by Diane V. McLoughlin, July 16, 2010, mcloughlinpost.com
There were six ships, 663 people both old and young - men and women from 37 different countries
bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid. Three ships, one of them the Mavi Marmara, carried peace
activists and humanitarians while the others carried the donated relief supplies.
They set sail to Gaza May 30th, 2010, with plans to reach Gaza May 31st. Gaza's barbed-wire and
high cement wall-enclosed ghetto imprisons 1.5 million men, women and children. Israel's brutal,
illegal military blockade of Gaza is entering its fourth year. The aim of Israel's siege is to crush Gaza
economically for political purposes - to force Gazans to forfeit any claims to stolen homes and lands
taken from them by Israel in 1948; to accept a life of liberty denied.
The flotilla was informed by the Israeli navy that they had extended - arbitrarily, it would seem - the
military blockade of Gaza's territorial waters to sixty kilometers, from eight.
The flotilla participants knew that the endeavor to reach Gaza with relief supplies was not fraught
with risk. The peaceful and unarmed flotilla was attacked by Israel's navy without provocation in
international waters - a crime, whether within or outside Israel's illegal blockade (for brevity's sake, I
will henceforth refer to all forms of Israel's military as the IDF, short for the Israeli defense force.)
On the evening of July 10th, accompanied by my son's best friend, Aidan Parchelo, a gifted chap
university-bound, we attended an evening jointly put on by the Palestinian Canadian Congress;
Independent Jewish Voices; and the Ottawa-Palestine Solidarity Network. The purpose of the event
was to hear eyewitness testimony from a peace activist named Kevin Neish, and Farooq Burney of
educational rights organization fakhoora.org. Both were passengers on the Mavi Marmara when it
We arrived early at the Ben Franklin Place meeting room in what once was Nepean's City Hall
(Nepean since becoming amalgamated with the City of Ottawa.) In the rather dated room, which
was capable of holding several hundred, I counted no more than thirty-five attendees. For some
inexplicable reason, with so many empty seats from which to choose, some slovenly fathead of a
man sat directly behind me, kicking my seat with his bouncing foot the entire time even after a polite
request that he cease - which was met with a heavy, put-upon sigh.
Neish - white, six foot, balding and rumpled in jeans and plaid shirt - was providing a rather nervous,
kinetic running commentary to a grainy, shaky, smuggled-out video clip of unfolding events of the
attack on the Mavi Marmara. Little was clear beyond the physically palpable fear of those captured
on film, much of it taken in a stairwell of people huddled up and down steps with lifejackets on;
occasionally, prone bodies are awkwardly carried/dragged through. Surreal, that observant Muslims
in lifejackets felt compelled to continue prayer on deck, clearly as unarmed as everybody else, as the
sounds of mayhem and terror echoed round about.
- Mavi Marmara
Kevin Neish is a Canadian peace activist who lives in Victoria, British Columbia. According to Neish, Zionists denounce him as anti-Semitic. No, "I'm anti-bully, anti-racist". He started out on the flotilla boat Challenger; a 270 ft. long yacht which left from Crete; Israelis bragged they sabotaged ships; 'our ship, seam split taking on water; a dozen activists transferred to Mavi; all bags searched [by Mavi Mavara participants] no weapons of any kind permitted'; even his pocketknife taken away (a handy item, I carry one myself.)
Neish intended to go to Gaza and reside there for eight months or so as a human rights observer, working with the international solidarity movement. He had approximately four-thousand dollars for living expenses on him. Israelis took all of his possessions, his I.D. and all his money. After, if Turkey hadn't helped him he would have had no means of getting home.
Farooq Burney's fakhoora.org is dedicated to fighting for the educational rights of Palestinian young people. Burney - slim, compact, well-groomed in jeans and bright-looking - he chose to be a part of the flotilla because he wanted to show solidarity to the young people of Gaza. He deeply believes in equality of educational opportunity. Schools in Gaza were targeted by the IDF during the military assault late 2008, early 2009' the Israelis refer to this attack as Operation Cast Lead.
fakhoora.org brought 65 computers destined for Gaza university students. Burney: education is a fundamental human right; al fakhoora is the name taken from a destroyed Gaza school where forty students were killed in the IDF assault.
The testimonies of Neish and Burney tended to go back and forth in a rather free flow of information. The following is from them both, verbatim. I typed trying my best to capture the essence of what I heard, as one or the other of them spoke:
Notebooks, medical supplies were also on the ships. Wanted to reach Gaza during daybreak.
12:30 A.M. Mavi Marmara is contacted by Israeli navy; captain asked to identify ship, destination; navy - 'you are entering forbidden waters'; captain asks for navy's coordinates, no response; we know we are being followed by war ships; half hour later we see lights from vessels; captain detours to avoid interception before daybreak, recommended everyone try to get some rest.
3:30 A.M. captain announced we are being surrounded by twelve military ships, anything could happen; we put on lifejackets;
4 A.M. Muslim call to prayer; also a watchful human chain around ship is made; zodiacs come alongside 20 commandos full gear guns threw smoke grenades into ship causing panic; gunshots and bullets (live? Rubber?); people getting hit, injured; beside me (Neish) man fell down unconscious; helicopters; hand to hand combat; water hoses used to try to repel IDF; third pass helicopter firing on ship, people being hit, an older gentleman hit in chest with bullet...
Literally, nuts and bolts were collected by some to throw at helicopter gunships (Neish thought this was 'nuts'); IDF - uses tear gas; water hoses used to spray Israelis away from ship; Neish retreated to stairwell, too dangerous on deck; Arab workers swarmed well-armed IDF commandos, took weapons and dumped bullets overboard while saving at least one disabled gun as evidence; commandos were treated well and protected...
Unnerving: A laminated hit-list complete with names and photographs of activists was discovered in an IDF commando backpack...
IDF murder: Two Turkish aid workers with bullet holes on side of heads - executed; more killed this same way...
Captain: We are not going to Gaza (so everybody surrendered)...
Netanyuhu: These were 'ships of hate'; Neish: If that is so, why did they stop resisting once they knew they could not get to Gaza?
freegaza.org: We are raising money to send a ship next September [applause from audience].
Forty-five minutes, ship was taken; not going to Gaza; return to main sitting area; we went down and locked doors; IDF surrounds ship, points guns with lasers...
Three dead where we were; injured; not resisting; people are dying, request assistance; one hour before IDF opens the door, brings the injured to two women; ordered 'come out with hands on heads, only bring passports and any meds'; frisked; IDF tied hands behind backs; kneel face wall; six hours; people denied bathrooms; no talking; elderly people in pain, passing out; hands turning purple swelling like balloons...
7:30 A.M. to 1 P.M.: ordered back down to original sitting area; IDF ransacked the place, ripping seat cushions; told going to Israeli town of Ashdod; reached 6 P.M.; no food 24 hours; no water; even if could get water, not allowed to go to washroom so...
They had taken away dead and injured; told sixteen to nineteen dead by a fellow Mavi Marmara traveller who was a Knesset member - widespread shock, grief - six to twelve hours' wait for captors to be taken off ship; cheers from supporters on-shore...
Searched our bodies...
Interrogations: We are a humanitarian country [laughter from audience]; do you believe in the state of Israel?...
Prison: Request phone calls, lawyers - denied; next day 9 A.M. request contact embassies, families - denied; 11 A.M. get back in cells; locked cells; fresh IDF prison trainees, young, eighteen to twenty years old, laughing at us like monkeys in cages...
Canadian embassy will try to get you out as soon as possible; female staff member departs with 'all the best' [Burney: All the best?!?] - 'but if they move you, please call us to let us know...' [more laughter from audience...hello, Kafka]...
Jordanian Ambassador took all of one hour and a half to remove all Jordanians, Algerians, Kuwaitis, Pakistanis - assumed the duty to help all of them...
3 A.M. all Turkish citizens released; 8 A.M. everybody out (Europeans, Canadians)...
The prison was surrounded by media; papers we had to sign...
Israelis: 'Why are you in Israel?' Answer: 'I didn't want to go to Israel'...
(Seriously?) - We were charged with illegally entering Israel so that's why we were in jail...
Turkish government had sent planes to pick up, will not leave unless all the people - dead or alive - are on the planes.
Neish: 'If it weren't for the Turkish government I might still be there'; twelve hours on the planes on Ashdod tarmac to make sure we did not leave anyone behind; landed in Istanbul; there were two (gives sense they were exceedingly unhelpful) from Canadian consulate; Neish sincerely thanks Turkish consular official in audience for his country's generous help - hotel, flight to Toronto, meals...appears deeply moved by Turkish humanitarian aid given to him.
Kevin Neish: Wrote an open letter to Canadian government, asking why the government had not said anything; did not negotiate our release; all our belongings, cash, phones, laptops, cameras - stolen;
Farooq Burney: Director, founded fakhoora.org; UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26: Everyone has a right to an education; young people are not allowed to leave Gaza to pursue their educations; supports reconstruction of schools in Gaza destroyed by Israel, as well as prosthetics for those crippled from IDF Operation Cast Lead attack of 2008-09; 1,383 dead; eighteen schools destroyed; crowded classrooms; professors assaulted at checkpoints; inadequate school supplies; pencils, ink, paper, notebooks, computers - all are items that Israel bans from entering Gaza.
fahoora.org supports psychological counseling - many are traumatized by the ongoing siege; provides one-hundred educational scholarships for higher education for students in Gaza for three to five-year programs [audience applause.]
Join: 'United Against the Blockade of Gaza' - Facebook; looking for signatures/signees;
Questions-and-Answers portion of the evening:
How many were killed? Nine dead, seven missing; six of the missing, no families came forward -six were possibly spies [murmurs, 'ohh', from audience].
Burney, to a question: Israelis refused to let him out of jail cell to speak to Canadian consular officials - who were nice people but clueless; Canadian Ambassador should have come to personally get the Canadians out like the Jordanians did; called out 'Don't leave me!', as he realized to his horror that the consular officials were actually leaving the prison without him. Cell is 4 X 6 ft.; very hard to be in cell - what will happen? You don't know. Scary. Guards: We haven't heard from Canadian Embassy.
My wife is calling Kuwait, no response; Ottawa asks her - where was he born(!) He's Canadian - he has a Canadian passport (came to Canada as a kid from Pakistan); Ottawa: 'well, maybe he went with them?'
Neish: Actions, response of Canada - Harper, MP's - nothing, re info of illegal things done to me; in contrast, Turkish government flew us out; hotel, meals covered - flew Neish to Toronto for free - where is the Canadian government - nothing; asked the local Canadian authority to get him home to Victoria, B.C.; seventy pounds of luggage, got twenty pounds back from Israel, mostly just dirty laundry; four grand cash stolen; heard nothing from Canadian authorities.
Where are the ships? Ashdod. Seized.
Strip searches; body cavity searches; Neish managed to smuggle out a chip of film; machine guns; dogs; batons; after twelve hours of being painfully bound no food, no water, no bathroom, taken off of ship; yanked tight hand restraints when asked for washroom; Neish's hands are damaged still; bad treatment, very hard on the elderly...
One of the first persons killed was media, shot in head; camera man shot in arm...
Neish: I would be dead for challenging the soldiers if I wasn't white.
Recommendation: Don't sign anything until you see a lawyer and you know everybody is safe...
Former U.S. citizen, guy from Ireland beaten to a pulp - boots taken to him - two days later in Istanbul guy is still covered in dried blood (name - Ken O'Keefe).
Q. re the Mavi footage showing soldiers being beaten - true? Answer: There were a hundred or more passengers with gunshot wounds; there were shootings happening even before the commandos were on the deck; people were already dead before the soldiers got down; dozens wounded [read: self-defense.]
There is a scheduled meeting July 15th in Istanbul to discuss filing a lawsuit against Israel.
A pleasant looking guy in a suit sitting across from me, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Flora McDonald on the other side of him, asked what can be done to counter the extreme media bias in Canada?
Several questions later it's my turn with the mike, which was shepherded to each seated guest in their turn. Off-the-cuff public speaking usually makes me a nervous wreck. I thank the panel for their bravery and for speaking this evening, as well as the efforts of the organizers.
I identify myself and my website, mcloughlinpost.com, by way of sharing my view that lots of people care and lots of people try to counter the mainstream media bias - but that it's hard to get it out there. I invited everyone to visit my website where I post essays I write, but also, that I try to use my website as a source for information - for example, I have good information on boycott, divestment and sanctions (smattering of applause for BDS.) Cut and polished diamonds are an interesting item: cut and polished diamonds make up something like thirty percent of Israel's entire export market.
Neish pipes up [aggressively? Why?] that diamonds are not the only things around to boycott - for example, oranges. Umm, responding yes!, there are lots of things to boycott; true! But diamonds are big...
I invited everybody to consider writing to the CRTC to complain about a particularly bad radio show on CFRA at Noon on June 22nd, where a representative from the Canada Israel Committee held forth for a full half hour with his extreme views with no alternative views given: i.e. there was no occupation; Israel is surrounded by enemies; the attack on Gaza was about rockets; Israel was just defending itself from radical Islamists; liberals are hoodwinked by very clever radical Islamist elements.
Interesting: Neish pointedly suggests 'we' get more questions. I was done anyway, but the mike is whisked away.
Kevin Neish is asked at one point if he would go again. He is not sure if he has it in him: 'I can't get into Israeli hands again; too brutal; humiliating' [this did not come through in his testimony and is a surprise.]
My companion, the young Mr. Parchelo, thanks Neish and Burney for their extreme bravery; suggests that in future they should consider giving more details on what was done to them by the Israelis.This is one of the best observations of the evening, besides the woman who gave the Green Party rep, Jean-Luc Cook, an opportunity to recover from his earlier disastrous explanation of the Green position on the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. [Nope. He failed. Twice. Without apology. 'There are two sides to every story', and that was the story Cook was sticking with.]
The fact of the matter was that we were there to hear from Neish and Burney about what they saw, what they heard, and, importantly, what they themselves experienced. Neish appeared as if he almost wanted to flee the room. "What do you want to know?! About the repeated body cavity searches?!"
There was a sharp intake of breath from the audience. Kevin Neish, a man of peace, was clearly traumatized by Israel's base treatment of him - little different from repeatedly being raped. He could talk about bullet holes in the sides of heads of the innocents carried past him - he could stand and bear witness for them; but not about his own humiliation and degradation. No. He would not, perhaps could not, talk about that.
In closing, we heard from Dillon Penner, member, both of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, as well as Independent Jewish Voices: 'It is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel - it is our moral obligation.'