Israelis arrived shooting, say flotilla activists

Annette Groth

‘It was like war,’ say the activists. Israel’s claim of self-defence is ‘ridiculous’

BY Jack Bremer LAST UPDATED AT 09:14 ON Wed 2 Jun 2010

International pressure is mounting on Israel to launch a full and honest inquiry into the Freedom Flotilla disaster, as more first-hand accounts of the Israeli commando raid emerge from the pro-Palestinian activists aboard the aid ships.

In almost every respect, the eye-witness accounts tell a different story to the version offered so far by the Israeli military and politicians.

DID THE ISRAELIS ACT IN SELF-DEFENCE? The German politician Annette Groth, who was travelling on the flotilla's biggest ship, the Mavi Marmara, said the Israeli claim that its commandos acted in self-defence was "ridiculous".

"It was like war," said Groth (above). "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."

Nilufer Cetin, one of the many Turkish activists on board, told how she hid in her cabin below deck while the ship "turned into a lake of blood".

"I put a gas mask and lifejacket on my son," she said on her return to Istanbul. "They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters."

Iara Lee, a Brazilian filmmaker also aboard the Mavi Marmara, told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo how Israeli troops came down to the deck where a lot of women were sheltering and confiscated all their telephones.

"We expected them to shoot people in the legs, to shoot in the air, just to scare people, but they were direct," said Lee. "Some of them shot in the passengers' heads. Many people were murdered ­ it was unimaginable."

DID THE ISRAELIS GIVE ANY WARNING? Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defence Force, said the activists were given several warnings before commandos began descending from helicopters on to the deck of the Mavi Marmara. "We found ourselves in the middle of a lynching," she said.

But the Brazilian Iara Lee (see above) said the attack in the middle of the night took the activists by surprise because they were still in international waters. They had expected a confrontation but not until they were closer to the coast.

"Their first tactic was to cut all of our satellite communications and then they attacked," she told Brazil's TV Globo from the Israeli prison where 600 activists were being held before being repatriated. "They said we were terrorists - ­ it was absurd."

Dimitris Gielalis, a Greek activist aboard the Sfendoni, said: "Suddenly from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat. They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used."

WERE THE ACTIVISTS ARMED? According to journalist Seth Freedman, invited to give the Israeli side of the story on The First Post yesterday, the activists were armed with knives, iron bars and clubs and attacked the commandos before any Israeli opened fire. The Israelis have also released photographs showing a cache of knives, heavy wrenches and wooden sticks.

But Hanin Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, who was on board the Mavi Marmara, said "not a single passenger... raised a club".

Mihalis Grigoropoulos, one of the crew who took the flotilla from Cyprus, said the 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," he said.

"The only thing some people tried was to delay them from getting to the bridge, forming a human shield. They were fired on with plastic bullets and stunned with electric devices."

Among the activists was the celebrated thriller writer, Henning Mankel, author of the Wallander books, travelling aboard the Swedish aid ship Sofia. En route back to Stockholm, he told a Swedish reporter: "I can promise there was not a single weapon aboard the ships."

Mankel is one of those now leading the call for global sanctions against Israel to pressurise them into lifting the three-year blockade of Gaza.

"I think we should use the experience of South Africa, where we know that the sanctions had a great impact," he said. "It took time, but they had an impact." · 

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