would be shooting live ammunition at us but within five minutes there were four people dead and 20 people injured.
“I was just trying to help the injured people. It was terrible — there was blood dripping down the walls. People were getting shot in front of me in their chests and legs.
“One guy had nothing but a camera in his hand but they pointed the laser (sighting from a gun) at him and bang, he was shot.”
Ali said he thought his own life was about to end when another soldier lifted his rifle and trained his laser sights on his face.
Fortunately, he did not pull the trigger and Ali continued his frantic efforts to help the wounded — some of whom bled to death in front of him. Ali said,
“It was a complete nightmare — it was something absolutely traumatic. It was cold-blooded bloodshed. It was a complete and utter massacre.
“We didn’t have any weapons. We didn’t have anything to defend ourselves with.”
He added, “I am a victim of many crimes — I witnessed murder, I was a victim of kidnapping and I was the victim of attempted murder when the laser was pointed at me.
“I am also the victim of theft as they stole all of my money, my clothes, everything.”
Ali — who said he was mentally and physically abused while in custody following the ship’s seizure — said his experience had strengthened his resolve and he vowed to return to the region to do whatever he could to help its people.
He said, “Even though they put me through what they put me through, I have not completed my mission.
“I set off from Dundee to deliver the aid collected from Dundee and Tayside from people who are against inhumane action and against orphans dying of starvation.
“My mission was to go and deliver that aid to Gaza and I will not stop with this until the siege is broken.”
Ali was eventually placed on a flight from Tel Aviv to Turkey, the home of several of the activists who died in the onslaught. He finally flew home to Scotland on Sunday and was greeted by family and friends at Glasgow Airport.
Brother Khalid spent much of the last week desperately trying to find out if Ali was safe and then arranging for his younger sibling’s homecoming.
He said, “We are just delighted Ali is back home. He has done a wonderful job and in going through this he has seen what Palestinians go through every day.
“I am glad he is back but both me and my other brother have said we are going with him on the next ship.”
The MV Rachel Corrie — which is carrying almost £30,000 of aid for Gaza donated by the people of Dundee among its hundreds of tonnes of cargo — was stopped from entering Gaza at the weekend and has now docked at Ashdod in Israel.
The operation was carried out peacefully after the ship’s crew refused an offer from the Israeli authorities to unload its cargo on land and accompany it over the border into Gaza.
Postal worker Theresa McDermott (43), from Edinburgh, was on the Challenger, one of the boats in the convoy.
She returned to Scotland on Friday and said in Glasgow on Sunday, “We only had a small taste of what the Palestinians have to go through on a daily basis.”
She added, “I think us normal people have to keep reaching out to the normal people of Palestine.
“If we don’t, these people just feel abandoned, forgotten and hopeless.”
Another Scot, 25-year-old journalist Hassan Ghani, from Glasgow, is due to return home next week.
8:45am Wednesday 9th June 2010
- Tauqir Sharif
A SURVIVOR of the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza has spoken of the “horrific” events he witnessed, as he tries to adjust to life back home in Chingford.
Tauqir Sharif, of Warwick Road, was on board the lead Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara in the Mediterranean sea when it was boarded by troops in an assault which led to the deaths of nine men.
The convoy of boats, carrying medical supplies, food and toys, was trying to break an Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza strip, which has been in force ever since Hamas won elections there in 2007.
The 23-year-old returned home to England at the weekend after being held in an Israeli prison for two days.
He said: “I’m disappointed that the aid never got to Gaza, because that was the sole point of the trip, despite the media attention. It wasn’t about shaming the Israeli Government – they do that for themselves.
“I’m still taking everything in. I’ve learnt so much about myself I can’t even begin to describe it.
“I’ve seen things – I’ve seen dead bodies and very badly injured people. I’m not sure what effect it’s had on me, it’s all still sinking in and I get flashbacks.
“But I do know that it has made me more determined and I want to go back to Gaza as soon as possible. I don’t want to stop there, I want to train as a paramedic and go to places like the Sudan and Haiti.”
Mr Sharif survived the raid with only minor injuries.
“When it began a group of us were on the middle deck praying. Someone shouted ‘they’re coming’ and then they started shooting at us and coming on board.
“During it most people were just trying to hide, but there was resistance. I had a camera and I was trying to film as much as I could. But the Israelis took it along with my laptop and everything else so I’ve lost the footage.
“I was very, very lucky because another guy on the boat who was filming got shot in the head.
“I don’t know how anyone could say that we attacked first. They were the ones carrying guns and they were the ones that were boarding the ship.
“It was horrific. I saw the body of man who had been shot and half his head was hanging off.
“We managed to get some of the injured into a room and then the troops surrounded us and made us come out one by one.”
One of those killed, 60-year-old Ibrahim Bilgen, had become a close friend of Mr Sharif in Turkey as they prepared to set off for Gaza. He was shot four times in the head.
Mr Sharif said: “He was like a grandfather I never had. Before we set off I visited his home and family in Turkey, we went fishing together.
“It was very upsetting.”
He added: “Whatever scratches, cuts and bruises I have it is nothing to what the Palestinian people have to go through on a regular basis.
“While there were nine people killed and it got a lot of attention around the world, Palestinians get shot and killed by the Israeli troops on an almost daily basis and it doesn’t get coverage. Only the other day four were shot dead by a beach.”
Israel has rejected UN calls for an independent investigation into what happened, saying it will carry out a probe itself.
Mohammed Abid Mahi, 31, from Walthamstow, was also on board and has now returned home. He has been reluctant to speak publicly about what he witnessed.
The Guardian understands his pregnant wife went into labour just days after the raid happened.
06 June 2010, Sunday
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.
By Mahtab Bashir
ISLAMABAD: Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Hazem Hussain Abu Shanab on Monday said that an international resolution is needed to condemn the brutal action of Israeli commandos on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in which nine peace activists were killed and several others wounded. He said the cooperation of OIC, UNO, EU and Arab League was required in this regard.
“I want to convey the voice of millions of Palestinians who become hostage by ruthless Israeli forces,” he said, addressing a joint news conference with Pakistani journalist Syed Talat Hussain who was given welcome reception by National Press Club (NPC).
Extending solidarity on behalf of Palestinian nation, the envoy thanked Pakistani government, journalists and people who anyhow were supporting freedom movement of Palestine.
“Today we are celebrating the freedom of 700 hostages of aid flotilla from the occupation Israeli army. The entire Palestinian nation was waiting of to celebrate their freedom from the occupation of same brutal force,” Shanab said.
The people of Palestine wanted ’freedom’ like people of other sovereign nations were enjoying. We are human beings. We want peace, we love peace and we want only freedom from Israel occupation not aid from international community, he added.
Palestinian Ambassador also announced that following the special directives issued by President Mehmood Abbas, honorary nationality has been awarded to Pakistan journalist Syed Talat Hussain.
Talat Hussain while narrating the ruthless action of Israeli commandos on freedom flotilla said the event was horrific and hostages had to face humiliation they never come across. He rejected the Israeli allegations that all on board were terrorist and said all the 700 passengers on heading towards Palestine were peacekeepers from across the glob. “one can easily judge the miseries of Palestinians that we witnessed for one and half hour” he deplored.
Talat announced that the victims of flotilla aid ships have decided to sue Israel for meting inhuman and barbaric action in the limits of international territory.
“we are ready to produce eye witness accounts to the international courts against the Israeli forces” he said.
The members of National Press Club, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalist (RIUJ) congratulated their fellow journalist Syed Talat Hussain for his firm stance against the Israel’s barbarism and his safe return.
Kevin Neish of Victoria, British Columbia, didn’t know he was a celebrity until he was about to board a flight from Istanbul to Ottawa. “This Arab woman wearing a beautiful outfit suddenly ran up to me crying, ‘It’s you! From Arab TV! You’re famous!’” he recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she told me, ‘I saw you flipping through the Israeli commando’s book! It’s being aired over and over!’”
A soft-spoken teacher and former civilian engineer with the Canadian Department of Defense, Neish realized then that a video taken by an Arab TV cameraman in the midst of the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza of him flipping through a booklet had been transmitted before the Israelis blocked all electronic signals from the flotilla. The booklet had pictures and profiles of all the passengers, and he’d found it in the backpack of an Israeli Defense Force commando.
Neish, 53, was on the second deck of the flotilla’s lead ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, with a good view of the stern, when the IDF, in the early morning darkness of May 31, began its assault with percussion grenades, tear gas and a hail of bullets. He then moved to the fourth deck in an enclosed stairwell, from which he watched and took photographs as casualties were carried down past him to a makeshift medical station. Several IDF commandos, captured by the passengers and crew, were also brought past him.
Kevin Neish, Canadian activist aboard the Mavi Marmara, witnessed the Israeli commando assault
“I saw them carrying this one IDF guy down,” he recalls. “He looked terrified, like he thought he was going to be killed. But when a big Turkish guy, who had seen seriously injured passengers who had been shot by the IDF, charged over and tried to hit the commando, the Turkish aid workers pushed him off and pinned him to the wall. They protected this Israeli soldier.”
That was when he found the backpack which the soldier had dropped. “I figured I’d look inside and see what he was carrying,” Neish says. “And inside was this kind of flip-book. It was full of photos and names in English and Hebrew of who was on all the ships. The booklet also had a detailed diagram of the decks of the Mavi Marmara.”
Meanwhile, he says, more and more people were being carried down the stairs from the mayhem above—people who’d been shot, and people who were dying or people already dead. “I took detailed photos of the dead and wounded with my camera,” he says, adding,
“There were several guys who had two neat bullet holes side by side on the side of their head–clearly they were executed.”
Neish smuggled his photos out of Israel to Turkey despite his arrest on the ship and imprisonment in Israel for several days. “I pulled out the memory card, tossed my camera and anything I had on me that had anything to do with electronics, and then kept moving the chip around so it wouldn’t be found,” he says. “The Israelis took all the cameras and computers. They were smashing some and keeping others. I put the chip in my mouth under my tongue, between my butt cheeks, in my sock, everywhere, to keep them from finding it,” he says. He finally handed it to a Turk who was leaving for a flight home on a Turkish airline. He says the card ended up in the hands of an organization called Free Gaza, and he has seen some of his pictures published, so he knows they made it out successfully.
Neish says that claims that the Israeli commandos were just armed with paint guns and 9 mm pistols are
“Bullshit–at one point when I was in the stairwell, a commando opened a hatch above, stuck in a machine gun, and started firing. Bullets were bouncing all over the place. If the guy had gotten to look in and see where he was shooting, I’d have been dead, but two Turkish guys in the stairwell, who had short lengths of chain with them that they had taken from the access points to the lifeboats, stood to the side of the hatch and whipped them up at the barrell. I don’t know if they were trying to hit the commando or to use them to snatch away the gun, but the Israeli backed off, and they slammed and locked the hatch.”
“I never saw a single paint gun, or a sign of a fired paint ball!”
He also didn’t see any guns in the hands of people who were on the ship.
“In the whole time I was there on the ship, I never saw a single weapon in the hands of the crew or the aid workers,”
Indeed, Neish, who originally had been on a smaller 70-foot yacht called the Challenger II, had transferred to the Mavi Marmara after a stop in Cyprus, because his boat had been sabatoged by Israeli agents (a claim verified by the Israeli government), making it impossible to steer.
“When we came aboard the big boat, I was frisked and my bag was inspected for weapons,” he says. “Being an engineer, I of course had a pocket knife, but they took that and tossed it into the ocean. Nobody was allowed to have any weapons on this voyage. They were very careful about that.”
What he did see during the IDF assault was severe bullet wounds.
“In addition to several people I saw who were killed, I saw several dozen wounded people. There was one older guy who was just propped up against the wall with a huge hole in his chest. He died as I was taking his picture.”
Neish says he saw many of the 9 who were known to have been killed, and of the 40 who were wounded, and adds, “There were many more who were wounded, too, but less seriously. In the Israeli prison, I saw people with knife wounds and broken bones. Some were hiding their injuries so they wouldn’t be taken away from the others.” He also says, “Initially there were reports that 16 on the boat had been killed. The medical station said 16. There was a suspicion that some bodies may have been thrown overboard. But what people think now is that the the other seven who are missing, since we’re not hearing from families, may have been Israeli spies.”
Once the Israeli commandos had secured control of the Mavi Marmara, Neish says the ship’s passengers and crew were rounded up, with the men put in one area on deck, and the women put below in another area. The men were told to squat, and had their hands bound with plastic cuffs, which Neish says were pulled so tight that his wrists were cut and his hands swelled up and turned purple (he is still suffering nerve damage from the experience, which his doctor in Canada says he hopes will gradually repair on its own).
“They told us to be quiet,” he says. “But at one point this Turkish imam stood up and started singing a call to prayer. Everybody was dead quiet–even the Israelis. But after about ten seconds, this Israeli officer stomped over through the squatting people, pulled out his pistol and pointed at the guy’s head, yelling ‘Shut up!’ in English. The imam looked at him directly and just kept singing! I thought, Jesus Christ, he’s gonna kill him! Then I thought, well, this is what I’m here for, I guess, so I stood up. The officer wheeled around and pointed his gun at my head. The imam finished his song and sat down, and then I sat down.”
While the commandeered vessels were sailed to the Israeli port of Ashdot, the captives were left without food or water. “All we were given were some chocolate bars that the Israelis pilfered from the ship’s stores,” says Neish. “You had to grovel to get to go to the bathroom, and many people had to just go in their pants.”
Things didn’t get much better once the passengers were transferred to an Israeli prison. He and the other prisoners with him, who hadn’t eaten for more than half a day, were tossed a frozen block of bread and some cucumbers.
On the second day, someone from the Canadian embassy came around, calling out his name. “It turned out he’d been going to every cell looking for me,” says Neish. “My daughter had been frantically telling the Canadian government I was in the flotilla. Even though the Israelis had my name and knew where I was, they weren’t telling the Canadian embassy people. In fact the Canadians–and my daughter–thought I was dead, because people had said I’d been near the initial assault. The good thing is that as they went around calling out for me, they discovered two Arab-born Canadians that they hadn’t known were there.”
“Eventually they got to my cell and I answered them. The embassy official said, ‘You’re Kevin? You’re supposed to be dead.’”
After being held for a few days, there was a rush to move everyone to the Ben Gurion airport for a flight to Turkey. “It turned out that Israeli lawyers had brought our case to the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of our capture on international waters. There was a chance that the court would order the IDF to put us back on our ships and let us go, so the government wanted to get us out of Israel and moot the case. But two guys were hauled off, probably by Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency). So we all said, ‘No. We don’t go unless you bring them back.’”
The two men were returned and were allowed to leave with the rest of the group.
“I honestly never thought the Israelis would board the ship,” says Neish. “I thought we’d get into Gaza. I mean, I went as part of the Free Gaza Movement, and they had made prior attempts, with some getting in, and some getting boarded or rammed, but this time it was a big flotilla. I figured we’d be stopped, and maybe searched. My boat, the Challenger II, only had dignitaries on board including three German MPs, and then Lt. Col. Ann Wright and myself.
At one point in the Israeli prison, all the violence finally got to this man who had witnessed more death and mayhem than many active duty US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I broke down and started crying,” he admits. “This big Turkish guy came over and asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Sixteen people died.’”
“He said to me, ‘No, they died for a wonderful cause. They’re happy. You just go out and tell your story.’”