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Returned Dundee activist Ali El-Awaisi tells of Gaza death fear

  • By Graham Huband
  • Published in the Courier : 07.06.10
  • Published online : 07.06.10 @ 12.32pm

Ali El-Awaisi

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.

Ali El-AwaisiAli with sisters Sara (left) and Alla and brothers Abdallah (left) and Khalid.

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.”

He added,

“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.”

“Massacre”

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.”

El-Awaisi Dundee protest

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.”

Brother’s relief

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.

Mavi Marmara

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.

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online only Gaza Freedom Flotilla eyewitnesses speak out

by Tom Walker

Osama Qashoo told a packed meeting how he carried an injured man,

“By the time I got to the corner of the room, there was a hot material in my hand – I didn’t realise it was the man’s brain.” He hadn’t realised the man was dead.

Osama was one of the eyewitnesses to Israel’s massacre of nine activists taking aid to Gaza who spoke at a 200-strong meeting at London’s Conway Hall last night. He is a filmmaker with the Free Gaza Movement.

He saw how the IDF treated one injured activist.

“His knee was completely shattered. The soldier just took him and dropped him.”

The Israeli soldiers stopped injured people getting the medical help they needed, the witnesses said.

Laura, an activist from north London, said,

“The floor was covered in blood. No-one expected such a vicious attack.”

A trained first aider, she was trying to help people but was forced to stop.

“Three Israeli soldiers pointed their guns at me and said they’d shoot if I didn’t come.

“I asked them to take people to hospital. They wouldn’t.”

Jamal Elshayyal is an al-Jazeera journalist who was on board the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Hanin, the member of the Knesset on board, who speaks Hebrew, announced over the tannoy that there were critically injured people who needed help,” he said.

“At least three critically injured people died who could have been saved.

“They were killed twice – the second time by the failure to come to their aid.”

Jamal exposed Israel’s lies that the IDF had been “provoked” by people on board.

“I checked and filmed every centimetre and there was not one weapon on that ship,”

“I saw one of the Turkish passengers shot in the top of his head from a helicopter. There was not one soldier on the ship when he was killed.

“After I’d seen two killed, the main organiser took off his white top to use as a white flag. Live fire was still used after that.

“There was an announcement in English and Hebrew saying the ship had been surrendered. There was still live fire after that as well.”

Osama said, “Everyone was panicking, running in different directions. Something fell on my head – it was a soldier. He got up and started shooting.

“We managed to disarm him – it was an act of self defence.

“I saw one of the soldiers’ pistols had fallen to the ground. The soldiers got very excited when they saw it. They took their camera and filmed their own pistol, saying they’d found a weapon – it was completely staged.”

One by one, the Israelis captured and cuffed the activists.

“I was forced to the ground and beaten,” said Osama. “I could see their laser spots on me.

“Three of the soldiers sat on me. Every soldier who’d come and go would kick me, or spit on me. They put a plastic bag on my head.

“They twisted our hands, twisted the fingers into each other. I’ve now got no feeling in four of my fingers.

“We had a one-year-old child on board, Akram. They were beating me in front of him and he was crying.”

During the long hours sitting on deck, the captives were denied food, water and toilet rights.

“One of the guys was asking to go to the toilet, and the soldier said, go on yourself, said Osama. “In the end, he did.”

Jamal said, “I was cuffed, thrown to the ground and kicked. My face was slammed against the wall.

“One of the Malaysian activists had his hands tied behind his back so tightly that they were turning all sorts of colours.

“He asked for his hands to be loosened. The third time he asked, an Israeli soldier came over and tightened them. And the scream that came out…” he trailed off.

Bilal Abdul Aziz was on one of the flotilla’s smaller ships. “For 18 hours I was gagged,” he said. “I’ve still got scars from where they tied us with cable ties.

“People were shot with stun guns and beaten with truncheons. Me and many others were tasered.

“We were all in the same boat,” he added, to laughter.

Alex Harrison of the Free Gaza Movement said, “Everyone was pushed to the floor, face down in the broken glass.

“Two of the women were hooded, Guantanamo-style.”

“We could hear the sound of live gunfire around us,” she added.

After a slow journey to the port of Ashdod, the activists were searched and thrown in prison.

“They asked me to lift my shirt up,” said Bilal, “and then all the soldiers standing near me ran away. I was wearing a money belt… I guess they thought it was something else.”

Jamal said, “I asked for a lawyer – I was refused. The British consulate – refused. A phone call – refused.

“That was one of the most difficult times. You don’t know what the world knows about you.

“Throughout my time there I did not see a British official.

“I still don’t have my passport – it’s in the custody of the Israeli government, just months after they used British passports for murder.

Ibrahim, an activist from Gloucester, told how he was interrogated by the Israeli secret services. “The guy started becoming abusive, banging the table,” he told the meeting.

“He said, ‘you see those scars on your hand? This is not the end.’

“Before I left, he said to me, ‘watch out for your life’.”

Alex of the Free Gaza Movement said, “One woman had seen her husband killed, but she was just pulled away from him and thrown into prison with the rest of us.

“Later she was shown a photo of him, then 36 hours dead, and told ‘identify him’.”

As they were deported, she said she saw injured people forced to march to the plane unassisted.

“They were covered in blood,” she said. “They had not even been given a change of clothes or allowed to shower.

“They’d been shot in the tops of their feet – and they weren’t even allowed crutches to get to the aircraft. If someone offered them an arm they were screamed at. They were made to hop.

“The British consul was standing there when I was being deported. I said to him, ‘this is illegal.’ He said, ‘I know, but they do what they do.’”

She added, however, that day to day life was far worse for the people of Palestine.

“What we went through was not even one percent of what the Palestinians go through every day,” she said. “That’s what this is about.

“There is not a natural disaster in Gaza. This is not about aid. This is about their human rights, freedoms and dignity.”

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