The Free Gaza Movement today condemned the Israeli state’s violation of international maritime law when it hijacked their cargo ship MV Rachel Corrie in international waters, and vowed to organize another freedom flotilla in the coming months to break the state’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The aid ship, containing thousands of tonnes of humanitarian supplies to the besieged people of Gaza, was forcibly seized by armed Israeli military personnel and was forced to dock at the port of Ashdod in Israeli state territory on Saturday afternoon. The hijacking met no resistance from the eleven activists and eight crew members on board, who were determined not to offer the military any excuse for further violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the activists’ non-violence to claim that the deadly hijacking of six other ships of the flotilla earlier in the week was a result of what he called “hate organized by violent Turkish terror extremists” on one of the other boats, the MV Marmara.
In response to Netanyahu’s remarks, the Free Gaza Movement said in a statement from Cyprus, “We’d like to remind Mr. Netanyahu that the only hate evidenced on board all six boats on Monday morning came from the Israeli attackers. Israeli soldiers violently boarded the entire flotilla, beating, shooting and hooding passengers as though they were in Abu Ghraib.”
Nine flotilla members were shot dead by Israeli state-sponsored hijackers, many of them from gunshots to the face and back of the head, and dozens of others wounded, prompting outrage from all over the world.
Laura Stuart, a British housewife and rescue worker who was on board the Marmara, described frantic attempts to treat the injured in a makeshift sick room on the ship, and the failed attempts to resuscitate some of the dead. “People had been shot in the arms, legs, in the head - everywhere. We had so many injured. It was a bloodbath”, she said.
Andre Abu Khalil, a Lebanese cameraman for Al Jazeera TV, who was on board the Marmara during the assault, said that twenty of the flotilla members formed a human shield to prevent the Israeli soldiers from scaling the ship.” He described how the first wave of attackers was fought back, and four Israeli personnel were captured and taken below-decks.
Referring to Israeli state claims that those killed were armed and attacked first, he said that all he saw during the whole incident were “slingshots, water pipes and sticks”. “They were banging the pipes on the side of the ship to warn the Israelis not to get closer”, said Abu Khalil. One activist used a loud hailer to tell the Israelis the four captive soldiers were well and would be released if they provided medical help for the wounded activists, but after a ten-minute stand-off the Israelis opened fire.
“One man got a direct hit to the head and another one was shot in the neck,” he said. In all he saw some 40 people wounded, some to the legs, eye, stomach and chest.
Canadian Farooq Burney, director of a Qatari educational initiative, said the attackers waited more than an hour before treating the wounded, even though activists had made a makeshift sign reading, “S.O.S. .. Please provide medical assistance”, and were waving a makeshift white flag of peace.
The 37-year-old Canadian said he witnessed one elderly man bleed to death before his eyes after being shot.
“He just passed out in front of us and we couldn’t see where he was hit so we opened up his life jacket and we could clearly see that he was hit in the chest,” Burney said. “He was losing a lot of blood. It was on … the right, just close to his chest and there was blood coming out from there. He passed away.”
The Irish cargo ship Rachel Corrie, named after an American activist killed by Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, was carrying construction materials, paper and medical supplies to the people of the Gaza Strip, who have been subject to a process of ever-tightening siege by Israel since Hamas won the elections to government in the Palestinian Occupied Territories in 2006.
But despite the loss of life, the seizure by the Israeli state of many of the humanitarian supplies, and the traumatic experiences of those that survived the assault, the Free Gaza Movement made a commitment today to send more aid ships to Gaza later in the summer.
In a press release today, the group’s spokespersons, Greta Berlin and Mary Hughes, said, “We are putting Mr. Netanyahu on notice that we are returning in the next couple of months with another flotilla, that his actions and the actions of his soldiers have energized thousands of people who have stepped forward with offers to help and participate on the next voyage.”