What happened to us is happening in Gaza
by Iara Lee
Saturday, June 5, 2010
In the predawn hours of May 31, I was aboard the Turkish ship Mavi
Marmara, part of a convoy of humanitarian vessels aiming to deliver aid to
besieged civilians in Gaza, when we were attacked in international waters
by a unit of Israeli commandos.
Our ship had been inspected by customs agents in Turkey, a NATO member,
who confirmed that there were no guns or any such weapons aboard. Indeed,
the Israeli government has produced no such arms. What was aboard the ship
were hundreds of civilian passengers, representatives of dozens of
countries, who had planned to deliver the flotilla's much-needed
humanitarian materials for the Gazan people. These Palestinians have
suffered under an illegal siege - first imposed by Israel in 2005 and
strictly enforced since early 2009 - which Amnesty International has
called "a flagrant violation of international law."
The passengers on our ship - including elected officials, diplomats, media
professionals and human rights workers - joined the flotilla as an act of
peaceful protest. Israel's powerful navy could have easily approached our
boat and boarded it in broad daylight or pursued nonviolent options for
disabling our vessel. Instead, the Israeli military launched a nighttime
assault with heavily armed commandos. Under attack, some passengers
skirmished with the boarding soldiers using broomsticks and other items at
hand. The commandos and navy soldiers shot and killed at least nine
civilians and seriously injured dozens more. Others are still missing. The
final death toll has yet to be determined.
I feared for the lives of my fellow passengers as I heard shots being
fired on deck, and I later saw the bodies of several people killed being
carried inside. I had expected soldiers to shoot in the air or aim at
people's legs, but instead I saw the bodies of people who appeared to have
been shot multiple times in the head or chest.
When it was over, the Israeli soldiers commandeered our ships, illegally
kidnapped us from international waters, towed us to the port of Ashdod,
and arrested all of us on board.
The Israeli government has confiscated all of our video equipment, hard
drives with video footage, cell phones and notebooks. They detained the
journalists aboard my ship, preventing them for days from speaking about
what happened. Acting on Israel's behalf at the U.N. Security Council, the
United States has attempted to block a full, impartial, international
investigation of the incident.
Nevertheless, even at this early stage the world has expressed outrage
around a basic fact: There is no justification for launching a deadly
commando attack in the dark of night on a humanitarian-aid convoy.
The Israeli government denies that its punitive blockade of Gaza is the
source of hardship for civilians there. While its spokespeople actively
work to create confusion in the media, the truth is clear for all who
would care to see it. The overwhelming conclusion of highly respected
human rights authorities is that the Israeli government, because it does
not accept the legitimacy of the elected Hamas government, is pursuing a
policy of what Human Rights Watch calls "collective punishment against the
civilian population," illegal under international law.
With regard to the flotilla I was on, the Israeli government says it would
have permitted our humanitarian aid to enter Gaza by land had we submitted
it through "proper channels." But Israel's "proper channels" - restrictive
checkpoints that have repeatedly turned away World Health Organization
medical supplies and rejected or delayed the delivery of U.N. food aid -
are the very source of the humanitarian crisis.
Israeli spokespeople insist that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a
provocation. It was, in the sense that civil rights protesters in the
American south who sat at segregated lunch counters represented a
provocation to segregationists, or in the sense that all nonviolent
protests against the illegitimate acts of a government are by definition
provocations. Under an illegal siege, the delivery of aid to civilians is
a prohibited act; the intent of our humanitarian convoy was to violate
this unjust prohibition.
At least nine of my fellow passengers were killed by the Israeli military
for attempting to defy the ban on delivering aid. Far more Palestinian
civilians have died as a result of the siege itself. What happened to our
flotilla is happening to the people of Gaza on a daily basis. It will not
stop until international law is applied to all countries, Israel included.
Iara Lee is a filmmaker and a co-founder of the San Francisco's Caipirinha