By Clive Kempe & Hilda Meers.
Last Thursday at Aberdeen University, members of the public were gathered to hear twenty two year old Ali El Awaisi from Dundee talk about his experience of the Israeli attack on the relief flotilla to Gaza.
Ali, dressed in T-shirt and Palestinian scarf – east meets west – spoke and answered questions so eloquently that there was no time or need to watch the videos that his brother Khalid was busily setting up during the talk. (One of the aid workers had managed to conceal her mobile phone on the ship, videos from which are available on Youtube).
The passengers and crew of the smaller cargo boats and the Mavi Marmara (a larger vessel crammed with seven hundred persons – volunteers from around the world including a bishop, a member of Israel’s Parliament and a Nobel Peace Prize winner), were united by their intentions. These were, to take much-needed items to Gaza and to break the illegal blockade Israel has applied on land and by sea since the Gazan people elected the Government of their choice.
Early hours of the 31st of May: Helicopters and warships surrounded the ship at night while in international waters. Searchlights initially followed by gunfire which lashed down on the unarmed ships. Flash grenades (which blind recipients for ten to fifteen minutes) were thrown on board and tear gas also. One of the aid workers was shot in the back of the head while praying and several while waving white flags or T-shirts. After forty minutes of constant gun fire, two people were already dead and ten seriously wounded before the commandos boarded the ship. Body wounds were from the waist upwards, implying the Israelis were targeting to kill. There were thirty-one bullets in nine of the bodies. The Israelis had arrived with a hit list with photographs of activists and presumably acted accordingly.
Even after the shootings, and following extensive and repeated strip searches, the Israelis continued to intimidate the passengers with head butts, beatings and punches with knuckledusters. Mobile phones and all other personal possessions were taken or smashed. Seriously injured passengers were not allowed medical attention and for twelve hours, the passengers had to sit on deck with hands tied behind their back.
The aid workers were refused the right to telephone the UK government or a lawyer and were left unfed and without water and the only food contemptuously offered to the Muslim aid workers was a bacon sandwich.
The boats were then forcibly taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the aid workers were accused of entering Israel illegally and imprisoned. Eventually the British consulate arrived and said he had no jurisdiction to get Ali released, and he could be held up to two months. There were thirty British aid workers on board seven of whose passports had been stolen by the Israelis. On arrival in Turkey, the UK government announced that they intended charging each UK citizen £72 for each temporary new passport.
A very different account to that which we heard from the BBC or Channel 4 news.