Controversial Gaza flotilla
Madam, – Imagine it is still and dark and you are on a small motor cruiser with 16 other people somewhere in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. You are part of a six-ship unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla that has repeatedly stressed its peaceful intent. Suddenly, from the darkness of early morning and without warning, fast black assault boats appear on all sides and begin to speed towards the ships in the flotilla.
A helicopter appears over the largest ship – the Mavi Marmara– which is close by on the starboard side. You see explosions and flashes as the big ship is attacked and muffled sounds like gunfire are heard.
Imagine that when they eventually catch up with your boat, the attackers hurl a stun grenade directly at you as you move to close a rear door, shoot a fellow passenger in the face with a plastic bullet and taser an Australian photojournalist, before putting even a boot on the boat.
Imagine your boat is then rapidly stormed by up to 20 masked and heavily armed commandos, using extreme violence to assert control. You are stomped on as they enter the saloon area and a rifle is pointed directly into your face by an agitated commando who screams that he will shoot you unless you move a few inches.
Imagine that following the armed takeover of the boat, you are all held at gunpoint, threatened with violence and allowed very restricted access to toilet facilities for many hours (causing one 80-year-old passenger to soil himself), as your hijacked vessel is brought, against your expressed will, to a state – Israel – that you never intended visiting. Imagine that on being dragged ashore in Israel, you are charged with “entering the country illegally” and then driven to a prison many kilometres away where you are denied contact with the outside world.
These were some of my experiences on May 31st last year after the Freedom Flotilla came under sudden attack from Israeli forces. Four Irish citizens – including a journalist – were on Challenger 1at the time of the raid.
Try to imagine these scenes and then consider what it must feel like to read the recent article (Opinion, June 1st) by the Israeli deputy ambassador to Ireland, Ruth Zakh, in which she baldly states, “no violence of any kind ensued” on five of the six ships during the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla last year.
This is not the first time that this lie – and it is an egregious lie – has been uttered by Israeli spokespeople, who have been at pains to claim a spurious distinction between the Mavi Marmaraand its passengers and those of us on the other ships. According to Ms Zakh, our nine colleagues, who were murdered in international waters during an unprovoked raid by Israeli forces, were associated with IHH, “an Istanbul-based terrorist organisation”. First, let us be clear: IHH is a perfectly legal Islamic humanitarian organisation based in Turkey and not a “terrorist” body.
Second, our colleagues who died – and all of those on the Turkish ship – had signed up to the ethos of the flotilla, which aimed to break the siege of Gaza with non-violent methods. They were human rights activists not “terrorists” and it is an outrage that their good names should be blackened in this way.
In addition, no weapons were found on any of our six ships. The only guns and grenades were those brought on board by Israeli solidiers, the only shots fired were fired by Israeli troops, the only people who died were those who fell to Israeli bullets during their unprovoked attack.
And yet Israeli spokespeople have the temerity to accuse the flotilla of violence and provocation.
We sail again at the end of June and our objectives remain the same – to non-violently break the siege of Gaza and to deliver much-needed materials that are banned or heavily restricted by Israel to the ordinary people there.
I urge Israel to pause and reflect on the outcome of its violent intervention last year. Nine human beings are dead and Israel achieved nothing. Let us hope that this time commonsense and humanity prevail. – Yours, etc,