Intifada Voice of Palestine
In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, May 31, showing a terrifying disregard for human life, Israeli naval forces surrounded and boarded ships sailing to bring humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. On the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, Israeli commandos opened fire on civilian passengers, killing at least 9 passengers and wounding dozens more. Others are still missing. The final death toll is yet to be determined.
Cultures of Resistance director Iara Lee was aboard the besieged ship and has since returned home safely. Despite the Israeli government’s thorough efforts to confiscate all footage taken during the attack, Iara Lee and Director of Photography Srdjan Stojiljkovic were able to retain some of the video they captured. Below is the unedited footage from the moments leading up to and during the Israeli commandos’ assault on the Mavi Marmara. Iara Lee recently gave this exclusive phone interview to Intifada Palestine’s Elias F. Harb .
INTIFADA – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – With IARA LEE
By Elias Harb – Editor Intifada Palestine
EH: Were people aboard the Mavi Marmara who had been shot by the gunboats already being medically treated as the helicopter assault began?
IL: It’s hard to say exactly when these things happened, everything just happened so fast, that is why an international inquiry needs to investigate the events of the Flotilla Raid. Shots were fired, maybe it was mixed rubber bullets and live ammunition. I saw people who had been shot, and were bleeding to death. We never expected they were going to attack and kill. We weren’t prepared and didn’t have the necessary medical equipment to treat so many passengers who were shot, and some died bleeding to death.
EH: The Israeli attack on May 31 in the dead heat of the night must have been has been a terrible experience of those in the free Gaza flotilla. Please tell us what happened that day
IL: The Flotilla was on a humanitarian mission, these were war commandos, and they came to kill. We were unprepared for this attack. We knew that the Israelis would deter us, but never expected the Israeli commandos to open fire on civilian passengers. And what we witnessed was outrageous brutal force. Few of the Israeli Commandos were subdued and one of our doctors treated one of the Commandos. We showed restraint and gave medical aid to Israeli soldiers. Autopsy reports indicated that the activists killed were shot in the back of the head at close range. This was a criminal act by the Israel Defense forces.
EH: Israel declared that there were terrorists among the activists, how do you respond to that? Can you give us a makeup of the passengers?
IL: In their defense of the indefensible, the Israeli government has attempted to slander the character of the victims and other flotilla participants by drawing false links to terrorism, and portraying us as a lynch mob of anti-Semitic Muslim fanatics. The passengers were people from all walks of life, secular and religious, Muslim, Christian, atheistic, male and female, young and old. Prior to the raid they are talking, sleeping, praying or working on their computers We were human rights activists from all over the world, ranging from 1 year old to a 88 years Catholic Bishop. None of the passengers was dangerous; they were committed human right activist, bringing hope to the people of Gaza. The media acts irresponsible and with impunity, when it reports the lies that Israel says, and when it is proved it’s untrue, the media never reports it. The Israelis twist around everything.
EH: Israel declares that it had the legal right to confront the flotilla from reaching Gaza. What is your position on that?
IL: Israel had no legal right, we were in international waters, and there action was illegal and worse than the Somalia Pirates. It was a criminal action. Fortunately, we were able to smuggle some footage of the Israeli assault off the ship and safely back to the US, and which I was able to screen at the United Nations. It paints a picture in stark contrast to Israeli claims of a violent mob looking for a fight. I encourage everyone to view this footage.
EH: How were you and other activist treated by the Israeli Authorities after you were detained?
IL: We were incommunicado with outside world. The men were treated very brutally. The women were treated better, but many complained they were treated disrespectfully. All passengers were videotaped through the time they were detained. We were incommunicado for a few days, but it felt like a month.
EH: Israel seized all cameras and communication machinery .Do you have a plan for getting your personal possessions back from Israel? Do you know how others are doing in this same respect?
IL: When the IDF commandos entered shooting, the first thing they did was jam the ships communications. They confiscated our cameras, cam-recorders, laptops, and footage. They re-edit the footage to show a different story than what really happened to Passengers from the flotilla. several countries are urging their governments to demand that Israel release the property illegally seized from the passengers in international waters on 31 May, in particular the many cameras, camcorders, mobile phones etc. that contain evidence of at least the beginning of the shooting of civilians by Israeli soldiers. This demand is for property only and is independent of the many legal briefs already being worked on due to death and wounding of the passengers.
EH: Israel has announced that there has been an “easing of the blockade” Some say this is P.R. stunt or Israeli propaganda. What is your position on Israel’s easing of blockade restrictions?
IL: I am cautiously optimistic about Israel’s announced plan of “easing” the Gaza blockade. Easing, after all, is not the same as “complete lifting,” and it is yet to be determined what the nature of this easing process will be. Still, I am encouraged by the fact that this small step resulted in the first place from the Freedom Flotilla’s nonviolent act of civil disobedience. What is need is a total lift of the Siege, and freedom of movement of people to live normal lives.
EH: Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. How do you respond to that?
IL: There is a humanitarian crisis, Israel lies, and the media reports what Israel wants.
EH: Israel has refused an independent international Inquiry on the Flotilla raid, and has assembled an internal inquiry ”Turkey Committee” to investigate the raid. How do you feel about that?
IL: We need an inquiry that is truly impartial, transparent, and which satisfies international standards. Despite the fact that the youngest of Israel’s victims on the flotilla — 19-year old Furkan Dogan — was an American citizen, we cannot rely on our American leaders in this pursuit of justice. And so it is our moral obligation to speak out even as our government remains silent. The same courage, creativity, and determination which were applied to exposing the illegality and cruelty of the Gaza blockade must also be applied to ensuring that Israel, as well as every other nation in the world, can no longer brutalize civilian populations with impunity, and will act in accordance with international law.Thank you, Iara