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Flotilla journalist recounts ordeal

Press TV
June 3, 2010

A Press TV journalist detained on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla describes mistreatment of activists attacked on the aid convoy and his own ordeal in Israeli custody.

Still suffering from a lack of sleep, Hassan Ghani explained how Israeli navy forces suddenly encircled the Turkish-flagged vessel he was traveling on and launched an attack on the aid Flotilla.

“We were some 90 miles off the Israeli coast and we were by no means within the so-called military exclusion area, which was originally 20 miles but later extended to 68 miles,” Ghani told Press TV on Thursday.

He described measures taken by the campaigners onboard the ships for repelling the invaders, saying water hoses were used to drive back the Israelis.

Meanwhile, helicopters belonging to the Israeli army landed on the deck and a number of frigates approached the vessel from either side.

Ghani added that Israeli commandos, each armed with at least two weapons, landed on the ship eventually.

“They came down and we heard gunfire… at this stage we did not know if they were rubber bullets or live ammunition but we heard gunfire,” he said, adding that the activists used objects at hand and mostly their bare hands to defend themselves.

The soldiers tried to open fire with their machine guns when they faced resistance from activists who held them back from approaching the cameras broadcasting the course of events live from the main deck.

The Press TV correspondent added that the volunteers successfully disarmed some of the soldiers, taking away their guns with bare hands, when the Israeli side started using live bullets causing fatalities.

“A man was shot right in the head,” Ghani said, explaining that the murder indicated the soldiers had enough time to aim and that the decision to shoot was not made on impulse or out of fear.

According to Ghani, the gunfire continued for quite some time even after the activists had raised their white flags.

Rejecting Israeli media reports about the alleged use of guns by the activists, Ghani said the only weapons carried by the volunteers were those seized from the Israeli soldiers. The guns were taken and their bullets were removed from the weapons and preserved to be used as evidence later, he explained.

Ghani and his companions were held under gun point and constant threats for some 12 hours in the ship, with their hands tied tight behind their backs. He said his hands were tied so tight that the blood circulation stopped in his right hand.

The soldiers took the entire luggage onboard and went through it all while forcing the activists to lie on the deck. The belongings of those on the ship were smashed and thrown all around, he said.

“We were treated like animals, we were told when to sit when to stand up,” he recalled. “Nobody was allowed to stand up, nobody was allowed to go to the toilet,” he said, adding that the Israeli forces would refuse permission until after the civilians had begged and pleaded several times.

“Then we were taken to the port of Ashdod, where we were all taken down. We were not allowed to take any sort of personal belongings.”

Upon their arrival, the activists were forced to sign a statement in Hebrew which the volunteers did not understand. The international campaigners were interrogated and then sent to different Israeli prisons.

Prior to their departure, they were given another paper and were pressured to confirm that they agreed to being deported from Israel on charges of illegal entry — this is while the Israeli army had forcefully brought them in.

Those campaigners from countries which do not recognize Israel were bused away to Jordan while others were sent to Istanbul on Turkish airline planes.

Ghani said a number of volunteers refused to leave Israel and said they decided to file a complaint and defend their cases in an Israeli court.

However, their resistance was met with violence from the Israeli side and they were severely beaten and dragged to the bus to the airport, and eventually forced to get on the plane.

Throughout their detention, the activists were not allowed to contact a lawyer or call their families, in contrast to the Israeli prison law.

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