Monday, June 7, 2010

Kidnapped by Israel--eyewitness account

From what I have read since I returned from Israel/Palestine yesterday and what I read in the Israeli media, it has been difficult to find information from eyewitnesses who were passengers on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. This one is written by Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Elshayyal. His bio precedes his report.

Jamal Elshayyal is a news producer for Al Jazeera English. He joined the network in 2006 as one of the founding members of its specialized Middle East Desk, later serving as the channels Middle East editor. Jamal has studied, lived and worked across Europe and the Middle East, with particular focus on Arab politics and Western/Arab relations. He has worked on some of the region's biggest stories including Israel's war in Lebanon in 2006, the Qatari-sponsored Darfur peace talks, Egypt's role during Israel's war on Gaza and the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj in Mecca.

Firstly I must apologise for taking so long to update my blog. The events of the past few days have been hectic to say the least, and I am still trying to come to grips with many of the things that have happened.

It was this time last week that I was on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, and first spotted Israeli warships at a distance, as they approached the humanitarian flotilla. Little did I know how deadly and bloody the events that soon unfolded would be.

What I will write in this entry is fact, every letter of it, none of it is opinion, none of it is analysis, I will leave that to you, the reader.

After spotting the warships at a distance, (at roughly 11pm) the organisers called for passengers to wear their life vests and remain indoors as they monitored the situation. The naval warships together with helicopters remained at a distance for several hours.

At 2am local time the organisers informed me that they had re-routed the ship, as far away from Israel as possible, as deep into international waters as they could. They did not want a confrontation with the Israeli military, at least not by night.

Just after 4am local time, the Israeli military attacked the ship, in international waters. It was an unprovoked attack. Tear gas was used, sound grenades were launched, and rubber coated steel bullets were fired from almost every direction.

Dozens of speed boats carrying about 15-20 masked Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth surrounded the Mavi Marmara which was carrying 600 or so unarmed civilians. Two helicopters at a time hovered above the vessel. Commandos on board the choppers joined the firing, using live ammunition, before any of the soldiers had descended onto the ship.

Two unarmed civilians were killed just metres away from me. Dozens of unarmed civilians were injured right before my eyes.

One Israeli soldier, armed with a large automatic gun and a side pistol, was overpowered by several passengers. They disarmed him. They did not use his weapons or fire them; instead they threw his weapons over board and into the sea.

After what seemed at the time as roughly 30 minutes, passengers on board the ship raised a white flag. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. The ships organisers made a loud speaker announcement saying they have surrendered the ship. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. Read more....

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