Mary Hughes Thompson, Free Gaza Co-Founder, Recounts Flotilla Nightmare at Sea
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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36 thoughts on “Mary Hughes Thompson, Free Gaza Co-Founder, Recounts Flotilla Nightmare at Sea – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Thank you, Richard, for publishing Mary’s astonishing account of the events. Those of us who sat up late watching the live video stream also saw what she saw – Israeli commandos boarding the ship and shooting the passengers with what appeared to be live ammunition (muzzle flashes could be seen clearly in the darkness). This video stream is hopefully on tape with Turkish TV.
Please tell me who is supposed to belive the “one sided” violence after we have all seen the videos of the lynch mob on the boat. Seriously. We.Have.Seen.The.Tapes. and they eerily reminded me of the lynch mobs in Ramallah when they threw the guy from the building and proudly waved the blood on their hands.
Ah, yes. You seem not to have seen the Israeli soldiers with the blood of 1,400 dead Gazans on their hands, 1,100 of them civilians. You think only Jewish blood matters? To quote a Midrash you seem to have skipped, you think your blood is redder than theirs???
There is plenty of speculation going around in the foreign press, and with some verification from the passengers themselves, that the video we’re seeing from the Israeli government is heavily edited, spliced together from their own tapes and from video confiscated from the activists. There’s a navy transmission that has been proven to be fake, and some of the photos released of weapons allegedly recovered from the Marmara have shown to be stock photos from the IOF archives dating back to 2006.
Why are you so eager to be deceived? Is it easier for you to live with this massacre that way, to blame the victims?
What is your source? This is interesting.
Source for what, exactly?
Every new incident of violence is a micro-world on its own and seeking for arguments to support and defend the IDF by going back in time to justify their actions simply doesn’t cut it.
Yesterday and this morning the English, Dutch and Belgian flotilla passengers (I strongly dislike the word “activist” the media seems to prefer to use, a word that somehow gets linked to being a terrorist too a lot easier these days) returned to their respective countries and gave testimony of their experiences. Only the British Sara Colborne was on the Turkish boat and she reports that the medical staff of the boat requested to be allowed to provide medical aid to those who had fallen. Sarah Colborne had witnessed this before she decided she’d be safer down below. Instead of the medical staff being allowed to help the wounded or accompany them to the hospital, they were handcuffed and treated as prisoners as well!!
The Belgian and Dutch women, Anne de Jong is a Dutch student Cultural Anthropology, and she focusses on the non-violent resistant nature of combined Palestinian and Israeli effort, they report that despite numerous pleas they were non-resistant, non-violent, without weapons, the groups on their boats were treated with extreme violence, the soldiers stepped on and over people who were flat on deck, they were pushed, slapped, hit etc etc.
Anne de Jong was intimidated and interrogated in prison, pressured to sign documents that their actions were illegal. She didn’t sign anything. The two Belgian women were treated well in prison. All three were very happy to be home where they felt safe. Still, all three said they would not hesitate to return to Gaza attempting to deliver humanitarian aid, as they set out to deliver in the first place. None of them expected violence.
ps, what I forgot to write is that I strongly oppose what Israel does to their own youth. various documentaries about young men and women after they served in the IDF as well as Breaking The Silence and other organizations from former IDF soldiers SHOW how inhumane and cruel it all is, not just for Palestinians and Gazans and others too given the most recent flotilla incident, but also for Israel’s own youth. reports from Anne de Jong acknowledge this, she saw soldiers taking pictures of the flotilla passengers, laughing at them as the lined up in the prison etc etc. humiliation of others and arrogance, what sort of people does this create? more Bibi’s and Avigdor Liebermans?
I would like to see the TV feed which Mary Hughes Thompson alleges shows the Israelis firing live ammunition before they were attacked.
Is this really so clear? If blanks are fired, don’t they flash and bang like real bullets?1920s. Perhaps someone can post a link so we can judge for ourselves.
[comment deleted for comment rule violation]
Get back to me. George.
Does this video link that Mary and Mary say they saw actually exist? I hope Mary and Mary did not make up what they thought they saw but perhaps their interpretation misled them.
The organisers of this convoy should look at their own responsibilities. Anyone who ignores orders from a navy or army is asking for trouble. Soldiers of allnationalities shoot at people who resist and attack them. Or perhaps the so called massacre is what this convoy was seeking in the first place?
Sure, David. A suicide convoy. That makes sense.
If you are inferring that either Mary Hughes Thompson or myself are lying, I think you should be careful. I did not say I saw a “video link,” I saw live video streaming from the boat as events occurred, as did hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
“The organizers of this convoy should look to their own responsibilties,” meaning what, exactly? That it is their fault, and not the IOF, that they were killed and injured, and that six people remain missing? And that the video equipment, cell phones and laptops were all confiscated from the passengers and never returned? Or is this just another attempt on your part to portray the rogue state of Israel as always being justified in its murder of unarmed people?
Abslutely shameful to blame the victims for their own murder.
Mary, please….”murder of unarmed people” ? Unarmed?
Reuter was forced to apologise for editing out the knives from the pictures showing the soldiers being brutally beaten up, covered in blood after their weapons were taken from them. One of the soldiers has a brain damage after he was kicked and thrown to a lower desk. And originally those pictures were taken from the Turkish newspaper, so, I don’t think you can say they are fakes. It is possible that most of the activists didn’t know about the group of armed militants but now they do. And the rest of the world does.(please don’t say it’s a lie, there’s a lot of evidence proving otherwise), people, going in for a fight, (they couldn’t help themselves and went for a little PR, did a few interviews, stating that they are “prepared for a battle and not afraid to die”)
So , what was the true intention of the flotilia ? To deliver the goods,(were they offered to do so in proper manner and without much drama by diverting the ship?)
or to provoke the international incident ? What makes a better story ?
In my opinion Mary, half-truth or an incomplete truth is more dangerous than an outright lie, even more if used for the good cause. I am not on the Israelis side here, but the provoking side in my books did something very questionable. And look at the results ! Mission complete. Time for the interviews.
I hope my reply will not be deleted like my previous one, I do hope there’s an equal opportunity for everyone to express their opinions freely and I apologise for my English.
Nine people are dead and six are missing.
Before the soldiers invaded the ship, no one was armed. There was not a single gun on the vessel, the knives were in the ship’s galley. When the commandos boarded the ship and tried to forcefully take it over, the passengers were within their rights under international law to resist, including the use of makeshift weapons.
You compare wounded Israeli soldiers to dead activists, shot with Israeli weapons. We still don’t know the whereabouts of six people. You expect the usual from the world, the silly perception that as always, the Israelis are the victims and the people they kill are the “terrorists”? It just doesn’t fly anymore. I did not say that the footage of the soldiers was faked and I am aware of their injuries.
I will clarify the purpose of the flotilla for you, since you seem to be confused. As it was with the Gaza Freedom March and previous trips to Gaza (Viva Palestina, etc.), the journey was to serve two purposes. First, it was to deliver materials to Gaza that are not allowed in through the border crossings. Second – the most important – is to draw the world’s attention to the illegal siege on Gaza, and to spread understanding of the occupation and involve people in the Palestinian cause. The Israeli government does not like this, obviously. They don’t relish world attention unless it is in sympathy for them when they whine about their imagined enemies and how they have the “right” to kill 1,400 Palestinians like fish in a barrel. They also do not have the “right” to steal Palestinian land, imprison Palestinians without charge (including children), impose an apartheid system in the West Bank, and let us also not forget the $3 billion a year in taxpayer money that goes to the support of this illegal occupation.
I hope this clears it up for you.
“since you seem to be confused” ? Mary, aren’t we getting a little too personal here?
Please don’t do that again. My question was rhetorical.
I don’t need a lecture on Israel thank you. If you read my post again you’ll find the phrase “I am not on the Israelis side here”. My comment was not on a conflict in general, but on the “flotillia” business, which in my view is a pure provocation, a crude but highly effective PR stunt and a waste of huge amount of resources and energy………(by the way, you know that “badly needed humanitarian help” is still sitting in a checkpont area? Seems it’s not badly needed after all. It’s done its part. You’ll allow me to paste the words of Martin Luther King a student of Gandhian nonviolent resistance, who said “…nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” The means “flotillia” used seemed to be very far from “pure”. In my opinion – despicable (only my opinion of course)
Mary, I’ll read your opinion with great interest, but if I need a lecture, I’ll go somewhere else. I think everyone here is an adult with at least basic education and a full access to the internet. I hope this clears it up for you.
The “badly needed humanitarian aid” often sits in checkpoints for several days and often doesn’t get to its destination at all.
Your snark isn’t appreciated. If you choose to tangle on a personal level with me, I assure you that you will lose. So leave it alone? And you did seem to be confused because you indicated that you were not sure of what the purpose was, for the flotilla. So get your proverbial finger out of my face.
If a government decides to approach a civilian fleet in international waters, a flotilla it already knows to be delivering humanitarian aid, why approach it in the dead of night with armed commandoes, and board the ship in cover of darkness? Why is it permissible for Israel to indiscriminately use violence on unarmed civilians, but not when the civilians pick up what is close at hand and fight back? And then why does no one seem to question why the murderer (Israel) always manages to come off looking like the hapless victim? Ask yourself that.
I suggest you may want to read and watch more of the accounts given by the passengers, before you pass judgment on them.
Mary, I was involved in a charity work concerning Gasa and also in a European sponsored project involving Arab and Jewish musicians playing for the peace. I have a lot of friends from the both sides, including a Palestinian journalist and a former Israeli commando. So, I don’t need to “read and watch more of the accounts” as I get my information from the “first hands”. As to your attitude. The fact that I don’t agree with you doesn’t give you a right to be rude and patronising. The last thing on earth I would want to do is to “to tangle on a personal level”, especially with people like you. so, if you don’t mind, lets just leave it at that.
It’s unfortunate when someone puts their personal ego before the subject at hand and makes an issue of perceived slight or insult. Well, so be it. I just find it very difficult to believe that you would pass such a judgment on people who are trying to help the Palestinians, such as what you claim you were trying to do. It makes no difference to me whatsoever who your friends are; I have friends, too, some of whom were involved in the flotilla project.
I would be grateful if the moderator would clarify if there are two people called Mary in this discussion or just one.
Yes, two Marys.
I shall refer to the Mary who is not Mary Hughes as “the other Mary”.
The other Mary says she saw a “live video link” of the beginning of th Israeli boarding of the Turkish ship. She also says that “hundreds of thousands of people” around the world saw it. If that was the case, why are there no clips recorded and posted on Youtube or elsewhere on the internet?
I have not called Mary a liar – those were her words not mine. However there needs to be an explanation of why a crucial piece of evidence does not apear to exist.
David, I’m sure Mary will answer, but I hope you don’t mind me answering as well. (Mary, I’m not going to have a debate with you). First of all, as you probably know, there was never a struggle or resistance from the crew or passengers of the ships who were trying to reach Gasa before, even when the ships involved were carrying a large amount of weapons. Even though the military held a series of exersises before the boarding, nobody was seriously considering the possibility that they’ll be attacked. There are huge differences in tactics in crowd control if you are dealing with civilians, militans, armed protesters and so on. There are different types of weapons used, different type of ammo and equipment. Even though Israelis can boast the most well-trained units in the world, in this case they’ve sent an ordinary unit, not well trained and not well equipped. They even ignored the wests, which resulted in few serious injuries. As you can see from the photos, they are wearing the field gear not suited for the occasion. Nearly all the passengers were down below, only a few dozen were on a top desk, wearing swim vests, and armed with various “items”. There were couple of flares thrown from the heli before the rappeling, the actual shooting started at 4;50, when commandos requested permission to use live fire. By that time a captain of the unit already had a khife wound to his stomach, one marine was thrown onto the lower desk and 4 or 5 marines jumped into the water to save themselves.The rest is well known. I’ll only make three points. First – there is no footage (and never will be unless TV2 will use their “experts”) of the commandos firing on the ship before the boarding(exept of the flares). Second – the weapons. In a close combat even the pair of scissors could be used as a deadly weapon and with great efficiency. Third – what looks like a bunch of bloodthirsty commandos was in fact a botched operation, a result of wrong desicion by one of the commanding officers, the fact which Israeli Ministry of Defence will try to conceal of course. They ignored the fact that on board of this particilar ship along with the genuine unarmed activists were people with links to the terrorist organisations, who openly declared their intentions, went in unprepared and it all resulted in a bloodshed. That’s a very simplified picture, but it gives you an idea about what happened. (sorry for my English).
Thanks for the hasbara . This sounds rife speculation based on little more than yr opinion. Care to tell us how you know this?
More spouting of stupid hasbara talking pts. The Israeli gov’t just accused 2 American activist passengers of being Hamas agents. In reality, they’re normal peace activists just like me or any of my readers. So much for your fire breathing Hamas terrorists. You have no proof. You just make it up as you go along.
Indeed it is.
“there was never a struggle or resistance from the crew or passengers of the ships who were trying to reach Gasa before, even when the ships involved were carrying a large amount of weapons.”
Whose ships are you referring to?
“on board of this particilar ship along with the genuine unarmed activists were people with links to the terrorist organisations, who openly declared their intentions, went in unprepared and it all resulted in a bloodshed.”
Which organizations are you referring to?
Stop wasting my time, you ignorant hasbarist fool.
What are you talking about. Mary is absolutely right. I saw the live video feed on the night of the attack & have seen footage of it since in various places including Youtube.
There ARE videos posted on Youtube, David. Have you not looked?
Richard, my first post was removed by you because I used one word which you thought to be offensive. Now you yourself write “stupid Hasbara” …? Double standarts, yeah?
You can and probably will (surprise me..!!!) delete this post as well, but at least I’ll know you read it first. I see no point in debating with you or “Mary” as everything I say will be dismissed or twisted.
A word of advice if you don’t mind.
If you want a discussion, you and “Mary” should stop bulldosing over your opponents. As for now, you two are using bullying tactics which makes a dialog impossible.If you want to keep it as a propaganda page….good luck.
In any case, I’m not interested in an online fighting and shall leave you alltogether. I grew up in a country where political leades used the same tactics, even the same methods as you. I guess it’s universal. Have to time for this.
(Don’t bother replying as I’ll not answer)
Good luck with your crusade.
I see no point in debating with anyone who makes outrageous assertions unsubstantiated by fact. It is a waste of my time and of everyone else’s.
Peddle your nonsense somewhere else. Maybe someone will actually buy it. But you risk looking like a complete fool especially when you claim that ANY humanitarian ship that EVER went to Gaza carried weapons or that ANY of the activists on board had any affiliation with terrorists.
I have looked on youtube and all I see is a short video from Turkish TV which shows a woman carrying what looks like a bloodtstained stretcher and other people moving about wearing life jaclets. The other items on youtube are Israeli film which supporters of the convoy allege are fake or misleadingly cut. There is also a reporter from Al Jazeera claiming there are no weapons on board although his report was from the kitchen of the ship where of course sharp knives are always available.
As no one in this discussion was on the boat and none of the convoy supporters has cited a web site where one can watch the specific video of what action happened in the first moments when the Israelis boarded the boat, I am not persuaded that what has been claimed is actually true that the Israeli’s opened fire on peaceful protesters befoire they were threatened.
Both Mary’s and others show such hatred of Israel that I feel it has clouded their judgement over what has happened.
Israel is threatened by many enemies including possible nuclear weapons from a new Hitler type in Iran. It has always repsonded robustly to any percieved threat.
Oleg’s interpretation is speculative – and could only be substantiated if an Israeli whistleblower who took part in the operation came forward. This seems unlikely.
David I am surprised, because I have easily found at least 50 or 60 videos on the flotilla massacre, from those posted by individuals to news clips from Al Jazeera, CNN, MSNBC and many many others. Perhaps someone can show you how to do a proper YouTube search.
I deeply resent your remark that I am showing hatred of Israel. That is a grossly unfair and personal remark, has no relevance to the discussion, and is a childish way to counter someone’s contrary point of view. It’s also standard hasbarist technique, and it doesn’t work on me.
Oh Lord save us fr. another one. You’ve bought the hasbara hook line & sinker. But don’t expect us to. I find comments like this both stupid & offensive. What are “possible nuclear weapons?” And how can a country be threatened by them when they don’t exist?
Unless an international tribunal actually investigated the incident & Israel cooperated & allowed such participants to cooperate.
This link proves that Karl Marx has a grave with a statue of his head on it.
If there were a similar link showing the alleged atrocity, then a similar link could be posted on this discussion forum. If you can’t provide the evidence, then your claims are no better than Oleg’s suppositions which the other Mary was so contempious of.
I note a report in Le Monde today stating that 23,000 people have been killed by drug gangsters in the North of Mexico since 2007. Thousands have been killed in Iraq and Afghanista
Northern Cyprus has been occupied by Turkey for years and has settled thousands of its citizens there.
China has occupied Tibet and has detsroyed most of the indiginous culture and has settled its own citizens there.
There are a lot of bad things going on in the world and there always will be. Israel is a relatively minor player in the “kill your neighbour” league. That does not excuse it but just puts the situation in a world context.
Rachel Corrie is not the only Rachel who has been killed in this conflict. Here is another link from the UK Spectator magazine.
A whole army of strawmen. As if any of it somehow renders Israel’s actions against Palestinians benign and friendly.
You forgot to throw in the US and Iraq, by the way.
David, I’m not going to debate with anyone here, you probably can see why. 🙂
I’m only going to rectify the mistake I made earlier by not saying where I heard the story. The old friend of mine, someone I know for more than 30 years, former Sergeant First Class who was serving in Tzahal (IDF), now retired, whom I sometimes write or call ‘sent me an email with what is pretty much a common knowledge in Israel. The reason I believe him is that it was a private letter, he didn’t need to convince me of anything, he himself if very critical of the Israeli present government, and he is a doctor as well. He treats both Arabs and Israelis and as a good doctor he doesn’t take sides. I asked him “Alex, what is heard on your side of the world?” You obviously decide for yourself if you’re going to believe his (not mine) story.