British newspaper the Guardian on Wednesday published the accounts of a number of pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, which was raided by Israeli commandos early Monday as it was making its way to Gaza. Nine people were killed in the raid.
Norman Paech, a 72-year-old German pro-Palestinian activist described waking up to hear "striking explosions" as the raid began.
"I hurried up and dressed myself and colleagues said to me 'we're under attack, the Israelis are here'," he told The Guardian as he was making his way back to Berlin on an El Al plane. "The aggression came from the sky, from helicopters from which soldiers came down by ropes. We waited in the fore room and saw them carrying an Israeli soldier who looked to me like he'd had a breakdown. Then the second and third came, but after these three injured soldiers then I saw a lot – maybe 10 – passengers who were severely hurt, injured, covered in blood. They were treated in the salon next to me. One was so badly injured I am sure he must have died soon after. I didn't even consider going upstairs as it was just too dangerous."
Swedish novelist Henning Mankell who had been aboard the Swedish aid ship Sofia, called for global sanctions against Israel to put pressure on it to lift the blockade of Gaza. "I think we should use the experience of South Africa, where we know that the sanctions had a great impact. It took time, but they had an impact," Mankell told the British newspaper. He denied there had been any weapons aboard the aid ships. "I can promise there was not a single weapon aboard the ships," he told a reporter who was returning to Sweden with him after the writer had been deported by Israel.
'It was unimaginable'
Nilufer Cetin, a Turkish activist, and her baby boy hid in a bathroom below deck as stun grenades, live ammunition and teargas exploded above them. Speaking to the Guardian on her return to Istanbul, she described how "the ship turned into a lake of blood".
"We stayed in our cabin and played games amid the sound of gunfire," she said. "I protected him by staying in my cabin, then went to the bathroom. I put a gas mask and lifejacket on my son. They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters. They started to descend on to the ship with helicopters." She added the clashes were "extremely bad and brutal".
Iara Lee, a Brazilian filmmaker who was also on the Mavi Marmara, said the Israeli soldiers had invaded the ship after cutting all communications and "started shooting at people". Speaking to Brazil's TV Globo from a prison in southern Israel, Lee said, "(The attack) was a surprise, because it happened in the middle of the night, in the darkness, in international waters, because we knew there would be a confrontation but not in international waters. Their first tactic was to cut all of our satellite communications and then they attacked. All I witnessed first hand was the shooting. They came on board and started shooting at people."
She said the commandos then sent the women to a lower level of the ship.
"They said we were terrorists – it was absurd. They came into the part where the women were, lots and lots of them, dressed in black and with gigantic weapons as if they were in a war. They confiscated all of our telephones and all of our luggage and took everything out of the bags and put it on the floor."
"We expected them to shoot people in the legs, to shoot in the air, just to scare people, but they were direct," she said, in a separate interview with the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. "Some of them shot in the passengers' heads. Many people were murdered – it was unimaginable."
Israel's investigation into the raid painted an entirely different picture. The ongoing interrogation of passengers who were aboard the Marmara – the Gaza aid flotilla's flagship – revealed that the majority of those who attacked the Israeli Naval Commandos boarding the ship have direct and indirect Global Jihad ties.
The probe has revealed some 100 people infiltrated the peace and humanitarian aid activists making their way to Gaza, with the explicit design to attack Israeli soldiers using cold arms.
Some among that group are believed to have ties with World Jihad groups, mainly al-Qaeda.
The majority of suspects are Turks, but some are Yemenites and Indonesian. One Yemenite Islamist was photographed with a dagger in his belt prior to the raid.