Eyewitness Accounts of Gaza Convoy Raid What Really Happened on Board the Mavi Marmara

A war of words has been raging ever since the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid convoy, as the two sides offer conflicting accounts of what really happened. Three people who were on board the Mavi Marmara tell their version of events. By SPIEGEL staff.

AFP / Free Gaza Movement

When the Hamburg resident Nader El Sakka, 58, tried to board the Challenger I in the port of Agios Nikolaos on Crete, he was told he had to sign a four-page document pledging that he would not engage in violence and that he possessed no weapons. He also had to provide the name and telephone number of a family member in case of an emergency. If he didn't sign, he was told, he wouldn't be allowed on board the Gaza-bound convoy.

The document was in English, a language that El Sakka -- a businessman who was acting as a delegate from the Palestinian community in Germany -- does not speak well, so he only filled out three pages. He thought he could skip the fourth page. "But that wasn't enough to be allowed on board," he says. "They insisted that I also fill out the fourth one."

El Sakka embarked on board the Challenger I, one of eight boats and freighters headed for Gaza with a load of cement, structural steel, medicine and children's toys. Two days later, off the coast of Cyprus, El Sakka disembarked and went on board the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish passenger ship. The flagship of the small fleet, it had Gaza activists on board from a dozen countries, the majority of whom -- around 400 people -- hailed from Turkey.

Like a Pleasant Cruise

El Sakka describes the atmosphere on board as "euphoric," almost as if "we were on a pleasant cruise," he says. The ship was linked via satellite with the Internet and a number of TV stations and continuously sent out images and interviews to the world. A reporter from the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera filed a report on Sunday afternoon that made headlines a number of days later. A group of Arab activists could be seen chanting: "Remember Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! Muhammad's army is returning!"

This is an intifada battle cry, a fighting slogan that recalls a victorious battle fought by the Prophet Muhammad's army against the Jews. El Sakka, a veteran of many pro-Palestinian demonstrations, knows the words well -- and he disapproves of them. "We avoid such slogans at our rallies," he says. "I didn't personally see this group on the ship. But I recognize the reporter. He was definitely there." The other footage in the report also stems from the Mavi Marmara, he says -- including a woman standing on deck and saying in Arabic: "Right now we face one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza."

That evening at 6:00 they ate köfte (grilled meatballs) and cucumber salad. Four-and-a-half hours later, Captain Mahmut Tural spotted Israeli ships on his radar. In response to their demand that he change course, he responded: "Negative. Our destination is Gaza." Then he ordered an exercise to prepare the passengers for an emergency.

'I Was Well Prepared'

"But right after the alarm the various groups continued with their speeches and singing," said Norman Paech, a former member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the far-left Left Party, who was also on board the ship. "I stayed for a bit on deck and observed it all -- out of anthropological interest." Then he went to bed.

The activists suspected that an attack was imminent. They began to assign watches on deck. One of the men on watch was the Turkish doctor Mahmut Coskun, 40. "They chose well-built doctors for the job, because in a crisis we would have to bring the injured below deck," he recalls. "I'm an emergency doctor with a motorcycle unit. I was well prepared."

He saw men preparing for a showdown by reciting poems and songs, but there were no real extremists on board, he says: "Between 5,000 and 6,000 people had applied for the mission. Radicals were not taken along."

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Norberto_Tyr 06/08/2010
1. Kidnapping and deportation is not a rational procedure to say the least
Lets summarize the facts: 1- the humanitarian vessel was violently boarded in international waters; 2- unarmed humanitarian activists were killed; 3- no Israeli was killed; 4- humanitarian activists where kidnapped and taken into Israel against their will; 5- the humanitarian activists were deported. This kerfuffle does not add-up at all since is clear that deportation is used when someone illegally enters a country or when someone seriously violates the laws of the country in which is residing. In both cases the premise is that the person entered the country by his / her own accord, which in this situation it is obviously not the case. On the other hand there is a sense that Israel’s government is working in two different levels or dimensions, one metaphysical and other in accordance to international law but on a mere formal basis and both disjointed or out of synch in a rather strange way. Israel claims to be one more country within the international community but behaves as if they can impose their law and arbitrary point of view to the rest. For instance disregarding other countries sovereignty (Dubai), disregarding the universal principle of jurisdiction (kidnapping people residing in other countries), utilizing mafia style techniques such as counterfeiting passports of friendly nations (Australia, UK and others), and exploiting the ambiguity of the dual citizenship (in my view dual citizenship should be declared illegal) of people belonging the Jewish faith. Israel is not only violating well established and universally accepted laws but it is violating the principles of logic and also mere decency and respect for the truth to the point that assuming rationality on the part of the people currently in government is extremely risky, especially if they are handling illegal nuclear weapons. Norberto
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