Kidnapped by Israel, forsaken by Britain, Jamal Elshayyal, 6 June 2010
See also: Ken O’Keefe: ‘We, the defenders of the Mavi Marmara, are the modern example of Gandhi’s essence’, Pulsemedia, 6 June
Challenger I passengers: Commandos shot first, Maan News Agency, 8 June
Turkish doctor who treated soldiers…, Ynet 10 June 2010
And see earlier posting: What actually happened – and Israeli manipulation of the evidence
Kidnapped by Israel, forsaken by Britain, Jamal Elshayyal, 6 June 2010
Al Jazeera producer Jamal Elshayyal recalls the Israeli assault on the Gaza aid convoy.
Firstly I must apologise for taking so long to update my blog. The events of the past few days have been hectic to say the least, and I am still trying to come to grips with many of the things that have happened.
It was this time last week that I was on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, and first spotted Israeli warships at a distance, as they approached the humanitarian flotilla. Little did I know how deadly and bloody the events that soon unfolded would be.
What I will write in this entry is fact, every letter of it, none of it is opinion, none of it is analysis, I will leave that to you, the reader.
After spotting the warships at a distance, (at roughly 11pm) the organisers called for passengers to wear their life vests and remain indoors as they monitored the situation. The naval warships together with helicopters remained at a distance for several hours.
At 2am local time the organisers informed me that they had re-routed the ship, as far away from Israel as possible, as deep into international waters as they could. They did not want a confrontation with the Israeli military, at least not by night.
Just after 4am local time, the Israeli military attacked the ship, in international waters. It was an unprovoked attack. Tear gas was used, sound grenades were launched, and rubber coated steel bullets were fired from almost every direction.
Dozens of speed boats carrying about 15-20 masked Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth surrounded the Mavi Marmara which was carrying 600 or so unarmed civilians. Two helicopters at a time hovered above the vessel. Commandos on board the choppers joined the firing, using live ammunition, before any of the soldiers had descended onto the ship.
Two unarmed civilians were killed just metres away from me. Dozens of unarmed civilians were injured right before my eyes.
One Israeli soldier, armed with a large automatic gun and a side pistol, was overpowered by several passengers. They disarmed him. They did not use his weapons or fire them; instead they threw his weapons over board and into the sea.
After what seemed at the time as roughly 30 minutes, passengers on board the ship raised a white flag. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. The ships organisers made a loud speaker announcement saying they have surrendered the ship. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition.
I was the last person to leave the top deck.
Below, inside the sleeping quarters, all the passengers had gathered. There was shock, anger, fear, hurt, chaos.
Doctors ran in all directions trying to treat the wounded, blood was on the floor, tears ran down people’s faces, cries of pain and mourning could be heard everywhere. Death was in the air.
Three critically injured civilians were being treated on the ground in the reception area of the ship. Their clothes soaked in blood. Passengers stood by watching in shock, some read out verses of the Qur’an to calm them, doctors worked desperately to save them.
Several announcements were made on the load speakers in Hebrew, Arabic and English – “This is a message to the Israeli army, we have surrendered. We are unarmed. We have critically injured people. Please come and take them. We will not attack.”
There was no response.
One of the passengers, a member of the Israeli Parliament, wrote a sign in Hebrew, reading the exact same thing; she held it together with a white flag and approached the windows where the Israeli soldiers were standing outside. They pointed their laser guided guns to her head, ordering her to go away.
A British citizen tried the same sign – this time holding a British Flag and taking the sign to a different set of windows and different set of soldiers. They responded in the same manner.
Three hours later, all three of the injured were pronounced dead. The Israeli soldiers who refused to allow them treatment succeeded where their colleagues had earlier failed when they targeted these three men with bullets.
At around 8am the Israeli army entered the sleeping quarters. They handcuffed the passengers. I was thrown onto the ground, my hands tied behind my back, I couldn’t move an inch.
I was taken to the top deck where the other passengers were, forced to sit on my knees under the burning sun.
One passenger had his hands tied so tight his wrists were all sorts of colours. When he requested that the cuffs be loosened, an Israeli soldier tightened them even more. He let out a scream that sent chills down my body.
I requested to go to the bathroom, I was prevented. Instead the Israeli soldier told me to urinate where I was and in my own clothes. Three or four hours later I was allowed to go.
I was then marched, together with the other passengers, back to the sleeping quarters. The place was ransacked, its image like that of the aftermath of an earthquake.
I remained on the ship, seated, without any food or drink, barring three sips of water, for more than 24 hours. Throughout this time, Israeli soldiers had their guns pointed at us. Their hands on the trigger. For more than 24 hours.
I was then taken off the ship at Ashdod where I was asked to sign a deportation orde. It claimed that I had entered Israel illegally and agreed to be deported. I told the officer that I, in fact, had not entered Israel but that the Israeli army had kidnapped me from international waters and brought me to Israel against my will; therefore I could not sign this document.
My passport was taken from me. I was told that I would go to jail.
Only then were my hands freed, I spent more than 24 hours with my hands cuffed behind my back, with nothing to eat, and barely anything to drink.
Upon arrival at the prison I was put in a cell with three other passengers. The cell was roughly 12ft by 9ft.
I spent more than 24 hours in jail. I was not allowed to make a single phone call.
The British consulate did not come and see me. I did not see a lawyer.
There was no hot water for a shower.
The only meal was frozen bread and some potatoes.
The only reason I believe I was released was because the Turkish prisoners refused to leave until and unless the other nationalities (those whose consulates had not come and released them) were set free.
I was taken to Ben Gurion airport. When I asked for my passport, the Israeli official presented me with a piece of paper and said “congratulations this is your new passport”. I replied “you must be joking, you have my passport”. The Israeli official’s response: “sue me”.
There I was asked again to sign a deportation order. Again I refused.
I was put on a plane headed to Istanbul.
Masked Israeli soldiers and commandos took me from international waters
Uniformed Israeli officials locked me behind bars
The British government did not lift a finger to help me, till this day I have not seen or heard from a British official
The Israeli government stole my passport
The Israeli government stole my lap top, two cameras, 3 phones, $1500 and all my possessions
My government, the British government has not even acknowledged my existence
I was kidnapped by Israel. I was forsaken by my country.
Ken O’Keefe, former US Marine, Gulf War veteran, and now survivor of the Mavi Marmara massacre, has issued a remarkable and searing statement from Istanbul. “While in Israeli custody I, along with everyone else, was subjected to endless abuse and flagrant acts of disrespect. Women and elderly were physically and mentally assaulted. Access to food and water and toilets was denied. Dogs were used against us, we ourselves were treated like dogs. We were exposed to direct sun in stress positions while hand cuffed to the point of losing circulation of blood in our hands. We were lied to incessantly, in fact I am awed at the routineness and comfort in their ability to lie, it is remarkable really. We were abused in just about every way imaginable and I myself was beaten and choked to the point of blacking out… and I was beaten again while in my cell.
In all this what I saw more than anything else were cowards… and yet I also see my brothers. Because no matter how vile and wrong the Israeli agents and government are, they are still my brothers and sisters and for now I only have pity for them. Because they are relinquishing the most precious thing a human being has, their humanity.“
O’Keefe was a human shield in Iraq who formally renounced his US citizenship in protest in 2001; he now has Irish as well as Palestinian citizenship. On the morning of the attack, as he describes it, he was “directly involved in the disarming of two Israeli Commandos. This was a forcible, non-negotiable, separation of weapons from commandos who had already murdered two brothers that I had seen that day.” Subsequently brutalised by the Israeli military, he is defiant: “I challenge any critic of merit, publicly, to debate me on a large stage over our actions that day. I would especially love to debate with any Israeli leader who accuses us of wrongdoing, it would be my tremendous pleasure to face off with you. All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns, so I am ripe to see you in a new context“.
In another context — one that does not involve Israel — O’Keefe’s valor would likely be recognized and rewarded by the country whose military he served and whose citizenship he has relinquished. Yet he will be a hero to millions around the world.
Read O’Keefe’s statement in full below.
I have for many years understood that we, people of conscience, are the true holders of power in this world. Frustratingly however we have largely relinquished that power and failed to reach our full potential. Our potential to create a better world, a just world. Nonetheless I have conspired with others of like mind to reveal and exercise our true power. In 2002 I initiated the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq because I knew that the invasion of Iraq had been planned well in advance, that it was part of a ‘Global Spectrum Dominance’ agenda as laid out by the Project For A New American Century.
I knew that protests had no chance of stopping the invasion, and that largely these protests were just a way of making us feel better about the coming mass murder; by being able to say I protested against it. With that understanding I argued that the only viable way to stop the invasion was to conduct a mass migration to Iraq. A migration in which people from around the world, especially western citizens, would position themselves at sites in Iraq that are supposed to be protected by international law, but which are routinely bombed when it is only Iraqi, Palestinian, generally non-white, western lives who will be killed. I felt 10,000 such people could stop the invasion, or at the very least, expose the invasion for what it was from the start, an act of international aggression, a war crime and a crime against humanity.
When our two double-decker buses travelled from London to Baghdad through Turkey, it was ever clear that the people of Turkey also could sense the power of this act, and they were the biggest participants in it. In the end we did not get the numbers required to stop the war, with at least one million Iraqi’s dead as a result, but I remain convinced that it was within our power to prevent the invasion. A massive opportunity lost as far as I am concerned.
In 2007 I joined the Free Gaza Movement with its plan to challenge the blockade of Gaza by travelling to Gaza by sea. From the moment I heard of the plan I knew it could succeed and ultimately I served as a captain on the first attempt. The Israeli government said throughout our preparation that we were no better than pirates and they would treat us as such. They made clear we would not reach Gaza. And still I knew we could succeed. And we did. Two boats with 46 passengers from various countries managed to sail into Gaza on August 23, 2010; this was the first time this had been done in 41 years. The truth is the blockade of Gaza is far more than three years old, and yet we, a small group of conscientious people defied the Israeli machine and celebrated with tens of thousands of Gazans when we arrived that day. We proved that it could be done. We proved that an intelligent plan, with skilled manipulation of the media, could render the full might of the Israeli Navy useless. And I knew then that this was only the tip of the iceberg.
So participating in the Freedom Flotilla is like a family reunion to me. It is my long lost family whose conscience is their guide, who have shed the fear, who act with humanity. But I was especially proud to join IHH and the Turkish elements of the flotilla. I deeply admire the strength and character of the Turkish people, despite your history having stains of injustice, like every nation, you are today from citizen to Prime Minister among the leaders in the cause of humanity and justice.
I remember being asked during the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq if I was a pacifist, I responded with a quote from Gandhi by saying I am not a passive anything. To the contrary I believe in action, and I also believe in self-defence, 100%, without reservation. I would be incapable of standing by while a tyrant murders my family, and the attack on the Mavi Marmara was like an attack on my Palestinian family. I am proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with those who refused to let a rogue Israeli military exert their will without a fight. And yes, we fought.
When I was asked, in the event of an Israeli attack on the Mavi Mamara, would I use the camera, or would I defend the ship? I enthusiastically committed to defence of the ship. Although I am also a huge supporter of non-violence, in fact I believe non-violence must always be the first option. Nonetheless I joined the defence of the Mavi Mamara understanding that violence could be used against us and that we may very well be compelled to use violence in self-defence.
I said this straight to Israeli agents, probably of Mossad or Shin Bet, and I say it again now, on the morning of the attack I was directly involved in the disarming of two Israeli Commandos. This was a forcible, non-negotiable, separation of weapons from commandos who had already murdered two brothers that I had seen that day. One brother with a bullet entering dead center in his forehead, in what appeared to be an execution. I knew the commandos were murdering when I removed a 9mm pistol from one of them. I had that gun in my hands and as an ex-US Marine with training in the use of guns it was completely within my power to use that gun on the commando who may have been the murderer of one of my brothers. But that is not what I, nor any other defender of the ship did. I took that weapon away, removed the bullets, proper lead bullets, separated them from the weapon and hid the gun. I did this in the hopes that we would repel the attack and submit this weapon as evidence in a criminal trial against Israeli authorities for mass murder.
I also helped to physically separate one commando from his assault rifle, which another brother apparently threw into the sea. I and hundreds of others know the truth that makes a mockery of the brave and moral Israeli military. We had in our full possession, three completely disarmed and helpless commandos. These boys were at our mercy, they were out of reach of their fellow murderers, inside the ship and surrounded by 100 or more men. I looked into the eyes of all three of these boys and I can tell you they had the fear of God in them. They looked at us as if we were them, and I have no doubt they did not believe there was any way they would survive that day. They looked like frightened children in the face of an abusive father.
But they did not face an enemy as ruthless as they. Instead the woman provided basic first aid, and ultimately they were released, battered and bruised for sure, but alive. Able to live another day. Able to feel the sun over head and the embrace of loved ones. Unlike those they murdered. Despite mourning the loss of our brothers, feeling rage towards these boys, we let them go. The Israeli prostitutes of propaganda can spew all of their disgusting bile all they wish, the commandos are the murderers, we are the defenders, and yet we fought. We fought not just for our lives, not just for our cargo, not just for the people of Palestine, we fought in the name of justice and humanity. We were right to do so, in every way.
While in Israeli custody I, along with everyone else was subjected to endless abuse and flagrant acts of disrespect. Women and elderly were physically and mentally assaulted. Access to food and water and toilets was denied. Dogs were used against us, we ourselves were treated like dogs. We were exposed to direct sun in stress positions while hand cuffed to the point of losing circulation of blood in our hands. We were lied to incessantly, in fact I am awed at the routineness and comfort in their ability to lie, it is remarkable really. We were abused in just about every way imaginable and I myself was beaten and choked to the point of blacking out… and I was beaten again while in my cell.
In all this what I saw more than anything else were cowards… and yet I also see my brothers. Because no matter how vile and wrong the Israeli agents and government are, they are still my brothers and sisters and for now I only have pity for them. Because they are relinquishing the most precious thing a human being has, their humanity.
In conclusion; I would like to challenge every endorser of Gandhi, every person who thinks they understand him, who acknowledges him as one of the great souls of our time (which is just about every western leader), I challenge you in the form of a question. Please explain how we, the defenders of the Mavi Marmara, are not the modern example of Gandhi’s essence? But first read the words of Gandhi himself.
I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. – Gandhi
And lastly I have one more challenge. I challenge any critic of merit, publicly, to debate me on a large stage over our actions that day. I would especially love to debate with any Israeli leader who accuses us of wrongdoing, it would be my tremendous pleasure to face off with you. All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns, so I am ripe to see you in a new context. I want to debate with you on the largest stage possible. Take that as an open challenge and let us see just how brave Israeli leaders are.
Mya Guarnieri, updated 08/06/2010
Tel Aviv – Ma’an – Alex Harrison, a British activist who participated in the Freedom Flotilla, was on the neighboring Challenger I when the Israeli army overtook the Mavi Marmara, leaving at least nine activists dead and dozens injured.
An eyewitness to the takeover, Harrison told Ma’an what she saw in the moments before the Israeli army boarded the Mavi Marmara.
“I was on the Challenger I, on the upper deck,” Harrison said. “We were very close to the Marmara. We actually thought [the Israeli navy] was coming for us first.”
The Israeli army released edited video footage showing soldiers being beaten by passengers on the Mavi Marmara. The army’s footage depicts soldiers dropping down from helicopters into a crowd of passengers armed with sticks and chairs. The scene was quickly described by Israeli media as a “lynching,” with some saying the armed commandos were “lured into a trap.”
Testimonials from the passengers abroad the Marmara, however, speak to a gap in the army’s footage of crucial moments ahead of the arrival of the commandos on board the ship. Those on board say the missing footage would go a long way to showing the world the wider context of the violence.
Harrison, from her vantage point on the Challenger I, said soldiers first attempted to board the Marmara using two speedboats, each containing about a dozen armed commandos. She said passengers on the Marmara resisted the on-sea takeover using a water hose.
A helicopter had been flying around the flotilla for several hours before it acted, Harrison recalled, saying it drew closer to the Marmara after the successful repulsion of the Israeli boats.
As the helicopter neared the Marmara, she said, the boat appeared to be hit with sound bombs and bullets. Harrison said she could not be sure whether what she saw and heard was the use of live ammunition or rubber-coated bullets.
“The firing came from the helicopter… [it] began before the soldiers hit the deck,” Harrison described, noting specifically that some soldiers were shooting as they descended from the helicopter.
Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American activist and chair of the Free Gaza Movement, was also on the Challenger I.
“In the lead up, through the night, we had someone on watch at the top of the boat the whole time. When we got the word that vessels were approaching, we put our life vests on and went outside,” Arraf says.
Footage broadcast from the Marmara shortly before the attack showed passengers aboard the ship had taken similar action, passing out life vests when Israeli naval ships made contact.
“At the time of the attack, we were side by side … we were to the left of the Marmara, very close to it.”
From that vantage point, she said, “I was able to see the beginning of the attack on the Marmara. I heard some explosions, sound bombs,” Arraf says. “Then there was a helicopter overhead.”
Shooting began before the soldiers were on the boat, Arraf said, explaining that like Harrison, she was unsure as to whether the ammunition was live or rubber-coated bullets.
“They attacked first in international waters and they opened fire on what they knew was an unarmed ship,” Arraf said. “The people who did fight back were justified in defending themselves against an illegal raid.”
Both Harrison and Arraf emphasized that while there were no deaths aboard the Challenger I, the Israeli takeover of their boat was no less violent.
Rather than sticks, passengers used their bodies to halt the Israeli commandos attempting to overtake the ship. “We put our hands out and we told them ‘This is an American vessel, we are unarmed,'” Arraf recalls. She said Israeli soldiers threw sound bombs and used tasers on passengers even before they had boarded the Challenger I, using force from their entry points on the sides of the boat.
Once they were on, they “beat their way through” the crowd of activists who were attempting to stymie the takeover using their bodies as stumbling blocks.
“We locked the door of the boat to the main body of the boat,” Arraf says. “They beat people out of the way and used their boots to kick through the glass [door].”
In hopes of defending the captain, who was on the upper deck, Arraf said she scrambled up a ladder. “Soldiers grabbed me, pulled me down, and bashed my head into the deck.” A soldier “pressed my head onto the deck,” using his boot, she said.
Arraf was “dragged to the front of the boat and pinned down … They put a sack over my head,” she and confiscated her mobile phone. Her camera had already been taken, she added.
Harrison described activists on the Challenger I as “resisting with their bodies.” As she attempted to block the commandos, she said she was “grabbed, pushed to the ground, thrown down the stairs, and pushed into the salon.” There, she was “made to sit on the floor, which was covered in broken glass.”
“They just showed no humanity at all,” she added.
Despite the physical injuries, both women said they were determined to persist in their attempts to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
“Israel should be under no illusion that the violence they have used will be a deterrence,” Arraf said. “More people are contacting us and talking about getting involved.”
Harrison simply remarked, “I’ll be on the next boat.”
Dr. Hasan Huseyin Uysal treats three commando soldiers wounded during raid on Mavi Marmara. In interview with New York Times, he claims soldiers’ wounds were superficial and fact that he treated them diligently proves that flotilla passengers had no plans to kill
Israeli and Turkish accounts of what happened on the Mavi Marmara continue to clash. Turkish doctor, Dr. Hasan Huseyin Uysal, recounts in an interview with the New York Times how he treated three Israeli commandos wounded during their take over of the Mavi Marmara that was part of the international flotilla that sought to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Ali Abunimah, founder of the pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, argued in a post that photos documenting the medical treatment provide the IDF soldiers proves that the activists who took part in the flotilla did not plan on killing the soldiers, as Israel has claimed.
Dr. Uysal denied in the interview that the activists sought to harm the soldiers, and claimed that they only sustained superficial wounds from the clashes. “If people on board were so eager to hurt them, why would they not just shoot them to death once they had taken their guns? Why bother carting them inside for treatment? It just doesn’t add up,” he said.
The Turkish doctor said that he treated the Israelis’ wounds as the bodies of the activists they killed lay beside him.
“I had our dead bodies and injured people lying in front of me and I was treating the soldiers that actually killed and wounded them. None of our friends in the center approached to harm or hurt them. Our injured people were lying on the ground, but I rested the soldiers on our chairs,” he said.
Dr. Uysal explained, “None of the soldiers had any fatal wounds that would cause organ loss or defects. There were scratches on their faces, but since facial skin is sensitive and very likely to bleed in any trauma, there was blood on their faces – which I cleaned carefully to see what kind of injuries they had. In the end, they happened to be only scratches.”
‘We didn’t even have stitching equipment’
Nonetheless, the Turkish doctor admitted that one of the soldiers sustained a slightly more serious injury.
“The third soldier, however, suffered a cut in his stomach that reached his stomach membrane but not the organ itself. It was nothing fatal. As a doctor, I wouldn’t want to guess the nature of this injury but it could have been caused by either landing on a sharp pole from the helicopter or a blow from a pipe with a sharp edge. I couldn’t tell,” he recounted.
“In either case, it was not fatal but it had to be stitched. However, since we did not ever expect such a confrontation, we had not brought any stitching equipment on board. All we had was simple medical material to dress simple wounds, or drops to ease burning in case tear gas was used. If I had stitching material with me, although I am an eye doctor, I would have treated the boy properly in accordance with my general medical knowledge. I couldn’t.”
Dr. Uysal said that the tried to calm the soldiers, who seemed “very startled and very scared.”
He said that he tried to explain to the soldiers in his broken English that he was a doctor and did not wish to harm them. He said that he and his shipmates “could have left them to their fate, but this is not the humanity that we act with.”
“We asked photographers not to film in the medical center and I have no idea how and when that picture was taken but God never leaves good deeds unheard. That picture shows the difference between the Israelis and us,” he said.
Survivors of Israel’s deadly assault on the Marvi Marmara and other ships gave their chilling, first-hand accounts of the raid to a packed rally in London on Wednesday (9 June).
They described how they saw their friends shot in the head by commandoes in helicopters, cradled the dying in their arms, pleaded with Israeli soldiers to help the injured, and repeatedly saw their attempts to surrender met with more lethal violence.
Some were used as human shields by the Israelis, while others struggled to prevent IDF dogs from biting the dead. The 400-strong audience also heard from a female survivor on one of the smaller ships in the flotilla, who described how the mostly female members of the boat were shot at close range with rubber bullets, assaulted with stun guns and forced to lie face-down on the deck in broken glass, with two women being forcibly hooded.
Details of continued abuse, humiliation and inhuman treatment en route to, and in, Ber Sheeva prison were also recounted.
What emerged was a picture, not just of planned, systematic brutality and deadly force, but also of casual and random cruelty by the Israelis against an unarmed, peaceful group of volunteers attempting to take aid to Gaza. Unbowed and undeterred, the brave survivors who spoke out on Wednesday urged everyone to step up their efforts to end the siege on Gaza, and join the struggle for justice for the Palestinian people.
The rally, which was organised by PSC, also heard from Daniel Machover, of Palestinian Lawyers for Human Rights, on the illegality of the attack, and from George Galloway about the next convoy.