For three days as they were held in captivity and unable to speak on their own behalf, Israel presented the massacre against civilian passengers on the Mavi Marmara as self defense against a “lynching.” Now that the passengers are returning to their home nations, the global community is hearing a much different story, not just regarding the incident but also their treatment afterwards once in custody.
Aboard the Mavi Marmara
Brazilian Filmmaker (based in San Francisco)
"(The attack) was a surprise, because it happened in the middle of the night, in the darkness, in international waters, because we knew there would be a confrontation but not in international waters. Their first tactic was to cut all of our satellite communications and then they attacked. All I witnessed first hand was the shooting. They came on board and started shooting at people."
"We expected them to shoot people in the legs, to shoot in the air, just to scare people, but they were direct," "Some of them shot in the passengers' heads. Many people were murdered – it was unimaginable."
Retired German Parliamentarian and Professor
"We had not prepared in any way to fight. We didn't even consider it because we knew very well that we would have absolutely no chance against soldiers like this.”
"The Israeli government justifies the raid because they were attacked. This is absolutely not the case."
"We felt like we were in a war, like we were being kidnapped." "Nobody had a weapon."
“The Israeli claim that its commandos acted in self-defence was ‘ridiculous’".
"It was like war," "They had guns, Taser weapons, some type of teargas and other weaponry, compared to two-and-a-half wooden sticks we had between us. To talk of self-defence is ridiculous."
"The scandal is that we have to fight the Israeli images only with words.," The Israelis confiscated all the activists' cameras, computers, and mobile phones.
“The Israeli forces handcuffed members of the activists' medical team who were sent to help treat the injured. It was terrifying...If you talked they pointed a gun at you."
"We wrote a sign in Hebrew saying, 'SOS! Need medical assistance. People are dying. Urgent' Hanin Zoabi, who’s a Knesset member, an Israeli Knesset member, took that sign to the front—to the back of the boat, where the soldiers were pointing at her. They ordered her to go back."
Minister, Israeli Knesset
“The Israeli navy fired on the ships five minutes before commandos descended from ropes that dangled from helicopters. “
The Israeli-Arab legislator said Israeli forces ignored her when she said that they should treat two gravely injured people, who later bled to death.
Acclaimed Swedish Academic
“People were not allowed to go to the lavatories - they were made to soil their clothes.” Gardel was especially horrified by witnessing the experience of a badly wounded man in his late 50s, who the Israeli troops forced to remain on the open deck. "Suddenly, his right eye exploded in a gush of blood - and a blob of something fell out of it."
Journalist from Al Jazeera
"...as this attack started I was on the top deck and within just a few minutes there were live shots being fired from above the ship from above from where the helicopters were."
"The first shots that were fired were some sort of sound grenades. There was some tear gas that was fired as well as rubber coated steel bullets. They were fired initially and the live bullets came roughly about five minutes after that, after those initial shots were fired."
"There was definitely fire from the air because one of the people who was killed was clearly shot from above. He was...the bullet targeted him at the top of his head. There was also fire coming from the sea as well. Most of the fire initially from the sea was tear gas canisters and sound grenades. But then it became live fire."
"Therr is no doubt from what I saw that live ammunition was fired before any Israeli soldier was on deck."
(From the top deck,) “you could almost see the soldiers pointing their guns down through some sort of hole or compartment at the bottom side of the helicopter, firing almost indiscriminately without even looking where they were firing and those bullets were definitely live bullets."
“There was a Knesset member who approached the Israeli soldiers saying we have injured, she was saying they have injured people, please come and take them. Yet the Israelis refused. Three hours later all three of those people that were injured ended up dying on the spot because no one came to take them."
Kevin Neish, Canada
The initial Israeli Zodiac assault occurred at around 4 am on the outside stern area of deck 2, a few feet from where I was sitting in the #2 aft lounge. A series of loud explosions occurred on the stern, with numerous bright flashes and what appeared to be clouds of tear gas, followed by gunfire (rubber bullets?). I watched aid workers repel the Isrealis with wooden poles and firehoses. I then took my camera and set about to work as a human rights observer in the stairway between decks 2, 3 and 4.
Immediately after I got to the 4th deck stairway lobby, I witnessed two captured Israeli commandos being brought inside the ship. There they were stripped of their ammo belts, knives, helmets and backpacks. Apparently their guns had already been removed while outside. While the first commando was being held on his back, a large enraged passenger attempted to hit him. Aid workers immediately pushed this man aside, protecting the commando. The aid workers then quickly took the Israeli to the 2nd deck for medical treatment. The second commando was rushed directly to the 2nd deck without incident. I only saw minor injuries and bleeding on these commandos.
I retreived a set of plasticized cards from one commando's backpack, which contained photos and names of some of the passengers on the flotilla ships, as well as a set of photos of all the ships with diagrams of their internal passageways.
For the half hour of resistance, I witnessed about 20 dead and wounded aid workers being carried into the ship’s stairway. Two of these bodies had bullet wounds in the side or back of their heads, with other wounds. These two men appeared to me to have been executed after being wounded.
Near the end of the resistance I was on the 4th deck stairway landing, with a dozen or more aid workers, who had just beaten back an Israeli commando who was shooting wildly through the open outside door. At this point the captain came on the PA system to announce that the Israeli’s had seized the bridge and that the ship was not going to Gaza. All the aid workers around me dropped their chains, bars and sticks and walked down to their assembly areas as requested by the captain.
I then passed through the 2nd deck stairway lobby/medical area which was completely covered with dead and wounded, with three men receiving CPR at the same time. I recognised one man, who I had shared tea with earlier, with a large, likely mortal, chest wound. He was alone, simply propped up against a wall, apparently left to die.
Following the Israeli take over of the ship, gunshots continued around the ship for one half hour. During this time a women on the PA system begged the Israelis to stop shooting and to help our wounded. Myself and about 200 men waited for over two hours in aft lounge #2, for the 20 or so Israeli’s on the outer stern area to arrest us. During this time two women repeatedly asked these Israeli soldiers to help our wounded, but they refused. When we were arrested, we were handcuffed very tightly behind our backs and I had my wallets, phone and cash taken from me, and never returned (over $4000). Over 200 men and women were then required to sit outside, on the aft starboard side of deck 3. Anyone who tried to move or to stretch was set upon by Israeli soldiers shouting, pointing guns and waving batons over us.
Of particular note was the moment, after a couple of hours, when an Imam rose and started a call to prayers. After a few seconds an Israeli officer charged through all the crouching bodies on the deck, drew his pistol, aimed it at the Imam’s head from about 15 feet and shouted in English, “Shut Up!”. The Imam looked past the soldier and continued his call to prayers. I felt the soldier was going to shoot him so I rose to my feet. The soldier then swung to his right and pointed the gun at my head from about 15 feet away. After a short while the Imam finished and sat down and I followed him. The soldier did not fire at either of us.
After a few hours the men were then herded into the forward lounge of deck 2. There, approximately 280 men were required to sit 8 to a bench built for 4. Once again any excessive movement or stretching brought forth violent threats from the Israeli soldiers with guns being pointed at us and batons raised over our heads.
We arrived at Ashdod Israel at 6 pm Monday but I was not taken from the ship for immigration processing until 6 am Tuesday. I was among the last of the detainees released from the ship. During my confinement on the ship, the only food offered was a few chocolate bars and sweet cookies. Some water was made available to us. Access to the washroom facilities was extremely limited and I went without bathroom access for the first 15 hours. One would have to repeatedly beg the soldiers in order to be permitted to use the bathroom. If one asked too loudly or persistently then a soldier would pull your plastic handcuffs up extremely tight, to the point of severe pain, swelling, cutting off circulation and feeling. This happened to me three times, for asking for a bathroom break too persistantly and for trying to stand up with other arrestees against threatened beatings. Guns were regularly aimed at us and attack dogs were used to threaten us. The soldiers mocked us constantly and laughed about all the Gazans who were hopelessly waiting for us to arrive.
I saw at least 50 well armed Israeli commandos with machine guns and side arms on our ship and dozens if not hundreds more on ships around us. I did not see any aid worker on our ship with a proper weapon of any sort. The aid workers only resisted with rudimentary tools such as lengths of small chain, wooden poles, broom handles and metal bars, all of which appeared to have come from the hardware of the ship itself.
In Ashdod I immediately started demanding my right to see a lawyer and to contact my embassy (I continued these requests with no effect, until I was deported). I was then taken by police wagon to Beer Sheva prison.
After having no proper food for approximately 40 hours our first prison meal was frozen bread and cucumbers. Drinking water was only supplied sporadicly. All blankets were smelly, rotten and full of fine sand. The prison guards would wake us up every 2 hours all night, such that I ended up not sleeping for 3 days. In the end I lost over 7 kgs of weight during the ordeal.
On Wednesday we were very roughly and threatenly processed by immigration authorities at Ben Gurion airport. I saw blood on the floor from the earlier beating of other aid workers. When I was finally lead onto an airplane, it was only then that I found out I being deported to Turkey.
Fortunately the Turkish government provided this flight to Turkey, accommodation in a fine hotel for several days with three meals a day and finally a flight to Toronto Canada, all at no cost to me. This was very fortunate, as the Israelis had stolen all my money, credit cards and identification. If the Turkish government had not stepped in to assist me, I might have been in an Israeli prison for a long time.
I smuggled out my photos of the captured commandos and dead and wounded aid workers. I left these photos with IHH officials in Istanbol. IHH apparently has allowed the Hurriyet newspaper to publish a few of my photos.
Aboard the Free Mediterranean
Michalis Grigoropoulos (Greek)
“Commandos were already using teargas and firing live ammunition as they hit the deck.”"We did not resist at all, we couldn't even if we had wanted to.” "They then used electroshock weapons on some activists,"
While in custody in Israel, "two Greek activists were beaten up."
Aboard the Challenger I
American, Free Gaza Chair
"They started beating people. My head was smashed against the ground and they stepped on my head. They later cuffed me and put a bag over my head. They did that to everybody."
On custody: “I asked them to at least give (my personal belongings) back to me, and they refused and forced me into a police van, literally, by pulling me up by my hair and my hands and feet and beating me in order to get me into the van. They drove me out of the port, stopped the car at some point—I’m not sure where because I was a little bit disoriented after being punched in the face and the jaw, and then they just opened the door and threw me out of the van.” “I think I must have passed out for a little bit, because the next thing I knew there was a medic taking me into an ambulance. I was taken to a hospital and checked and released just a few hours later.”
“We saw the helicopter come down and we heard the beginnings of the opening of live fire. I didn’t fully take in that they were using live fire. ..but it began to sink in that (that they were using) live fire.”
Referring to her boat "Two women were hooded, they had their eyes taped." The Israelis used rubber bullets, sound bombs and tasers against them."We stood and tried to obstruct the armed, masked men and maintained no other defence and still they used violence."
Fiachra O Luain
Dual American citizenship
I was “brutalized” while in custody in Ben Gurion airport and had bruises all around his body as a result.
“As soon as one of them grabbed me, about 15 or 20 jumped me, kicked me, punched me as soon as I hit the ground,” “They had my arm in stress positions, they tried to break my finger.” He said he feared for his life during his time in custody and at one stage asked to see a Rabbi. “I asked to see a Rabbi and they told me I would only see a Rabbi when they killed me .
“I saw what they did. I was on the bow of the Challenger 1 and there was live gunfire straight away from below and from the helicopters. One of the men was shot in the head. Another man was shot with a bullet right between his eyes at point blank range.”
Dr. Fintan Lane
On treatment during custody: “I would not cooperate with my illegal detention in the processing area in Ashdod - I refused to hand over my passport - so my arm was painfully twisted behind my back for a prolonged period. Ken O’Keefe, the Irish-American passenger, suffered a severe beating at the hands of security officials at Tel Aviv airport before boarding, and his injuries were so bad that he had to be hospitalised; likewise, Fiachra O Luain from Ireland was beaten by a group of 10 to 20 Israeli soldiers.”
“Israelis had used stun guns, tasers, assaulted people with the butt ends of rifles, pushed people to the ground and stood on them.”
There was a screening system and electronic detectors onboard the largest boat in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, to check it passengers for weapons. “Any of the weapons I have seen demonstrated by the Israeli defence forces were typical equipment that you would have on a ship,”
“There was a knife for a galley. They also showed a sledgehammer, which would be on a merchant vessel for anchor cables etc. (Kate) Geraghty, an award-winning photographer, was set upon despite explaining she was an accredited member of the press."She was just doing her journalistic duties. She advised them she was a bona fide photographer. She was just attacked.”
Irish (living in Australia)
The Israeli attack was "pretty full on." ''It (the Taser attack) hurt and it made me feel sick.'
Geraghty had been trying to send out photographs before the boat she was on was taken over
Once the commandos boarded the vessel, one of their first acts was to seize all communication equipment, cameras and memory cards.
Aboard the Sfendoni
Retired Math Teacher (American, Jewish)
Regarding custody: "It was a long ordeal, very uncomfortable.” We “occasionally saw passengers beaten by the Israelis before they were put on the planes.”
Gene St. Onge
American Structural Engineer
“This was not peacefully. I was kicked in the head.... As the commandos jumped on the ship we attempted to protect the wheelhouse and the captain. We were able to crowd the inside of the captain’s quarters. I was unable to because I was trying to protect another part of the boat. By the time I got there I noticed that the captain was being pulled and hit. He sustained rather serious injuries although I guess he’s going to be alright. He had a punctured ear drum, a neck injury and a back injury. In the mean time, as I tried to get in I was thrown on the deck a couple times. One of my new friends, who I made many on this trip, Mehdi, a Libyan Arab living in Europe was hit with the butt end of a rifle, in his right eye. He fell to the deck. He was writhing in pain, trying to get away, but he was continually being kicked. When I saw that, I tried to get to him. I was screaming “Leaving him alone!” I kept getting pushed back. Finally I tried to get over to try to cover him. At that point I was hit with the rifle or something. I was bleeding. And I was restrained with handcuffs.”
Aboard the Sophia
Best-Selling Swedish Novelist
“We saw these black rubber boats coming with masked commando soldiers … they climbed aboard. They were very aggressive … there was an older man in the crew, he was perhaps a little slow and they shot him in the arm with an electric gun which is very, very painful … they shot another man with rubber bullets."
The soldiers checked the boat and one soon returned saying they had found weapons. "I have 24 witnesses to this, he showed me my razor, a one-time use razor, and a box cutter he'd found in the kitchen," “All my possessions were taken. They stole my camera, my telephone … even my socks."
“I think the Israeli military went out to commit murder.” “If they had wanted to stop us they could have attacked our rudder and propeller, instead they preferred to send masked commando soldiers to attack us. This was Israel’s choice to do this.”
Israeli-born Sweden Artist
Feiler said that he had tried to talk with the Israeli soldiers on board the ship but was beaten up.