Mavi Marmara Attack

In Remembrance of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara

I’ve never written the complete story of what happened to me on the Mavi Marmara in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in May 2010.  So in remembrance of all the dead and wounded aid workers and for the sake of history, here’s my story.               Kevin Neish, May 25th 2012

photo Kate Geraghty

The ISM and the Free Gaza Group

I’ve been a supporter of the Palestinian struggle for much of my life, but I got personally and directly involved, when I volunteered to be a human shield with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Bethlehem in March 2002.  The Israeli’s invaded Bethlehem while I was there and then murder and mayhem ensued, but that’s another story.  I met the ISM’s leader Huwaida Arraf then and was very impressed with her and the ISM.  So when I heard that she was organising the US Free Gaza group’s humanitarian aid ship to Gaza in 2008, I offered my financial support.  And in 2010, when they were organizing a Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, I volunteered to join them.

Freedom Flotilla 2010

In May of 2010 I flew to Cyprus to join Free Gaza and their ship the Challenger II.  Upon arrival I was told that due to Israeli pressure Cyprus was chasing Free Gaza out, so everyone had to move to Crete, Greece the next morning.   Once there, I and a couple of dozen other delegates then went through several days of nonviolent resistance training.  If our ship was attacked, my designated job was to block a passageway to slow down the Israeli soldiers heading to the upper deck, where a media crew from Australia would be taking and sending photos out by satellite.

I contacted my Canadian embassies in Israel and Palestine and left phone messages explaining that I might need their assistance if the Israeli military did attack our aid flotilla.  Moments before I left Crete, just as I was boarding the Challenger II, I received a phone call back from a Canadian embassy official.  She emphatically told me that I must not go on the Freedom Flotilla because the Israelis were going to violently attack us.  I told her I felt it was not my embassy’s job to be telling me what I could or could not do, when I was doing nothing illegal.  Instead, I suggested that she should be demanding that the Israeli government not illegally attack me and my aid ship.

The Flotilla’s Ships

There were 7 ships in the flotilla rendezvousing off of Cyprus.  As well, the freighter the Rachel Corrie, was delayed but on her way from Ireland.

Challenger I and II

On May 27th the two identical Free Gaza aid ships, the Challenger I and II, sailed out of Crete, under the watchful eyes of an Israeli spy (more on that later).  They were both U.S. flagged ships but due to fear of diplomatic hassles, the US flags were not raised until we were at sea.

There were about a dozen activists on each ship which included various nationalities but mainly “westerners”.  There was one Palestinian fellow who was using the Flotilla to make a last ditch effort to reach his dying mother in Gaza, as Israel had blocked all other routes to her.  Sadly, his mother died during the trip.  During the night on our way to the rendezvous point off of Cyprus, both the ships mysteriously lost their rudder steering.  The Israeli’s have since bragged that they sabotaged our ships.  The Challenger I managed to repair her steering but we couldn’t, so we went through a very rough night being badly thrown around by a storm.  In the morning we discovered that due to the pounding we had taken our ship had split a seam and was taking on water.  That was the end of the Flotilla for the Challenger II as she would now be heading for Cyprus for repairs and likely impoundment.  Our leader Huwaida Arraf, radioed another Flotilla aid ship, the Mavi Marmara and her owners the Turkish aid group iHH, to ask if they could take on the Challenger II’s passengers.  Without hesitation they said yes and we were back on our way to Gaza.

The Mavi Marmara

On the afternoon of May 28th, the huge Mavi Marmara pulled up and opened a side hatch to allow us to jump on board.  As I landed on the deck of the Mavi I remember thinking “Ah a bigger ship, I’ll be safer here”, not so!  Immediately after landing on the deck an iHH official stepped up to me, smiled broadly and said “hands in the air please” and promptly and thoroughly frisked me and directed me to a quarantine area while my bags were searched.   They were looking for weapons.  Being a retired mechanic I always carry a pocket knife, which was promptly found and tossed into the sea.  It seems every passenger was vetted and searched before boarding the Mavi.  There were no weapons on the ship…period.  Once we were searched and approved, we were given a set of benches in a deck 3 lounge, and some very helpful Indonesian aid workers were assigned to assist us.  Like all the other passengers, we were allowed access to the whole ship, except the bridge, engine room, press room and the women’s deck #2.  The approximately 100 women on board had the same access to the ship as well as deck 2.

The Mavi Marmara was a day ferry, so it had no state rooms, only benches, so everyone slept on them or on the deck, inside and out.  With about 580 aid workers on board, every available space on her 4 decks was often full of people, sleeping, eating, talking, singing and praying.

There were two very small kitchens, which seemed to operate around the clock producing simple but delicious hot meals.  Volunteers very efficiently cooked, served, picked up dirty dishes and cleaned everything on board.

There were very few white western activists on board (12?).  But there were over 34 nations represented on the Mavi, including most western nations and all of the Muslim nations of the world.  The ages ranged from the 89 year old patriarch of the Church of Jerusalem, to the chief engineer’s 11 month old son.  Everyone, men and women, mixed and mingled very well, with many animated discussions over many cups of tea.  I met many fine people, some of whom later died in front of my eyes.

There were over 60 print, radio and TV journalists on board but no main stream “western” media chose to join us.  There was an outdoor TV studio setup on the stern of the 5th deck, which broadcast live via satellite around the clock, with various stations from around the world taking turns.  The Israelis jammed the radio, cell phone and satellite signs from the ship before the attack.

The Night Before the Attack

On the evening of May 30th, we were told we would be arriving at the Gaza maritime border, 12 miles from shore, the next day.  The lights of the Israeli ships appeared on the horizon at around 10:30 pm.  Soon airplanes and unmanned surveillance drones were overhead.  The captain came on the PA system to inform everyone that the Israelis were following us.  There was concern but no one was panicking.  Stacks of high power hand held flood lights were connected to chargers.  A few dozen gas masks were brought out and prepared.  Fire hoses were laid out.  Many people got life jackets on.  I thought putting life jackets on was unnecessary, as I was sure that the Israelis would never violently attack our harmless humanitarian aid ships, full of old man and women.  I felt 100% certain that they would never attack in the dark, due to the obvious increased risk of injury and panic which that would cause.  How wrong I was.

That evening I wandered around the ship, taking photos and greeting and chatting with people, who were mostly all calm.  At one point I was walking, along the forward deck, when I came upon handfuls of rusty nuts and bolts on top of the teak hand railing.  There were little piles stationed every 10 feet or so.  Someone had scavenged them from the engine room and if necessary, they were planning to defend the ship by throwing them at the Israeli military helicopters and boats.  I argued with the activists that it may be valiant but pointless to throw nuts and bolts at the Israeli military and most likely unnecessary.  Once again I was wrong.

I next walked up to the bow of the ship and enjoyed a few peaceful moments watching the full moon on the calm seas.  This is relevant, as some of the first casualties were shot from the helicopter and zodiacs at the very spot where I was standing.  As such, many people who last saw me standing there, later reported that I was likely dead and tossed overboard.   At around midnight I went below to the 3rd deck stern lounge to sleep.  I felt the Israelis would not be approaching us until daylight and I wanted to be well rested for that event.

The Attack

photo Kate Geraghty

photo Kate Geraghty

photo- Cultures of Resistance

At around 4:00 am I woke up to the sound of a disc grinder on the deck above.  It turned out that, unbeknownst to me, the Israelis had turned up in force all around the flotilla, even though we were still 70 miles from shore in international waters.  They had four large warships, three Blackhawk helicopters, two submarines and thirty assault boats.  So aid workers were frantically grinding the little chains off the lifeboat station posts, trying to make defensive” weapons” out of anything they could find.  It was too noisy to sleep so I calmly got dressed and was organising my camera and such, when the whole world seemed to suddenly explode in front of me.  At 4:25 am, just 15 feet away, behind some windows, flash grenades, stun grenades and tear gas bombs were going off on the open stern of the 3rd deck.

I could see Israeli zodiacs full of well-armed commandos attacking the stern of the ship, and I could now hear gunshots.  The ship’s heavy stern windows were flexing with the concussions of the stun grenades.  Several aid workers were rushing through the tear gas with fire hoses and long wooden poles to fend off the Israelis, who were now firing rubber/steel bullets and chemical ball (not paint balls) weapons almost point blank at the aid workers standing along the railings.

I felt it was too dangerous to stay there, even for a human rights observer, so I quickly gathered my camera gear and headed for the ship’s internal stairway, that connected the 2nd (women’s), 3rd (Main), 4th (Boat) and 5th (Bridge) decks.  As I passed through the lobby of the 3rd deck stairway, there was a doctor and nurse in clean neat scrubs, standing beside a blanket and small medical kit.  It was like something one would see at a soccer tournament, ready for cuts, sprains and bruises.  Soon that room would be completely full of dead and wounded.

The Israelis were now attacking with Blackhawk helicopters, shooting live ammo and landing commandos onto the ship’s top deck.  As I passed the 4th deck stairway lobby there were already wounded aid workers being brought in the door and others coming down the stairs smearing blood on the walls and banisters.

photo- Kevin Neish

photo: Kevin Neish

At 4:35, as I reached the landing between the 4th and 5th decks the first captured Israeli commando was coming in the port side door.  He was already stripped of his weapons (machine gun, pistol and knife) as well as his ammo vest, backpack, balaclava and helmet.  I photographed him as he came down the stairs screaming and crying in utter terror.  He had a bloody contusion on his left forehead but no other obvious wounds.

I followed him and his captors down the stairs until he safely reached the 3rd deck lobby medic station.

At 4:36, while on the way back up the stairs, I photographed the wounded aid workers in the stairway lobby of deck 4.

photo- Kevin Neish

At 4:37 I returned to the 5th deck lobby.  There I photographed the second captured commando as he was carried through the port side 5th deck door onto the floor of the lobby.  He was terrified, screaming, eyes as big as saucers and yammering incoherently.  He was being held by his arms and legs while aid workers removed his ammo vest.

photo Kevin Neish

At this point a large enraged passenger reached over the aid workers and tried to hit the commando.   Some of the aid workers who were holding the commando immediately pushed the passenger away and held him against a wall, chiding him loudly.  At 4:38 the aid workers quickly hauled the commando down the stairway to the landing, safely away from the threatening passenger.

2nd commando -photo K. Neish

3rd commando -photo K. Neish

Seconds later, the third commando was brought in the starboard 5th deck door and immediately down the stairway all the way to the 3rd deck medic lobby. He was struggling violently and didn’t appear obviously injured. In my first reports I misidentified this commando as an aid worker as he was only in my view for seconds and had a keffiyeh draped across his chest, but my photos obviously identify him as the 3rd commando.The second commando was still on the deck 4-5 stair landing and was struggling and crying out in terror. At 4:39 he was attended to by an iHH doctor. This seemed to reassure him and the doctor escorted him down to the 4th deck stair lobby. There, at 4:43, the doctor tended to the commando’s wounds, cuts on his abdomen and left hand.

2nd Commando and doctor-photo K.Neish

2nd Commando and doctor-photo K.Neish

Israeli reports stated that this commando was wounded so bad that his intestines were exposed, but as one can see from my photos, this was not true.  The Israeli military also stated that the commandos were all unconscious when brought into the ship and escaped once they woke up.  But, as can be seen, this was also not true.  I didn’t see any of the captured commandos’ guns, as apparently their weapons were tossed into the sea by aid workers while they were still on the outer decks.

At 4:49 I showed a set of laminated cards, which I had retrieved from a commando’s backpack, to Iara Lee’s cameraman.  These contained photos and names of important passengers on the flotilla ships, as well as a set of photos of all the ships, with diagrams of their internal passageways.

photo Cultures of Resistance

I witnessed over 20 dead and wounded aid workers being carried in and the stairs were covered in their blood.  In the end 9 aid workers were murdered and 54 wounded by gunshots and many more received other serious injuries.

photo-K.Neish

photo-K.Neish

photo-K.Neish

photo- K. Neish

At 5:00, I was on the 5th deck stairway landing, with a dozen aid workers.  Using pipes, broom handles and chains, they had repeatedly beaten back Israeli commandos, who were firing wildly through the open port side door, trying to shoot their way into the ship. They beat them back one final time and closed the door and stood guard waiting for the next assault.  Seconds later the captain came on the PA system to announce in Turkish, that the Israeli’s had seized the bridge and that the ship was not going to Gaza.  He asked everyone to stop resisting and to return to their assembly areas in the lounges.  All the aid workers around me immediately dropped their chains, bars and broom handles and walked down stairs to the lounges.

photo- K. Neish

On the way down, at 5:02, I witnessed journalist Cevdet Kilichlar being brought into the 4th deck lobby on a stretcher.  He had been shot between the eyes, executed while photographing the attack.
At 5:06, I passed through the 3rd deck lobby/medical area, which now was completely covered with dead and wounded, with three men receiving CPR at the same time.  I had to step over bodies to get to the lounge area.  Two of these bodies had bullet wounds in the side or back of their heads, as well as other wounds.  These two men appeared to me to have been executed.  I recognised one man, who I had shared tea with the day before.  He had a large, likely mortal, chest wound.  He was alone, simply propped up against a wall, apparently left to die, as there was likely nothing anyone could do for him.

photo-K.Neish

photo-K.Neish

photo-K.Neish

I returned to my seat in the lounge and we waited to be arrested.  I proceeded to destroy all my written notes and discard my camera and hid its memory chip in my sock.  I passed the Israeli passenger list I had discovered, over to a female German MP, whose photo was on the list.  I asked her if she knew when her photo was taken.  It turned out that she knew the photo had been taken at the dock in Crete, just before we left.  So it seems an Israeli spy was that close to us and took her photo, which ended up in that commando’s backpack just 3 days later.
Following the Israeli takeover of the ship, gunshots continued around the ship for one half hour more.  During this time, a woman on the PA system repeatedly begged the Israelis to stop shooting and to help our wounded.  I and about 200 men waited in the aft lounge, for the 20 or so Israeli’s on the outer stern area to arrest us. If you moved around or dared to rise up, the soldiers would scream at you and point their red laser gun sights at you through the doors and windows, threatening to shoot.

During this time two women (one was Israeli/Palestinian MP Haneen Zoabi) repeatedly approached these Israeli soldiers to ask for help for the wounded.  They replied by shouting at the women “Take another step and I shoot you in the head!”  Three wounded aid workers died while waiting for their help.  After 2 to 3 hours, the soldiers agreed to allow only women to carry the wounded and dead to the stern door, where the Israelis took them out and up the outside stairs to the 4th deck.  If any medical attendants attempted to accompany the wounded they were separated and handcuffed.  One of the wounded taken to door had an intravenous saline bag, which Haneen was holding up.  She turned and asked if there was a doctor here to accompany this seriously wounded man.  A German doctor next to me rushed over to help the wounded man.  As he leaned over to look at the man, an Israeli soldier took the doctor’s hands and cuffed them behind his back and pulled him through the door and pushed him to the deck outside.  The wounded man was carried away by the soldiers with the bag lying on his chest.

photo- iHH

When we were eventually arrested, we were searched at gun point.  I had my wallets, phone and $4500 cash taken from me, and never returned.  Just before my arrest a rich Kuwaiti fellow asked me if he should leave his money in his pocket or in his luggage.  I said it would be safest in his pocket.  Seven months later at an iHH event in Istanbul, this same huge man, in a flowing silk Arabic outfit, strode across a hall and gave me a hug.  He shouted that he had followed my advice and I had saved his $10,000, while his brother had put $40,000 in his luggage and lost it all.

The Israelis were particularly interested in seizing any video and photo evidence from the passengers.  Besides the cameras of the 60+ professional journalists, there were dozens of personal video and still cameras and likely hundreds of cell phones with cameras.  The ship itself was festooned with almost 100 cctv cameras constantly filming all the decks and the nearby sea.  All of these 100’s of cameras and their 1000’s of images were specifically targeted, destroyed and or confiscated by the Israeli commandos and never returned.  Only one film, by Iara Lee, was smuggled off the Mavi.

All the men had their hands tied tightly behind their backs with plastic handcuffs, and were pushed up stairs to the 4th deck.  Over 200 men and women were then required to sit outside, on the aft port side of deck 4 for about 7 hours. The handcuffs were extremely painful and eventually my hands, arms and shoulders went numb.   I quickly learned what a “stress position” was and how it was a form of torture.  Anyone who tried to move or stretch was set upon by Israeli soldiers, shouting, pointing guns and waving batons over us.  After many hours, two young Arab men next to me decided they’d had enough, and bravely rose up and stretched.  They were set upon by several baton waving soldiers.  I then stood up with them and the soldiers backed off and no one was struck.  Sadly, it was an example of racist white privilege at work.  The non-whites were treated much worse than the whites.  After I sat down, an Arab woman sitting next to me said, “Oh sir, something has fallen out of your pocket”, and she slipped something into my pocket.  Many hours later when my hands were untied, I found she had given me two new $100 US bills, as a thank you I suppose for standing up with her Arab friends.  Little did she know that that was the only money I would have until I landed in Victoria, five days later.

Another incident of particular note was the moment, after a few hours, when an Imam (Mustafa Ismail Nashwan) suddenly rose and started the morning Muslim call to prayers.  After a few seconds an Israeli officer charged through all the crouching bodies on the deck, drew his pistol, aimed it at the Imam’s head from about 3 meters away and shouted in English, “Shut Up!”  The Imam looked at but past the soldier and continued his call to prayers.  I felt the soldier was going to shoot him, so I rose to my feet.  The soldier then immediately swung to his right and pointed the gun at my head from about 3 meters away. Eventually the Imam finished his call and sat down and I followed him.  The soldier did not fire at either of us.

After a few hours, the men were then herded into the forward lounge of deck 3. We were promised that if we cooperated and moved peacefully, then our luggage would be returned to us and we would have access to washrooms, food and water, none of which happened.  Such lying by Israeli authorities was done continuously until we were deported.  In the lounge there were approximately 280 men, who were required to sit 6 or 7 to a bench built for 4.  Many were wounded and bleeding, including the man sitting next to me, with a bleeding stab wound in his upper leg.   Several seriously injured men laid in the aisles and on benches.

photo- iHH

Once again any excessive movement or rising up brought forth violent threats from the Israeli soldiers, with guns being pointed at us and batons raised over our heads.  We were given very little water and almost no food and very restricted or no access to a washroom.  A person would have to beg repeatedly in order to be permitted to use the washroom.  Immediately after I entered the lounge I twice politely asked to use the washroom and was ignored.  Thinking that there was a language barrier, I asked again in a loud clear voice, and pointed my handcuffed hands at the washroom door.  A soldier slipped his machine gun onto his back, casually walked over to me, reached down and grabbed the loose ends of my plastic ty-wrap hand cuffs.  He then violently pulled them extremely tight, yanking my hands into the air over my head. He then said “you are asking too much…you are being a bother”, laughed and walked away and I didn’t see a washroom for 15 hours.

This handcuff torture happened to me three times as punishment for talking back to them, asking too much or challenging them when they threatened others.  My wrists were cut by the cuffs and my hands went numb and turned blue, before they would eventually loosen the cuffs.  To this day I have a numb area on my wrist from those tight cuffs.   I watched other Muslim aid workers have their cuffs tightened so much and for so long, that their hands turned purple and swelled up like balloons.  Guns were regularly aimed at our heads.  At one point an attack dog was used to threaten us individually.  The soldiers mocked us constantly and laughed at us about all the Gazans who were hopelessly waiting for us to arrive.  They seemed to be trying to provoke a violent response from us.  The only Israeli soldier to show any compassion was a black soldier who loosened my cuffs once and later removed my cuffs when I eventually used the washroom.  After my cuffs were removed, I tried to assist a fellow prisoner and another soldier got angry and put hand cuffs back on me.  Another soldier tried to make me enter and use a toilet stall flooded ankle deep with sewage and wouldn’t remove my cuffs.  Almost all of the soldiers wore masks or netting to cover their faces, apparently due to fear of eventual UN war crime trials.

We arrived at Ashdod Israel at 6 pm Monday.  An Israeli immigration official then entered the lounge and said we would be processed in ten minutes.  After 15 minutes I politely asked the fellow when we would be removed from the ship and he said very soon.  After a half hour I asked again and got the same response.  After an hour I rose and shouted at him that he was a lying SOB.  A soldier ran up and put a gun into my face.  I pointed out to him that his prime minister was visiting my prime minister at that very moment in Ottawa Canada, so shooting me would not look very good in the Canadian media.  I had set him up.  Perhaps a little risky, but I wasn’t going to allow them to humiliate us.  I ended up waiting another 11 hours to be “processed”.

While on the ship I saw at least 50 well armed Israeli commandos with machine guns and side arms and dozens if not hundreds more on ships around us. I did not see any aid worker on our ship with a proper weapon of any sort. The aid workers only resisted with rudimentary tools such as small chains, wooden poles, broom handles and metal bars, all of which came from the hardware of the ship itself.

At the Ashdod dock, I immediately started demanding my right to see a lawyer and to contact my embassy.  Their reply was always “soon”.  I continued these requests, with no effect, until I was deported.  The air conditioning was turned off so the 280 of us spent 12 hours sweating in that suffocating, hot lounge, with little water or food.  During the immigration processing, other aid workers were strip searched and had body cavity searches done to them, looking for camera chips.  I had my camera chip hidden in my clothing, but I was not strip searched, I suspect because I was one of the last to be processed and the Israelis were likely sick and tired of doing those jobs.  The first Israeli official I met looked at my passport and exclaimed, “Canadian!  Why you here now?”  He was surprised because the Israelis had made a point of processing all the foreigners first, 12 hours earlier, politely offering them food and water in front of the TV cameras.  I suspect they had left me to the end as some sort of punishment.  They immediately demanded that I sign a “voluntary” deportation letter, which said that I had entered Israel illegally.  They said if I signed I would be deported immediately and if I didn’t sign I would spend at least 6 months in prison.  Almost everyone, including me, refused to sign and some of the few who did sign went to prison anyways.

When a Mossad official there asked if I had been to Israel before, I said yes, in 2002 I passed through Israel on the way to Bethlehem, as an ISM human rights observer.  He was surprised at my admission and searched his computer, but he couldn’t find any record of my visit and shouted that I was lying.  I argued with him, and finally pointed out that I was using a different passport now.  He quickly entered some new parameters, pointed at the screen and shouted with glee that he had found me.  I was photographed, frisked several times, x-rayed and scanned and gone over with a wand but they didn’t spot the chip I had hidden in my sock, hand or mouth and finally in my underwear.

At one desk an Israeli doctor politely asked how my health was, did I have any complaints, was I taking any medications?  This was the strip search tent, so, even though I had been assaulted, brutalised, threatened with death, still in handcuffs, filthy and bedraggled, I politely and candidly answered all his questions.  I desperately wanted to get my photo chip out.  It felt like a scene from a Monty Python comedy skit.

Eventually I was put in a small cage with one other activist in the back of a police van, with the air conditioning on full and taken on a long, cold and violently rough, hours long ride to Beer Sheva prison.  After arriving in our cell block, a guard walked in with a large cardboard box and dropped it on the floor and walked out.  A scholarly well-dressed British/Arab activist opened the box and pulled out a loaf of frozen bread, which he dramatically knocked on the edge of a table.  He loudly and mockingly exclaimed in an Oxford accent “what do these people think we are… savages?”  So after having no proper food for approximately 40 hours, our first prison meal was frozen bread and cucumbers.  Drinking water was only supplied sporadically.  All the blankets smelled of turpentine, were rotten and full of fine sand. The prison guards in all the cell blocks woke us up every two hours all night, by banging on our doors and doing a roll call, such that no one slept for 3 days.  I lost over 7 kgs of weight during the ordeal.  In my cell block I was with about 30 Muslim aid workers.  Everyone shared the jobs of organising the prisoners, serving the food, cleaning up and supporting each other.  After everything we had gone through, the aid workers were unbowed, defiant, smiling and helping each other.

Mossad agents regularly took people away for interrogations and I expected my turn would come.  On June 2nd, our second day in prison, a well-dressed “western” man and woman entered the cell block calling out my name.  I thought they were Mossad agents so I gruffly said “I’m Kevin Neish, what about it!”  He replied in an astonished voice “You’re alive!”  They then identified themselves as representatives of the Canadian embassy.

It turned out that they had been at the dock in Ashdod when the Mavi arrived. They witnessed all the western people being processed and was told by the Israelis that I was not on board.  They then arrived at the prison and were told again that Kevin Neish was not there, even though the Israelis knew exactly where I was.  These embassy staff then went from cell block to cell block calling out my name, holding up my photo and asking all the other prisoners if they had seen me.  Some had seen me, but at the bow of the ship where the first people were gunned down.  So by the time they got to the last cell block, where I was, they had decided that I must have been shot and dumped into the sea.  They were very happy to see me.  They said my daughter and many others had been raising hell with the government demanding they find me.  I told them the whole gruesome story of what had happened on the ship but they only reported to the media that I was alive and well.  They said that there was little or nothing they could do for me, and warned me that if I did not cooperate with the Israelis I would be in prison for a long time.  Just before they left, the female official said that she was the woman who had phoned me, just before I boarded the Challenger II in Crete.  She asked me, why I had tried to go to Gaza, when I knew the Israelis were going to attack us.  I replied, “Because I was in the right”.  She didn’t seem to understand and I never saw them again.

Due to intense Turkish government pressure, on June 3rd the third day of imprisonment, the Israelis said they would release all the Turkish aid workers.  In response, the Turks demanded that either all the aid workers of all nationalities be released, or none would be accepted.  Turkey announced that the attack on the Mavi Marmara would be considered an act of war, unless Israel released all the aid workers and the Turkish ships immediately, which Israel did.  So one day we were told, by the Israelis and my embassy, that I could be jailed for many months, and the next morning I was suddenly being herded out of the cell block to be deported.   Two activists from Ireland refused to leave as they wanted to see lawyers and have a court trial.  They were initially left behind, but were soon violently dragged off to a van and driven to the airport ahead of us.  At the airport several of them were beaten for not agreeing to voluntarily leave Israel.  In particular Paul Larudee, Ken O’Keefe and a Turkish doctor were badly beaten.

Back at the jail, prisoners from several cell blocks were moved to one large hall.  At this point a Turkish aid worker came to me, and said the Israeli Mossad were holding two aid workers, and would I join all of the prisoners in a sit down strike to demand their return.  I agreed.  All at once a hundred or more prisoners suddenly sat on the floor, leaving a dozen or so startled and frustrated soldiers standing amongst us.  The prisoners’ leader explained that we wanted the two missing aid workers returned.  The Israelis said that no one was missing, but several aid workers shouted out their names and described when and how they were taken away.  The Israeli’s then came back and said that the two fellows were outside in the buses waiting for us.  Our leader said, ”If they are here then bring them to us.”  The Israelis then said the men were already at the airport waiting for us, to which the leader replied, “You’ve lied to us before and we don’t believe you, bring them here”.  After 15 minutes the doors opened and in walked the two missing aid workers, and everyone jumped up and cheered.  Unfortunately one of these fellows later disappeared once again at the airport, and the Turkish planes refused to leave until he was returned.

After the sit down episode, we were moved onto two buses and we sat for hours, just inside the prison gates, while army officers and prison officials ran back and forth in apparent confusion.  Outside the prison fence we could hear Israelis shouting at us, warning us to not sign any papers.  They were human rights lawyers, who were hoping that the Supreme Court would soon rule that we were illegally arrested, and so we might be returned to our ships.  But they were worried that if we signed deportation papers the judgement would be moot.  They lost the case regardless.

Soon we were slowly driving to the airport, accompanied by army vehicles full of soldiers and TV vans.  Twice I saw Israeli civilians, who apparently recognized who we were, make threatening slashing signs across their throats at us.  We stopped several times in the hot sun and waited, with no water, food or air conditioning.  There were two, very young, unarmed  boy soldiers on the bus, dressed in black tee shirts, army pants and boots.  They barked out orders and tried to insult us at every chance.  These kids were backed up by a soldier with a machine gun at the front of the bus.

As we drove into the airport I saw that several Israeli Flotilla supporters were lining the road with signs.  Up ahead I saw that there was a group of TV cameras stationed at a corner.  Our bus had tinted glass so they couldn’t see us, but there was a narrow sliding vent window at the top.  So I jumped up opened the window and thrust my hand out, with the index finger extended as a sign of victory.  I immediately turned to the arrogant little boy soldier and growled at him that if he laid a finger on me I’d f’ing well break it.  His face went blank and he froze.  Then two other aid workers jumped up and thrust their hands through the window with me.  Seconds later the soldier jumped up and pushed the boy aside, pointing his gun at us and screaming at us to sit down or he’d shoot.  The TV cameras were now behind us so the job was done and we sat down.

At the airport we were taken one by one up to a lobby for immigration processing, each of us with a soldier holding our arm.  Inside we passed one of the Irish aid workers who we had left behind at the prison.  He was shouting that the soldiers had beaten Irishman Ken O’Keefe into a bloody mess and dragged him away.  Ken’s blood was still splattered on the floor.

We were hauled by the soldiers up to long row of tables, with numerous immigration officials.  A young official demanded that I sign the “voluntary” deportation letter, or I’d be sent back to prison.  All the Turks had been told to sign the letter by their embassy.  I said I would sign the letter, if he would return my wallets and $4500 of cash taken by the soldiers on the Mavi.  He said that he would look for it and he started searching boxes of belongings behind him.  As I waited amongst the noise and confusion of dozens of aid workers, translators, soldiers and officials, I noticed my “Mossad” file in a clear plastic sleeve lying on the table in front of me.  And beside it was an open bottle of water.  I reached down, picked up my file and poured the water into it and sloshed it around a bit.  When the official returned saying that he could not find my wallet and money, I silently handed the plastic sleeve of wet documents to him.  He cursed and yelled at me and my soldier gave me a good shaking.  To get my passport back I eventually signed their “voluntary” deportation letter, using a fake name and wrote at the bottom that it was signed under duress.  I was then searched one last time by a kid with a large wand, who repeatedly knocked me hard in the groin with it.  We were then all squeezed onto one bus and left to sweat for a few more hours.

In the early evening we were finally taken to one of three Turkish planes.  Between the bus doors and the passenger ramp was a double row of 4 soldiers, who we had to pass through to get on the plane.  It was their last “kick at the cat” but no one gave them an excuse to attack us.  At the plane door a beautiful stewardess welcomed me on board.  I asked her where I was being taken, and she said “Turkey of course”.  I mused as to why the Israelis would deport a Canadian to Turkey.  She replied “you’re welcome in Turkey”.   I certainly was.

The Turkish planes were taking all the activists and the martyrs back to Istanbul.  Wounded aid workers, still bleeding and hobbling with broken limbs, walked onto the plane.  Turkish government and iHH officials went from plane to plane asking aid workers who was missing and drafting lists of missing people to present to the Israelis.  We didn’t leave until very late at night, when every aid worker, dead or alive, was onboard, except for Ken O’Keefe and some seriously wounded activists.  13 army, police and airport security vehicles were parked on my side of our plane, all with their flashing lights on.  Dozens more surrounded the other planes.  Quite a send-off.

We eventually left Israel and arrived at the Istanbul airport very early in the morning, and even after waiting all night, there were still 10’s of thousands of cheering people waiting for us.  The bus could only move slowly as the crowd pressed in all around us, pounding on the windows and cheering.  Dozens of flag waving cars escorted us into town.

The Turkish government got me released, provided the flight to Turkey, accommodation in a fine hotel with three meals a day and a flight to Toronto Canada, all at no cost to me. This was very fortunate, as the Israelis had stolen all my money and credit cards and the Canadian government offered me little or no help.  If the Turkish government had not stepped in to assist me, I might have been in that Israeli prison for a long time.

On my last day in Istanbul, I was standing in the hotel lobby, waiting for a taxi to the airport.  A tall dark Muslim woman in a black silk hijab, walked across the lobby and right up to me.  She pointed at me and said ”It’s you!”  I said “What do you mean?”  She replied “It’s you!  You’re famous!  You are the activist who seized the secret orders from the Israeli commando!  Your face is all over the television!”  I knew then that Iara Lee’s film had been smuggled off the Mavi, so evidence of what the Israelis had done was in the media.   I was so happy that I gave this obviously very religious Muslim woman a hug.  I immediately realised my mistake and apologized but she just smiled and politely nodded at me.  Iara’s film was shown around the world, but not in the US or Canada, not even on the CBC, who showed the Israeli military films over and over and over.

I smuggled my still photos of the captured commandos and dead and wounded aid workers off the Mavi.  I left the camera chip with the iHH officials in Istanbul as it was their dead and wounded in the photos.  These photos have been used around the world in the media, but without attribution to me.  You can see all my photos via a link at the top of this web page .

On my way home at the Istanbul airport, immigration officials discovered that I did not have an entry stamp (due to the wild arrival welcome).  So armed guards brusquely detained me, until they realised I was a Mavi Marmara survivor.  Then I was very quickly escorted through a diplomatic immigration booth, where they gave me entry and exit stamps, with apologies all around.  My passport is also missing an Israeli immigration entry stamp, but I won’t be voluntarily going back any time soon to straighten that issue out.

I arrived home to a very warm welcome from friends, family and the media, except for some spineless, libelous editorials in the National Pest newspaper.  Dad would always say that if the enemy is mad at you, then you must be doing something right.

Here are some interviews and videos about the Mavi Marmara –

Iara Lee’s 1 hour video from the Mavi is available here .  The attack starts at about the 32 minute mark on the film.

A 15 minute narrated version of the attack using Iara’s footage which is available here.

The first interview I gave after the assault to rabble.ca is available here.

A fine book about the Mavi attack “Witnesses of the Mavi Marmara” is accessible free online here.

The chapter I wrote in the above book is available here.

An excellent report on the Mavi attack by Richard Lightbown is available here or here or here.

On-line article about my Mavi Marmara experiences with photos is available here .

My folk singer friend David Rovics’ wrote a wonderful song called “Song for the Mavi Marmara” which also has a music video version on the web.

Canadian Boat to Gaza website is here.

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