"Upon landing on the middle deck, I fractured my arm, and a mob of dozens of people attacked me and basically lynched me." So reads the testimony of the first soldier who fast-roped down from the helicopter unto the deck of the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, last May.
"(The assailants were) pulling off my helmet, strangling me, sticking fingers into my eyes to gouge them out of their sockets, pulling my limbs in every direction, striking me in an extremely harsh manner with clubs and metal rods, mostly on my head," recalled the comando that the report refers to as soldier no.1. "I truly felt that I was about to die, way beyond what we define as life-threatening."
The report released by the Turkel committee, which looked into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, includes a number of such testimonies from the naval commandoes that took part in the incident, some of whom were taken captive and held in the ship's interior.
'They were pulling my limbs in every direction' (Photo: Reuters)
The statements, which were collected by the Israeli Defense Forces upon the commission's request, paint a grim picture. The first soldier on the scene described it as a battlefield; while still in the air, he saw that the activists awaiting bellow were wearing gas masks and life jackets and were armed with iron clubs, rods and axes.
Moreover, the report states that the weapons IHH activists used in order to attack the soldiers were made from pieces of the ship's railing, despite the crew's attempts to stop them from cutting up the metal for this cause.
The captain of the Marmara, Mehmut Torel, said he had been surprised by the large number of weapons the activists had succeeded in creating. He testified to having thrown some of them overboard while stowing others away in a locked room.
Torel added that, knowing what the consequences would be if the activists were allowed weapons, he asked them repeatedly to behave civilly. "I thought that because there were civilians on board nothing would happen," he testified.
"The behavior of the people at this stage was definitely like fighters of an enemy which has come to kill the other side, that is, me," soldier no.1 said. "I felt that at any moment I would take a blow to the head which would kill me."
The commander of the Navy commando force said in his testimony before the Turkel committee that the resistance on board had been well-planned.
"No regular citizen knows how to fight at night with a vest and gas mask for an extended period of time, to take a weapon, cock it, and fire without fear when engaging someone in a fight, unless he was properly trained ahead of time," he said.
At one point, soldier no. 1, who was earlier thrown by the Turkish activists to a lower deck, 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) bellow, realized that he will not be able to overpower the assailants. He considered jumping into the water, but was afraid to hit the deck bellow him. He was able to grab hold of his gun, cock it and shoot one of the attackers in his leg. He then received a harsh blow to the head.
"This stunned me briefly, and in this second they grabbed the weapon from me," he said. "At this
stage, I thought that the mob wanted to take me as a captive and use me as a bargaining chip for entry to Gaza or in general. A lot of blood began streaming down my face from the wounds to my
head. The mob continued to hit me."
Soldier no. 4, as the report calls the fourth soldier to rappel from the first helicopter, was the one to suffer the worst injury. After the incident he was hospitalized, put on a respirator and was operated on to treat a scull fracture.
Soldier no. 4 recalled that upon his arrival, one activist was waiting for him with a crowbar, but he managed to beat the activist to the punch.
"Immediately another four terrorists jumped onto me while one of them wrapped the chain around my neck and strangled me," he recounted. "While I was struggling with them I thought of
drawing my pistol but I felt that if I drew it, because they were up against me and kicking me, I wouldn't be able to shoot and they would grab the pistol from me. At this stage, I lost consciousness, apparently from the strangling - I saw stars."
When he awoke, he was airborne – the assailants had thrown him from the roof to the bridge deck. A crowd of 20 men carrying poles and axes dragged him from there inside the ship.
IDF soldiers confronted activists aboad flotilla (Photo: AFP)
Soldier no. 3, who commanded the forces aboard the first helicopter, and the third to rappel onto the ship, was forcefully pulled down from the roof onto the deck and attacked.
"I am lying on the deck, there are many people above me, one of the people jumped on me and I felt a sharp pain in the lower abdomen," he recalled. "I put my hand there and I felt a knife, and I realized that I'd been stabbed, I instinctively pulled the knife out of my abdomen."
He realized that he lost control of the situation from the moment he arrived on deck.
"I managed to withdraw my mini-Uzi, which was secured on my back," he said. "While I'm drawing the weapon, I feel myself flying - as the result of being pushed. Someone pushes me forcefully and I fall onto the side.
"I find myself sitting on the deck with my back to the side and facing all the people surrounding me," he continued. "The people surrounding me have axes, knives, metal poles and clubs, and they're running towards me - it's a matter of a second or two before they reach me. I manage to cock the weapon and released two bullets. I don't know if I have hit anyone or who. People immediately reach me, grab the weapon from me, and hit me with full force with poles and clubs."
The soldier, who was protecting his head with his arms, heard the assailants yelling "Allahu Akbar" as they beat him. He then realized that he was about to be thrown overboard.
"I feel a number of people grabbing my hands and feet, lifting me up," he said. "In this second I realize that they intend to throw me over the side into the water. I resist, thrust wildly, struggle, but without success. It is important to state that also during this time I continue to receive very strong blows to the abdomen. I am fighting with all my strength until a certain stage when they manage to get me over the side of the boat. I am holding onto the side, with my hands, and hanging from the side. At this stage, the people from above me are hitting my hands and a second group of people is pulling me from below by grabbing my legs."
Soldier no. 2, the second to rappel from the helicopter, was shot in his stomach with a 9 mm bullet. He was operated on twice, and had to undergo physiotherapy rehabilitation. Soldier no. 5 was shot in his right knee.
Prior to being shot, the fifth soldier was surrounded and beaten all over his body by the activists, one of who used a large camera tripod to hit him. His head was protected by a helmet, which was crushed from the force of the blows.
When the IHH activists realized he was trying to reach his gun, they stopped him by striking him with iron rods. One of the assailants then attempted to stab him in the chest, but was stopped by his ceramic vest. The soldier used the assailant's momentary surprise to strike him on the head. He then ran towards the mob and grabbed the rod out of one man's hands, and swung it to fight back, but the punches overpowered him and he lost consciousness. He later underwent operations to treat the bullet wound and the head and stomach trauma.
In addition to the violence that greeted the IDF soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara, three soldiers (soldier no. 1, soldier no. 3 and soldier no. 4) testified to being abducted and taken into the ship's interior. They were held for 40 minutes, during which they were beaten and denied medical attention, and their equipment was taken away.
"When they brought me inside, below the ship's deck, I realized that here my physical resistance would be futile and that I would not be able to fight them all, so I just looked for an opportunity
to escape and jump into the water," soldier no. 1 recalled. "At this stage, I was certain that I was going to die, and all kinds of scenarios started running through my mind: being executed by the mob, being executed and it being photographed to distribute around the world and show their achievement; being abducted and brought into Gaza."
The soldier said that he was photographed and filmed throughout the incident, including while being beaten. He described the experience as "a real press conference."
"During all of this movement below deck, one enemy strangled me from behind and twisted
my arms from the back, while we were moving, so that everyone who passed by me made sure to strike at me and take part in beating me," he added.
Soldier no. 3 was dragged inside while massively bleeding from his stomach, hand and head. He also thought that he would be executed, which made him hold on to the barrier as hard as he could, which made the captors bite him.
"I resist with all my strength, without success," he said. "I recall a lot of shouting there, madness in the people's eyes, hate. I realize that this is the end of me, and that they're going to kill me."
According the the testimony, while descending downstairs, two activists tried to strangle two of the soldiers.
"Two people I remember from this stage were wearing green Hamas flags wrapped around their heads, and were very eager to kill us," soldier no. 3 said. "They tried to strangle me and soldier no. 4. The hate in their eyes was just burning. They told us in English that they were going to kill us. Apparently, what stopped them from succeeding were the people who prevented them from doing it. They pushed them away from the area."
The report states that the three soldiers held in the ship's interior identified two groups of activists; the first group was the one that attacked them upon their arrival and continued to beat them, and the second consisted of the people who were waiting inside, and attempted to calm the spirits and protect the soldiers.
After attacking the men who were watching them, the first and third soldiers managed to escape and jumped into the water.
The forces aboard the second helicopter freed the fourth soldier, who was unable to walk on his own. The surgery he was given by a paramedic on the ship's deck saved his life.
Aviad Glickman contributed to this report.