Eyewitness account (I)

June 2, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Visibly shaken German activists who were on an aid ship Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza raided by Israeli commandos said Tuesday that nobody on board was armed with anything more than a few wooden batons.

A German doctor on the ship, Matthias Jochheim, who had bloodstains on his trousers from people he treated, said that he had personally seen four dead people and that he expected the total death toll to be 15.

Three German politicians, plus a representative of the Palestinian community in Germany who was also on the ship, said that there were around 18 or 19 people killed in the raid on Monday.

Israeli officials blamed activists on the vessel for the confrontation, saying they had attacked soldiers as they boarded with clubs and knives. The Israeli military said that nine passengers were killed in the ensuing fight.

– The Israeli government justifies the raid because they were attacked. This is absolutely not the case – former MP Norman Paech, 72, wrapped in a blue blanket, told reporters after arriving back in Berlin from the Middle East.

– This was not an act of self-defence – he added.

– Personally I saw two and a half wooden batons that were used … There was really nothing else. We never saw any knives – he said.

– This was an attack in international waters on a peaceful mission and a clear act of piracy. We had not prepared in any way to fight. We didn’t even consider it. We wanted to show that we were peaceful. No violence, no resistance, because we knew very well that we would have absolutely no chance against soldiers like this – he added.

Paech, a former MP from the far-left Die Linke party who has been to Gaza several times, said that he took photographic evidence but that his camera had been confiscated.

His comments were backed up by Inge Hoeger, 59, and Annette Groth, 56, two current Die Linke MPs who were also on board the convoy when it was raided at dawn on Monday in international waters.

– We felt like we were in a war, like we were being kidnapped. We wanted to bring aid and nobody had a weapon. Israeli attack was an act of piracy – Hoeger said.

Jochheim, the doctor, told the same news conference in Berlin that there were “at least” 50 people badly injured.

– Personally I saw four dead … The soldiers used live ammunition, not rubber bullets or something. An Iranian colleague told me that there was a fifth person dead. And then I heard from a reliable source that there were 15 killed in total… mostly from gunshot wounds – he said.

A Greek activist told Tuesday of the moment Israeli troops stormed the ill-fated Gaza-bound aid flotilla, using rubber bullets, tear gas and electroshock weapons to subdue those aboard. Michalis Grigoropoulos was aboard another boat from the convoy, a smaller one named Eleftheri Mesogeio.

– Israeli troops jumped onto the boat around 05:30 on Monday – Grigoropoulos said of the pre-dawn raid by Israeli forces.

– They fired rubber coated bullets, tear gas and then used electroshock weapons on some activists – he told a press conference shortly after Israel deported him and five compatriots to Athens.

Israel is still holding hundreds of the 686 passengers they seized and took back to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where Grigoropoulos said he was kept incommunicado, denied access to a lawyer and made to sign papers he did not understand. He criticised “the wretched detention conditions at Ashdod (where) 500 people were packed in together” saying that “two Greek activists were beaten up” there by Israeli police. Another crew member, Aris Papadokostopoulos said that the detained Greeks “were beaten because they refused to give their digital fingerprints.”

Around 30 pro-Palestinian Greek activists from the flotilla are still being held in Israel.

Activists who have refused to identify themselves have been taken to an Israeli prison.