Message from Gaza Freedom Flotilla volunteers to packed London meeting: we will continue and so must you!
At a packed meeting in central London on Wednesday evening, British volunteers on board the Gaza Freedom Flotilla gave their eye-witness accounts of what happened to them during and after the attack by Israeli pirates.
Many important facts emerged clearly from the speakers’ testimonies:
- That there were no weapons on board the boats. This was well known to the Israelis, as it had been repeatedly stated by the organisers and the Turkish port authorities before the boats sailed. Volunteers saw Israeli soldiers staging the ‘finding’ of a pistol that was clearly Israeli army issue in a passenger’s bag for the benefit of a cameraman who was with them.
- That the soldiers were firing live rounds at the ship before they boarded. The first deaths occurred, and wounded people were being treated, before any boots had hit the deck. Moreover, many volunteers had wounds in their feet, as a result of being struck by bullets fired from above.
- That the attack wasn’t expected at that time. The ships had changed course to avoid a night-time confrontation, moving farther away from Israeli waters, and volunteers were sleeping or praying when the assault started. Many came up to try to defend the ship in their pyjamas.
- That the raiding commandos treated every passenger on board the ship as an ‘enemy combatant’, making no distinction of age, gender, occupation etc. Women and elderly people were beaten; a baby was forced to witness brutal torture of one volunteer; journalists were treated as if they were criminals or terrorists.
- That Israel did everything it could to stop evidence of its crimes getting out. Some of those killed were executed with shots to the head while trying to film or take photos of the attack. The raiders did their best to jam all broadcasting signals before the boats were boarded, and only didn’t succeed because one channel had been kept secret. During the attack, one of the helicopters tried to ram the satellite dish. Photo and video equipment, sim and memory cards etc were all stolen.
- That the commandos were shooting to kill, and that they wanted to inflict serious casualties on the flotilla. Live fire continued after the white flag had been waved, and also after announcements of surrender in Hebrew and English had been made over the ship’s tannoy. Several people who died could have been saved by timely treatment that was denied to them. Instead of evacuating the wounded, the commandos refused them vital help. Others who survived may well find they are affected for life by bad treatment – refused even stretchers when ordered to move, so that volunteers had to carry them on blankets.
- That Israel’s brutal, dehumanising treatment of Palestinians extends to those who support the Palestinian struggle against occupation. After the ships had been taken, many volunteers were beaten. At least one was used as a human shield. All were tortured, humiliated, denied access to food, water, medicines, washing facilities, toilets or clean clothes. Even after two days in prison, wounded prisoners were still wearing the same blood-stained clothes they left the ships in. Those with wounded legs and feet were forced to hop without crutches or wheelchairs to the waiting planes; their comrades were beaten for trying to help them to walk. A Turkish volunteer who had watched her husband die was forced to leave his body and thrown in jail with no consideration for her grief; she was later forced to identify him from a picture of his two-day-old bloated corpse.
- That those on the smaller boats were also treated with overwhelming violence, although no live ammunition was used against them. People trying to defend their boats with only linked arms were attacked with tasers, stun guns, electric shock probes, sound bombs, tear gas and more. They too were bound, beaten and humiliated after their boats were captured.
- That Britain is as complicit in the treatment of these prisoners as it is in all Israel’s other crimes. The British consul quickly became notorious for being the most sycophantic towards the Israelis and the least interested in the welfare of British prisoners. Many British volunteers never even saw him. Those who didn’t all had names or an appearance that might indicate that they were muslim.
- That the Turkish government stepped in where the British failed to do. It was the Turkish volunteers and government who took responsibility for making sure that the British volunteers were safely evacuated, providing transport and refusing to leave them behind. In Turkey, British volunteers were treated as heroes, and given clothes, money, counselling, medical attention, accommodation and flights home.
- That if Israel hoped to deter these and future volunteers from trying to break the blockade on Gaza, their plan has seriously backfired. All those who spoke reiterated their determination to return as soon as possible. Viva Palestina’s George Galloway announced that the biggest convoy yet would be leaving overland on 16 September, at the same time as a flotilla of 62 ships (one for every year of the occupation) will be building up in the Mediterranean. These two convoys will be aiming to arrive simultaneously in Gaza in early October. PSC’s Sarah Colborne sent a message to the meeting asking everyone there to mobilise in memory not only of the flotilla dead, but of all those who have died over the years for a free Palestine. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign announced its intention to support the forthcoming flotilla and convoy, and to work with Viva Palestina, Free Gaza, Stop the War and muslim organisations to build a really broad, mass solidarity movement for Palestine in Britain.
- That Israel is not going to be allowed to forget about the crimes it committed against the flotilla, any more than it is going to be allowed to continue with the siege and occupation unhindered. The IHH (the Turkish aid organisation that chartered the Mavi Marmara) have begun a massive evidence-gathering operation, with a view to taking out criminal proceedings in the Turkish and other courts. Meanwhile, the Emir of Qatar has offered to pay the legal expenses of every volunteer willing to take up a case against Israel, anywhere in the world. In the court of public opinion, these cases will be bound to inflict more heavy blows on Israel’s shrinking support-base. Moreover, pressure for an international inquiry (as opposed to an Israeli whitewash) is also going to keep on growing. George Galloway called on all activists to keep up this pressure and declared that “we will set up our own if we have to”.
- That as well as joining convoys and flotillas, there is a huge job of work to be done in building awareness and solidarity with the Palestinian people in our communities. As Alex Harrison of the Free Gaza Movement pointed out, what is happening in Gaza is not a natural disaster; the problem is not one of ‘aid’ but of human rights, freedoms and dignity, of self-determination as opposed to colonial oppression.
- That this massacre may well prove to be the watershed moment in the fight against Israeli apartheid, as the Sharpeville massacre was for South African apartheid. George Galloway pointed out the need to urgently seize the opportunity presented by the sudden rise in public awareness to force our complicit governments into taking action against Israel.