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Eyewitness Kevin Ovenden from the Freedom Flotilla: ‘I saw people shot’

4 June 2010

Via Socialist Worker

Kevin Ovenden addresses members of the Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza as Egyptian riot cops surround them in El-Arish. January 2010

Kevin Ovenden addresses members of the Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza as Egyptian riot cops surround them in El-Arish. January 2010

Photo via joti2gaza on FLickr

Kevin Ovenden, a representative of Viva Palestina, was on the main ship of the Freedom Flotilla when Israeli soldiers descended onto the deck – he spoke from Turkey to Siân Ruddick

“We knew the Israelis were going to attack, or intercept us in some way. At 11pm we had the first contact. A visual warning was that two Israeli warships were approaching us, followed by a third.

“We were 90 miles north of the Israeli coast, and 22 miles away from the buffer zone that Israel has set from its shores.

“We had tight organisation procedures in place and people were prepared.

“The captain and the most experienced activists on board said that people should rest. Many people did while others stayed on the look out.

“At 4.25am the attack began. The warship had neared and commandoes were lowering themselves onto the deck from helicopters. There were two motorised dinghies, carrying 14-20 commandoes, on either side of the boat.

“It was clear they were armed – it was the equivalent to an SAS raid. They were all wearing paramilitary style balaclavas.

“The first soldiers landed on the roof of the ship, people responded instinctively with their bare hands and things you would find on a ship – pieces of wood and piping and so on. No sharp objects were used.

“Two soldiers were overpowered and pushed below deck. They were disarmed to prevent further injury or death.

“The attack opened with percussion grenades.

“These don’t just make a noise but send shockwaves of heavy vibration. They were trying to create terror and panic.

“They also used rubber coated bullets in the earlier stage. But very quickly they turned to live rounds and we were taking heavy casualties.

“Niki Enchmarch was on the top deck standing next to a Turkish man who was holding a camera. An Israeli soldier shot him in the middle of the forehead. It blew off the back of his skull and he died.

“I was on the second deck. A man standing a metre in front of me was shot in the leg, the man to the right of me in the abdomen. There was pandemonium and terror.

“The youngest person on the ship was not yet a year old, the eldest 88. The crew included German and Egyptian parliamentarians, NGO workers and representatives from various charities. This is who Israel was targeting.

“While they opened fire we struggled in our defence and to limit the massacre.

“They attacked with lethal force to terrorise the movement for the end of the siege of Gaza and the wider movement of solidarity with Palestine. They used violence to instill terror for political ends. This is the definition of terrorism.

“But they failed. The people aboard, their families and the people who donated to the €20 million aid, are not afraid – neither are those in the wider movement.

“This must become a turning point in the lifting of the siege and an end to the policies pursued by governments in relation to Israel.

“Israel has completely isolated itself. Around the world we must redouble our efforts and commit to action to end the siege. This is a political opportunity in which big advances can be made.

“The statements of condemnation by David Cameron and William Hague betray how isolated Israel is. These are leaders of a pro-Israeli party, and yet these statements have been more damning than anything Gordon Brown said when Israel was bombing Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

“Governments claim to recognize the siege is unsustainable. We have to force the UN, the EU and all the other governments to turn their words of condemnation into action.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Corbeil permalink
    4 July 2010 8:41pm

    The Israeli raid, assault, expected, or not?

    I learned about Kevin Ovenden at the Viva Palestina website the other day after viewing the first of a 3-part video at Youtube for the June 9th meeting for testimonies given in London and read that he was also a passenger on the Mavi Marmara when the Israeli commandos committed the assault. And I haven’t yet listened to any of the video clips for what he says about what happened, but text at Viva Palestina says that he says that the passengers of the ship or of all of the flotilla were expecting to be raided by the Israeli forces.

    In the first of the 3-part video for the June 9th testimonies there’s the account provided by the or an Al Jazeera reporter who was on the Mavi Marmara and he says that the ship’s passengers were not expecting to be raided by the Israeli forces. He says the passengers were asleep and in their pyjamas.

    So there’s an apparent contrast between what those two witnesses have said about this.

    However, maybe this is explained by the passengers not having expected to be raided or assaulted during the middle of the night, instead of during daylight hours. The Al Jazeera reporter might possibly have said that a night-time raid was not expected by the passengers, but without having said that they didn’t expect to be raided at any other time.

    If Kevin Ovenden claims the passengers were expecting a raid during the middle of the night, then there’s definitely a contrast between what these two witnesses claim and there’s surely an explanation, but this nevertheless should be further looked into. The only way they could then both be right is if they were with different groups of passengers on the same large ship and one group expected a night-time raid while the other group didn’t, f.e. Another example would be if the reporter’s right about the passengers initially not having expected to be raided that night, but then went to bed and while he was asleep or not with other passengers who were still up, others came to believe a raid was likely to happen that or later that night or very early morning.

    I think they’re both telling the truth, just that a little more explanation would be helpful to eliminate a possible contradiction between their two accounts.

    • 5 July 2010 8:57am

      As I understand it, those on board the flotilla were expecting the Israelis to try to stop them when they got close to Gaza, since that had been consistently threatened. Obviously, they also hoped that pressure from media and international opinion might help prevent that. They had prepared themselves for resistance, as described by people on the other boats who tried to link hands etc to stop the soldiers boarding. But that at the time the Mavi Marmara was actually attacked, the boat was moving deeper into international waters and away from Israel in order to avoid a night-time confrontation. The organisers didn’t expect to be attacked in international waters, and the attack was cynically launched as the call to prayer went, so those that weren’t sleeping were praying.

      • Mike Corbeil permalink
        5 July 2010 11:42pm

        Thanks for your reply, which I wholly agree with.

        They were basically both right, just that Kevin wasn’t precise enough about when and where the raid was expected to happen.

        There was another contrast between their accounts, but they clearly both told the truth as they could know it as witnesses. Instead of speaking of what other people said they witnessed, these witnesses only spoke of what they personally witnessed.

        Many people on the ship didn’t witness the same events. A large ship with several hundred people definitely will have differing eye-witness accounts.

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