Author Henning Mankell on Gaza Convoy Raid 'First It Was Piracy, and Then It Was Kidnapping'
Bestselling Swedish author Henning Mankell was on the aid convoy that was raided last week by Israeli commandos as it headed for the Gaza Strip. He spoke to SPIEGEL about the soldiers' readiness to use violence, his mistreatment in Israeli custody and why he supports the Palestinian cause.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Mankell, you participated in the recent attempt to break through the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Why?
Henning Mankell: The Israelis attacked Gaza in 2008. They destroyed everything, and since then the lives of Palestinians have been unendingly difficult. Some friends and I felt that we ought to do something about it. We wanted to express solidarity. They can't get out, no one is allowed to go in, and they have nothing. We wanted to show that the blockade is illegal.
SPIEGEL: How did you intend to go about it?
Mankell: We needed ships to do it. The idea was to use a convoy to take things there that were urgently needed, from cement to medication to chocolate for the children. And we wanted the world to know about the suffering in Gaza.
SPIEGEL: Who did you team up with?
Mankell: There are many, very diverse people in Sweden, from churches and apolitical organizations to individual figures. The campaign was supposed to be strictly humanitarian, because we knew that otherwise there would be problems.
SPIEGEL: The Gaza Strip is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas. Wasn't it naïve to believe that you could keep out of the power struggle there?
Mankell: I was asked again and again whether we could rule out the possibility that Hamas would take control of the campaign. I always responded that I couldn't guarantee anything, of course. But I can promise you that we work solely and exclusively with humanitarian organizations. That's the important thing. Everything else was out of our control.
SPIEGEL: Were you involved in the preparations?
Mankell: Not much. I first heard about the campaign a year ago. I thought: It's a good idea. And I immediately saw a role for myself, as I happen to be quite well known. I told the Swedish organizers that I could be there on the last part of the trip. They said that was wonderful.
SPIEGEL: You say that the Palestinians are in a pitiful state. Have you ever been to the Gaza Strip?
Mankell: No, they didn't let me in. I've been to Israel and Palestine several times. I attended a Palestinian literary festival in Hebron a month ago, and I have also visited Jerusalem. We tried to travel to Gaza, but the Israelis turned us away. You know, I was born in 1948, the same year as the establishment of the State of Israel, so this conflict has accompanied me my entire life. For me, the thought that this conflict will still exist when I die is unbearable.
SPIEGEL: Your political goal is to direct the world's attention to the blockade. You achieved this goal, but not in the way you had expected. What did you experience on your ship, the Sofia?
Mankell: The convoy consisted of six ships, and the Sofia was one of two smaller freighters. I was never on the main ship, the Mavi Marmara. We set sail from Cyprus. We were far out in international waters when the Israelis attacked. It was late, I was tired, and I had already gone to bed.
SPIEGEL: What time was it?
Mankell: Exactly 4 a.m. Half an hour later, someone came in and said that the main ship had been attacked. From a distance, we saw the helicopters and the soldiers rappelling onto the deck, and we heard shots. We had no connection to the Mavi Marmara. It was only on the way to the Lufthansa flight that took me back to Stockholm (Editor's note: Mankell was deported by Israeli authorities) that I learned of the dead.
SPIEGEL: When did they board your ship?
Mankell: At 5:35 a.m. They came in speedboats. We went onto the bridge and waited for them there, and we offered no resistance.
SPIEGEL: How many people were on board the Sofia?
Mankell: I think there were 24, including the crew. The Israeli soldiers were wearing masks, and they told us to go below deck. Some of us were somewhat older, and we weren't moving fast enough for the Israelis, so the soldiers used electroshock weapons to speed us up. It was horrible. People were falling down. They shot rubber bullets at a man who was standing next to me. The soldiers were prepared to use violence on us from the beginning. And all of this in international waters. They had no legal basis for coming on board.
SPIEGEL: And then?
Mankell: They took control of the ship and set course for Israel. First it was piracy, and then it was kidnapping.