The following is a statement Mary Hughes Thompson, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, wrote in Cyprus, where she has been helping coördinate the Free Gaza flotilla. I report it with pride:
Because the Cypriot authorities prevented me and a dozen others from boarding our boat CHALLENGER, I joined my two colleagues in the Free Gaza press office in Larnaca.
On Sunday, May 30th afternoon around 4PM Cyprus time, the flotilla of boats left the rendezvous point in international waters of the Mediterranean, and we closely monitored their progress via spot locator beacons coming from our boat and the live streaming from the Turkish boat. We were in constant communication with our colleagues on the boats, particularly David Schermerhorn on CHALLENGER and Lubna Masarwa on the MAVI MARMORA. We spoke with Lubna via Skype for long periods during the early morning hours of Monday, May 31st, and David contacted us frequently from his satellite phone. Both reported they were approached by IDF warships and helicopters, and were contacted with demands they stop and either turn around or proceed to Ashdod. Spokespeople on the boats, including Huwaida Arraf on CHALLENGER, responded that we would continue to Gaza with our cargo and passengers, that we were in international waters, were all unarmed civilians and posed no threat to Israel.
Since during our previous voyages we have always experienced these kinds of contact and threats from the IDF there was no reason to suspect they intended to use deadly force against our passengers on this occasion.
Lubna and David reported that the gunboats and helicopters had retreated slightly but continued — as they usually do — to hover around in view of the passengers. This is their standard procedure; they first approach in the darkest hours to threaten and intimidate, and then they wait for the beginning of daylight to attack us, which in the past has included ramming our boat or using masked frogmen to board our boat and use non-lethal force against our passengers and crew. This would routinely include roughly pushing and slapping them, while applying handcuffs and blindfolds. No resistance is ever used by passengers or crew.
I stayed up throughout the night to monitor the spot beacon signals coming from our boat CHALLENGER and the live streaming from the Turkish boat, and to wait for the onset of daylight. Suddenly we began to receive repeated distress signals from the spot beacon, and shortly thereafter we watched in horror and disbelief as vivid color images appeared on the video stream of masked and heavily armed troops firing weapons as they descended onto the deck of the MAVI MARMORA. Israel claims it used paint guns, but no paint was in evidence. Perhaps initially they used stun guns or tasers, though we doubt that too. Passengers were seen trying to get away from the line of fire, screaming in panic and fear. Immediately it became apparent that passengers had been shot as we saw bodies falling and bleeding everywhere, as others tried to render aid to them and move them out of the line of fire. We saw no signs of any resistance.
The three of us here in the media office watched in horror and disbelief as the one-sided violence continued, until after several minutes the video abruptly stopped when Israel took possession and cut off the transmission.
We heard nothing more from our colleagues, which we knew meant that Israel had taken complete control of all boats and confiscated all means of communication.
Later we and the rest of the world began to see the images supplied by the IDF which showed a completely different version of what happened. While showing that the IDF commandos did in fact board the MAVI MARMORA, they deleted the portion showing the violent attack by the troops, showing instead pictures of resistance by some passengers. Clearly there was resistance, as panicked and no doubt angry passengers who had witnessed the wanton shooting of several dozen passengers apparently picked up whatever they could find with which to defend themselves against Israel’s clear intent to continue its murderous rampage. IDF is trying to claim that this resistance from passengers actually preceded the violence from the commandos. Anyone seeing the uncut footage streamed from the MARMORA could have no doubt as to who was responsible for all of the violence, the injuries and the deaths. If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it not releasing the uncut video stream, with all time codes intact, so that people can judge for themselves exactly what did and did not happen?
For Israel to suggest that unarmed passengers attacked heavily armed commando troops who were then forced to defend themselves is beyond ludicrous. We all know full well that all wars fought by Israel, even those that are not wars but invasions by Israel such as the latest massacre in Gaza, are claimed by Israel to be acts of “self defense.” After the carnage in Gaza one could only be astonished they could seriously make such a claim, when the deaths of Palestinians were 100 to 1 of Israelis (and some of those Israelis were killed by friendly fire.) This latest outrageous brutality by IDF commandos using lethal force against unarmed civilians in international water who had no desire to confront Israeli troops is beyond comprehension. And for Israel to claim once again that it is an innocent victim would be laughable if the results were not so tragic.”
Mary Hughes-Thompson is a screenwriter who worked with Norman Lear on All in the Family as well as on many path-breaking documentaries, films and television programs. She is also a grandmother, licensed pilot and knitting teacher and a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement who was on FG’s successful first trip to Gaza in August of 2008. She has been seven times to Palestine where she has been tear gassed, shot and beaten up by Israeli soldiers and settlers as she helped families harvest their olives and stood with nonviolent Palestinian villagers demonstrating against Israeli’s separation wall.
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- Grey power for Gaza (guardian.co.uk)