Archive for September, 2010

Yonatan and Itamar Shapira tells what really happened on The “Jewish boat to Gaza”

September 30, 2010

Yonatan and Itamar Shapira were two of the Israelis on-board the Jewish boat to Gaza, the Irene. They above all were subjected to violence from the Israeli forces who intercepted the boat.
These are their words an hour after they returned to their family in Israel:

“The Israeli media is being dominated by army propaganda. They’re claiming that the take over of the boat was non-violet and quiet on both sides – but what actually happened was that the boat passengers were non-violent, but the Israeli Navy was very violent.

At sunrise we stopped about 35 miles from shore and put up all the flags and banners from the organisation – the boat looked so, so pretty! We then turned south-east and headed towards the port in Gaza. Film maker Vish and journalist Eli took the dinghy and took stills and video of the boat. Everyone felt a sense of excitement as we stood on deck waving goodbye to the quiet journey we had been on. We knew that soon we would be intercepted, so we used the time for briefings. Holding each other’s hands, we talked about the principles of the boat and decided on strategies of how to deal with the Navy.

When we were approximately 20 miles outside of Gaza, a big Navy warship was spotted to the north of us. At that point it was still quite far away, so we held course.As the warship drew closer they hailed us and spoke to Glyn, the captain. The Navy said that we were entering a closed area by an oil rig, so the Irene altered course slightly in response. We then saw another smaller ship in front of them. As the warship approached and drew parallel to the Irene the smaller ship remained stationary. A number of smaller vessels were spotted coming from the east. The Navy again called us demanding to know our intention – we replied that we were headed for Gaza.

The Navy responded with the exact declaration they made before attacking the Mavi Marmara :

“You are entering an area which is under military blockade and is closed under international law.”

Itamar was in charge of communicating with the Navy, and responded by reading our own declaration in English and Hebrew:

“We are a boat of the European organisation Jews For Justice For Palestinians. We are unarmed and non-violent and determined to proceed to the port of Gaza. You are enforcing an illegal blockade and we do not recognise your right to do this. On this Jews For Justice for Palestinians boat are peace activists of all ages among us holocaust survivors, bereaved parents and Israelis who refuse to collaborate with the illegal occupation of Palestine.”

We waited for them to confirm that they had heard.

The Navy repeated their message in Hebrew – then the boats started coming from all sides. Eight army vessels surrounded us – three or four of the ships had cannons.

We called the soldiers to refuse their orders:

“We call on you IDF soldiers and officers to disobey the illegal orders of your superior officers. For your information, the occupation of Gaza and the Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law; therefore your risk being tried in the international courts. The blockade as well as the occupation is inhumane and contradicts universal and Jewish moral values. Use your conscience. Remember our own painful history. Refuse to enforce the blockade. Refuse to occupy Palestine.”

Itamar read this in Hebrew and English on radio a few times as the boats came towards us. Everyone was getting ready and holding hands on the Irene, getting ready for interception. Vish was in the front taking photos and filming the whole thing.

There were more than 100 soldiers on all the military boats around our boat. Two small boats with cannons drew up on both sides, shouting and threatening us with megaphones and constantly moving closer towards us. Glynn the captain stayed calm and behaved exactly to principles of boat, staying on course and challenging the Navy.

The military spoke to Itamar directly and stated that he was responsible for the harm that would come to us and the risk that we were taking by not changing course. We understood very quickly that we were about to be boarded at any moment. The small boats came right up close and then the north side jumped on board.

ITAMAR: As i was talking to the army boat cruising alongside us with some 20 armed, and muscled navy soldiers i was amazed for the thousandth time in my life at how the army portrays the reality to themselves and to us. They insisted that it is me personally who is responsible for the violence that may happen if we do not obey and they will be “forced” to board our little boat. I cynically tried to show them how ridiculous it seems to have so many armed, strong and trained soldiers boarding a boat with 9 un-armed people, most of whom remember the second world war and civil right movement in the 60’s, who declare non-violence. How can they portray the violence as our responsibility. I reminded them of the holocaust survivor and bereaved parent on board and that we do not want any confrontation with them. I think it made them angry but reduced their possible violence to most passengers apart from Yonatan and I. It is very important to remember that the Israeli army had killed two Gazan fishermen in the passing week with minimum media attention for getting “too close” to what the IDF has decided the blockade border is. Therefore their violence toward us must be put in proportion to this.

During all the military action I was talking to Al Jazeera but I’m not sure what they have of it or what was broadcast as he was about to go on air when the phone was grabbed.

They attacked Itamar and took him to their boat. The other soldiers viciously pushed Glynn from the helm. The rest were holding hands singing “We Shall Overcome.” I think Reuven may have been playing his harmonica!

ITAMAR: At least 2 soldiers, to what i understood, were assigned to getting all recording devices. The Israeli Ch 10 reporter stood next to me and one of the soldiers just took his camera from his hand. I took the camera back without touching the soldier and put it behind my back and refused to give it to the soldiers. The soldier called another one and together tried to make me move with twisting arms and shouting and trying to reach for the camera. when they did not succeed they asked for a permission from their commander to arrest me. 4 of them dragged me to the military boat and forced me down to the boat’s floor in order to handcuff me. i did not give up until one of them pushed his fingers deep onto the artery in my neck, and then i heard Yonatan’s dreadful scream and saw him losing control of his body because of the electric shock he got. I shouted to Rami to throw the camera into the boat’s engine-room and Yonatan was brought to the military boat that i was on and we were both handcuffed and taken to a large ship.
While we were holding hands singing the soldiers started taking over everything. At that point I was sitting on the floor of the boat hugging Glynn and Reuven, trying to decrease the risk to them, then moved to sit with Rami. On each side one of the passengers turned off the engines so as not to make it possible for the navy to steer the boat to a different place.

Soldiers on boat approached me and Rami, they seemed to want to take me to a Navy boat. Me and Rami hugged each other – the strongest hug I have ever given to anyone!

The officer came towards us, pulling out his taser ordered us to stop holding on to each other. The soldier threatened if I did not let go they would hurt me, then tasered me on my right shoulder and shot twice – it was very painful – but not as painful as the next shot where he pulled aside my life jacket, put gun on my chest and fired.My whole body lost control and I convulsed like a fit, I let out a high pitched scream. Then they took me to one of their boats.

And that was the “non-violent” take over of the Jewish boat to Gaza. Of course if we were Palestinians or Muslims they would have shot with live ammo, but because we were Jews and Israelis and had world attention they did not want to do what they did to the Mavi Marmara. Of course later they took all evidence filmed by Eli and Vish and the only evidence which now exists is with the military and the military film itself. It would be amazing if somehow there was pressure for the army to release the media materials we shot – there’s no reason for them to keep it. It’s amazing footage of all 48 hours of the voyage and the messages we wrote on the masts and flags from everyone who had sent wishes. Probably the most powerful images are of the actual seconds when the Navy boarded the ship.

All our banners and flags were pulled down by the army and the boat was pulled with the rest of passengers on-board to Ashdod.

Itamar and I went to Ashdod in the big warship which took several hours. We saw the boat being towed to the port. We saw the protesters, friends, family and supporters waiting for us on the beach since the morning, and a boat of film makers with cameras that were trying to reach us but was intercepted and forced to turn back to the port.

Each one of us had an intimate body search – they touched me quite intimately but no internal search. Eventually we were taken to a police station in Ashdod and saw more demonstrators waiting for us outside.

The police station took several hours, they interrogated Rami, Itamal (ITAMAR), Reuven, Eli and I and we were all accused of trying to enter an illegal closed zone, while Rami, Itamal and I were also accused of threatening, insulting and attacking the soldiers.We were all released around eight in the evening. It was shocking to be attacked so brutally whilst hugging and singing – the soldiers shouted at us, shook and pushed us. We were shocked to hear the army say the takeover was peaceful.

There was a big group of Israeli media and also people from Reuters and a few others waiting for us outside station. We answered their questions, then Reuven took out his harmonica and played a beautiful Jewish songs abut people who pursued peace. Everyone joined in around us, as we sang together some people who were passing by shouted things like “death to the Arabs”.

If we weren’t Jews and Israelis we would have much less chance to make it out alive. I send my love and thanks to everyone for all of their support, love and efforts to help us.”

NOTE:

Yonatan was not given or offered any medical attention at any point after he was shot with the taser.
They were released on 5000 N.I.S bail to return for additional interrogation or court discussion.
It is unclear as to whether they will be charged.

Journal of a voyage By: Yonatan Shapira

September 29, 2010

26 September 2010

The course is 120. Another 200 miles to the port in Cyprus and the automatic pilot in the boat, which is supposed to maintain the course, refuses to work and leaves me with the unending task of maintaining the course on a turbulent sea with no sign of land from horizon to horizon. In another half hour, Itamar, my brother, who is also a “refusnik,” will relieve me at the wheel, after him Bruce and then Glyn will take their shifts. If everything goes according to plan, we will reach Famagusta at midday on Saturday, and there we will pick up the rest of the passengers, who together with us, as strange as it may seem, will try to break the blockade of Gaza.

For some weeks already we have been making our way east, from the Greek island on which the yacht was bought, from north of the Peloponnese through the Corinthian Canal, the Cycladic islands. Already we have experienced just about every kind of mishap in the book: the engines overheated on us and died, the wheel suddenly became detached, the anchor got stuck, the sail tore, a storm, and more. What we have not yet experienced is the uniqueness, the wondrousness and the strong arm of the IDF – the most moral army in the world, for those who forgot.

Warships have not yet intercepted us, they have not lowered commandos on us from helicopters and snipers have not yet shot at us. Those challenges are still before us and we will experience them together with the passengers, among them Holocaust survivors, a bereaved father [1] and others.

The southwest wind is getting a little stronger and the compass is vacillating between 120 and 130. I glance at the GPS and see that I am veering slightly to the left. Well, if the automatic pilot were working I could simply sit, watch the waves and write undisturbed.

Seven years ago on the eve of Rosh Hashana we published what the media called “the pilots’ letter.” In that declaration we announced to the whole nation (yes, we wore flight-suits and were interviewed in the press and on television) that we would refuse to take part in the crimes of the Occupation.

Ten days after that, on the eve of Yom Kippur, we were invited for a talk with the Commander of the Air Force. After he outlined to me his racial theory (in the form of a scale of value of blood, from the Israelis on the top down to the Palestinians at the bottom) he informed me that I was dismissed and that I was no longer a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Many things have happened since then. Many boats have crossed the Corinthian Canal, many demonstrations and arrests, but mainly, many children have been murdered in Gaza. I remember Arik, a close childhood friend and a combat pilot, who hesitated over whether to sign and to refuse but in the end sincerely informed me that he did not want to give up his wonderful toy, the F-16. At first he still had a little shame about the comfortable choice he had made. Secretly he supported me and admitted that he did not have courage. Seven years passed and today he is still an operational pilot in the reserves, a leader of attack formations in his combat wing and on his hands or wings is the boiling blood of tens of innocent Palestinians and Lebanese, maybe more. The traces of morality that he had are gone now and today Arik will bomb any place at any time, wherever they tell him. That is the beauty of routine. In the end everything looks normal to you: an ordinary man, kind and polite and a good father to his daughters, turns into a mass murderer. I was not a bomber pilot. I flew Blackhawks that are used mainly for rescue missions and to transport personnel. One argument we heard from those who disagreed with us, and especially people from my wing, three members of which signed the letter, was that none of us was asked personally to shoot or to bomb or to assassinate. We replied to that argument by saying that it was not necessary to commit murder in order to say that it is forbidden to commit murder, and that it is easy to say “I just held the stick while the other pilot launched the missile.”

Years passed and the events of the flotilla and the murderous attack on the Mavi Marmara came and proved that the connection between my wing and the murder of civilians is in fact a lot more direct. It was the unit in which I served and the helicopters that I flew that carried out the pirate operation and lowered the commandos onto the deck. It is quite likely that the very people who flew on that night had been pupils of mine or pilots who flew with me in the past.

What does a Blackhawk pilot think and feel when he is hovering over a civilian ship far from the Israel’s territorial waters? What is he thinking when he instructs the soldiers to descend in the middle of the night onto a ship that is transporting supplies of humanitarian aid, bags of cement and dozens of journalists?

Mainly he is thinking about how to maintain a stable hover and not to lose visual contact with the other helicopters and the ship below him. He listens and gives orders on the helicopter’s internal communication system and maybe he also feels a little fear; after all, hovering over a vessel on the open sea, and at night, is no simple task of aviation.

And maybe he thinks about a few other things. Maybe he has a certain political outlook and maybe not, but what is certain is what he is not thinking about … a pilot who is hovering over a civilian aid ship on the open sea is not thinking that somebody among the people below him is intending to shoot him or that they are in possession of firearms – otherwise he would not have approached the spot! If he is not conducting a necessary rescue operation, it is absolutely counter to army regulations; that means that they knew beyond any doubt that nobody on the Mavi Marmara was armed. He knows that they are civilians who were set on expressing protest and identification with the million and a half civilians of besieged Gaza; but he apparently does not think about the fact that when masked armed pirates pounce on you in the middle of the night it is legitimate for you to resist the hijacking (even if it is tactically and strategically pointless).

To all who have doubts about the issue, I warmly recommend that you try to imagine that you are in the middle of the sea on a dark night and suddenly giant black helicopters are hovering low over you with a deafening noise and from them, like masked burglars wearing black, descend armed hoodlums, and warships are approaching you from every direction, and they are all shooting stun grenades at you and other things that you cannot identify, due to the noise and the darkness.

The sun has just set on the horizon. It is 18:52 hours.

I am trying to think about what will happen to us in a few more days near the coast of Gaza, within or outside the territorial waters. It apparently makes no difference when you are above the law and can shoot, hijack, rob, occupy and humiliate without anyone imposing any limits.

We are in the small boat of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

We do not intend to fight the IDF, even though we have every right to do so. We chose non-violence as a tactic and as a strategy but we do not intend to give up easily until the moment they arrest and handcuff a Holocaust survivor and the bereaved father, right down to the last passenger on the boat.

The colours of the sunset are getting more and more dark and deep. Gold, pink and orange with light-blue stripes between the burning clouds. Now Bruce, on the wheel, is continuing to maintain a course of 120 with the two engines along with the mainsail and the foresail which add another half-knot to the speed. Itamar is practicing his guitar and Glyn is preparing supper. It seems like the clouds of fried onion are not only filling the yacht (and making it a little hard to breathe) but the whole Mediterranean Sea. Looks like I’ll skip supper.

Chief of Staff Ashkenazi told the Israeli commission of inquiry that investigated the flotilla events, that his conclusion from the events is – “more snipers” … yes – yes, that’s his conclusion from the murder on the Mavi Marmara, more snipers!

My conclusion was a bit different from that of a person who in the foreseeable future will be put on trial at the international court for war crimes. My conclusion was I had to join the next boat that set out for Gaza, and what could be more fitting than a Jewish organization from Europe that is struggling for human rights and peace.

I contacted the organizers and offered my services as skipper. Apparently seamanship was the most fitting of all the trades I learned in high school, and now I have the opportunity to implement what I learned, not only for pleasure but for an important and symbolic action with an organization that decided to invest a great deal of money, hours of deliberation, planning and endless preparations for one objective, to break the blockade of Gaza.

Yesterday evening on the island of Kastelorizo, during last-minute preparation of the boat, we opened the foresail on a large space near the pier and wrote on it in black in Arabic and Hebrew: “Yahud min ajl al-‘adala lil-filastiniyin” – the name of the organization – Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The Arabic course I took in the summer helped me not get confused in writing the curved letters and Itamar, who stood above me and by the light by the public pier guided me up, down, left and right, so that the writing will look good and clear when we raise the sail upon our departure from Cyprus and as we approach the shores of Gaza.

Another long night-watch on the wheel followed. The sea was relatively calm, but a moderate tailwind insisted on bringing the exhaust from the engines directly to the cockpit, which strengthened my determination to skip supper and to contend with the feeling of light nausea by watching the horizon, maintaining a course of 125 and mainly by singing, again and again, the songs that sound most beautiful when one is on a boat in the middle of the sea: “if the darkness has fallen and I have no star … light a rose of fire on the mast of my boat, mother …” [2]

At 6:12 in the morning, as we approach Cyprus, with the first rays of light, Itamar at the wheel, Bruce and Glyn are sleeping and I am on the prow trying to breathe air clean of the smoke of the engines and trying to snooze, suddenly a medium-sized boat passes us. It passed quite close to us and looked strange. It circled us from the north and moved off to the west and looked like a small warship. Maybe we are already a little paranoid and maybe not and maybe it was just a vessel of the Turkish coast guard; in any case, we began to think and to imagine to ourselves what our encounter with the Israeli navy will be like when we approach the coast of Gaza, what each of us will do, how we will take care of the passengers and how we will react if the navy’s Dabur patrol boat (as in previous incidents) attacks us and rams our little boat. We decided to write in Hebrew and English a declaration that we will read on the radio on the nautical emergency channel when elements of the navy or the air force approach us. This is what we wrote:

We are a boat of the European Jewish organization Jews for Justice for Palestinians

We are on our way to Gaza

We are not armed and we believe in non-violence

And we are determined to proceed to the port of Gaza

You are imposing an illegal blockade on occupied Gaza

These are international waters and we do not recognize your authority here

There are activists of all ages on this boat

Among us are Holocaust survivors, bereaved parents and Israelis who refuse to reconcile themselves to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories

We are unarmed peace activists who believe in non-violence and we are determined to proceed on our way to the port of Gaza

We appeal to you, officers and soldiers of the IDF, to refuse and not to obey your commanders’ illegal orders

For your information, the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law and therefore you are running the risk of being put on trial at the international court for war crimes

The blockade and the occupation are inhumane and counter to universal morality and the values of Judaism

Use your consciences!

Do not say “I was only following orders”!

Remember the painful history of our people!

Refuse to enforce the blockade!

Refuse the Occupation!

1. In this context, “bereaved” is understood to refer to an Israeli who has lost a loved one as a result of war or terrorism in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict – trans.

2. From the Israeli song “Zemer ahava la-yam” – “Love song for the sea.” Lyrics: Raphael Eliaz, music: Sasha Argov – trans.

Translated from Hebrew by George Malent

PRESS STATEMENT 27 September 2010 – Freedom Flotilla Coalition Grows in Athens

September 27, 2010

Freedom Flotilla Coalition Grows in Athens – Legal, Political and Grassroots Action to End Israeli Impunity

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition has just concluded its meeting in Athens, where we assessed developments related to our ongoing efforts to end Israel’s criminal blockade on Gaza and other illegal policies perpetrated against the Palestinian people. We have said that we would not allow Israel’s violence against Freedom Flotilla I stop our global citizen efforts to stand up to Israel’s ongoing intransigence and indeed it has not. Over the last three months, we have been joined by national coalitions in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Canada, Norway, Belgium, Austria, Australia, and the United States, and other countries, each of which is working on sending a boat to Gaza. As we speak, a Jewish boat is on its way to Gaza in a statement to the world that Israel does not act in the name of world Jewry, nor does Israel’s blockade of Gaza have anything to do with protecting Jews. The people of Gaza anxiously await their arrival.
We have started a movement that Israel, with all its weapons, cannot stop. We have been forced to do this because our governments have not been willing to hold Israel accountable for systematic violations of Palestinian human rights. We expect our governments to support our nonviolent actions to uphold international law, and to take action when their unarmed citizens are violently attacked, beaten, arrested and killed. We lost nine of our colleagues to Israel’s senseless violence and this is only a fraction of the violence that Palestinians have been subjected to over the last 60 years.
Today the independent Fact Finding Mission, commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council releases the conclusions of its investigation into the Freedom Flotilla raid. The UN flotilla report concludes that Israeli troops used “incredible violence” against us, committing “grave breaches” of international law. The report also says there is “clear evidence to support prosecutions” against Israel for “willful killing” and torture committed when its soldiers stormed our flotilla last May. Greece, as a signatory to the Rome Statute has the right to bring this matter before the International Criminal Court. Our respective countries have the ability to invoke universal jurisdictions to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.
Israel has consistently tried to label any individual or group that acts to defend Palestinian rights as “terrorist.” They launched a slanderous attack on our Turkish partners. The UN Flotilla report rejected the notion that intervention by civil society to address the cause of a humanitarian crisis is meddlesome. It called for space for both humanitarian intervention to alleviate the crisis in Gaza, and political action to address the causes creating the crisis. The Second Freedom Flotilla now being organized, like the one so brutally attacked by Israel, will aim to do both. In the meantime we call upon our countries to use all available legal and political means to ensure that Israel stops acting above the law so that we do not have to put our lives on the line to do so.

Jewish Boat to Gaza sets sail from Cyprus

September 26, 2010

Jewish Boat to Gaza sets sail from Cyprus