Wednesday, Oct. 17
Latest News
  1. Israeli footage shows airstrike targeting, killing Palestinian
  2. Palestine's UN ambassador hails UNGA vote as 'political victory'
  3. Palestinian family left homeless after East Jerusalem demolition
  4. Israeli forces demolish Palestinian-owned structures in Hebron
  5. Palestinian succumbs to wounds in Gaza
  6. Israeli airstrikes kill Palestinian, injure dozens across Gaza
  7. Foreign Ministry calls on Australia to reconsider Jerusalem remarks
  8. US Greenblatt reveals plan to unite West Bank, Gaza
  9. Japan-funded projects completed in Gaza Strip
  10. Kuwait approves $2.5 million contribution for Gaza

Challenger I passengers: Commandos shot first

June 8, 2010 11:02 A.M. (Updated: June 14, 2010 4:07 P.M.)
By Mya Guarnieri

Tel Aviv - Ma'an - Alex Harrison, a British activist who participated in the Freedom Flotilla, was on the neighboring Challenger I when the Israeli army overtook the Mavi Marmara, leaving at least nine activists dead and dozens injured.

An eyewitness to the takeover, Harrison told Ma'an what she saw in the moments before the Israeli army boarded the Mavi Marmara.

"I was on the Challenger I, on the upper deck," Harrison said. "We were very close to the Marmara. We actually thought [the Israeli navy] was coming for us first."

The Israeli army released edited video footage showing soldiers being beaten by passengers on the Mavi Marmara. The army's footage depicts soldiers dropping down from helicopters into a crowd of passengers armed with sticks and chairs. The scene was quickly described by Israeli media as a "lynching," with some saying the armed commandos were "lured into a trap."

Testimonials from the passengers abroad the Marmara, however, speak to a gap in the army's footage of crucial moments ahead of the arrival of the commandos on board the ship. Those on board say the missing footage would go a long way to showing the world the wider context of the violence.

Harrison, from her vantage point on the Challenger I, said soldiers first attempted to board the Marmara using two speedboats, each containing about a dozen armed commandos. She said passengers on the Marmara resisted the on-sea takeover using a water hose.

A helicopter had been flying around the flotilla for several hours before it acted, Harrison recalled, saying it drew closer to the Marmara after the successful repulsion of the Israeli boats.

As the helicopter neared the Marmara, she said, the boat appeared to be hit with sound bombs and bullets. Harrison said she could not be sure whether what she saw and heard was the use of live ammunition or rubber-coated bullets.

"The firing came from the helicopter... [it] began before the soldiers hit the deck," Harrison described, noting specifically that some soldiers were shooting as they descended from the helicopter.

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American activist and chair of the Free Gaza Movement, was also on the Challenger I.

"In the lead up, through the night, we had someone on watch at the top of the boat the whole time. When we got the word that vessels were approaching, we put our life vests on and went outside," Arraf says.

Footage broadcast from the Marmara shortly before the attack showed passengers aboard the ship had taken similar action, passing out life vests when Israeli naval ships made contact.

"At the time of the attack, we were side by side ... we were to the left of the Marmara, very close to it."

From that vantage point, she said, "I was able to see the beginning of the attack on the Marmara. I heard some explosions, sound bombs," Arraf says. "Then there was a helicopter overhead."

Shooting began before the soldiers were on the boat, Arraf said, explaining that like Harrison, she was unsure as to whether the ammunition was live or rubber-coated bullets.

"They attacked first in international waters and they opened fire on what they knew was an unarmed ship," Arraf said. "The people who did fight back were justified in defending themselves against an illegal raid."

Both Harrison and Arraf emphasized that while there were no deaths aboard the Challenger I, the Israeli takeover of their boat was no less violent.

Rather than sticks, passengers used their bodies to halt the Israeli commandos attempting to overtake the ship. "We put our hands out and we told them 'This is an American vessel, we are unarmed,'" Arraf recalls. She said Israeli soldiers threw sound bombs and used tasers on passengers even before they had boarded the Challenger I, using force from their entry points on the sides of the boat.

Once they were on, they "beat their way through" the crowd of activists who were attempting to stymie the takeover using their bodies as stumbling blocks.

"We locked the door of the boat to the main body of the boat," Arraf says. "They beat people out of the way and used their boots to kick through the glass [door]."

In hopes of defending the captain, who was on the upper deck, Arraf said she scrambled up a ladder. "Soldiers grabbed me, pulled me down, and bashed my head into the deck." A soldier "pressed my head onto the deck," using his boot, she said.

Arraf was "dragged to the front of the boat and pinned down … They put a sack over my head," she and confiscated her mobile phone. Her camera had already been taken, she added.

Harrison described activists on the Challenger I as "resisting with their bodies." As she attempted to block the commandos, she said she was "grabbed, pushed to the ground, thrown down the stairs, and pushed into the salon." There, she was "made to sit on the floor, which was covered in broken glass."

"They just showed no humanity at all," she added.

Despite the physical injuries, both women said they were determined to persist in their attempts to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.

"Israel should be under no illusion that the violence they have used will be a deterrence," Arraf said. "More people are contacting us and talking about getting involved."

Harrison simply remarked, "I'll be on the next boat."

Powered By: HTD Technologies
Ma'an News Agency
All rights reserved © 2005-2015