RAMALLAH, June 3 (JMCC) - Arab Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zoabi was among the international activists headed to Gaza aboard the Freedom Flotilla in an attempt to break the blockade. She has been threatened in the Israeli parliament for speaking out about her experience.
In this interview with JMCC.org, the only female Arab Knesset member says she didn't expect to go home alive after Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara on which she was traveling.
Q: Was the violence that took place during the raid a result of the activists assaulting the soldiers?
Zoabi: No, the peace activists aboard the ship were shot at even before the Israeli commandos boarded the ship and before there was any contact between the activists and the soldiers. We expected that the soldiers would try to induce fear in the hearts of anyone thinking of reaching Gaza to break the blockade. As usual, they used excessive force to terrorize their adversaries -- this excessive force undoubtedly included direct killing.
Q: Did anyone aboard the ship carry any weapons?
Zoabi: I did not see anyone carrying a stick or sharp object.
The Israeli attack gave the impression that something huge was about to happen. Around 4.30 AM, they began shooting towards the ship, before boarding and before any contact. It was clear that our lives were in danger and that the aim was not just to intercept the ship, but much more.
Q: What happened then?
Zoabi: The raid on the ship took place in international waters, about 130 miles off the shores of Gaza. Around 4.30 AM, the organizers of the campaign asked us to put on life vests and leave the deck for our own security. The boarding took place suddenly and quickly; in less than 10 minutes there were three killed and tens injured.
The goal was to spread terror. Someone held up a white flag, and there were other signs that sufficiently indicated we weren’t looking for any confrontation. We then became certain we were all in danger and I felt I would not come out alive.
Q: How long did it take to control the ship?
Zoabi: The captain’s quarters was taken over an hour and a half after the raid [began], accompanied by heavy fire. All the passengers were taken to big halls and restrained, except the women and the elderly. They physically searched everyone using dogs. They didn't found a single weapon as they claimed.
After that, the ship moved towards Ashdod port, arriving there under the army’s control at six in the evening. We only knew of five killed and tens injured; seven were in critical condition. We asked for first aid but they didn’t cooperate. As a result, two of the injured succumbed to their wounds and bled to death.
Q: Will there be new campaigns to break the blockade, despite what happened?
Zoabi: We will not stop our campaigns to break the blockade of Gaza and will carry on until it is lifted. Despite my awareness of the truth of Israel and its policies towards Palestinians wherever they are, I never imagined the degree of violence and terrorism carried out by the Israeli forces against a campaign carrying a humanitarian message to one and a half million Palestinians living in an open air prison for years.