London, Asharq Al-Awsat – In the first eye-witness account of what took place on the Turkish registered Mavi Marmara ship, Israeli MP Haneen Zoabi denies the Israeli assertion that the naval commando forces only began firing in self-defense after one of the activists on board disarmed an Israeli commando and fired upon him with his own weapon. The Israeli MP claimed that the Israeli forces began firing on the ship even before its commandos had landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara, and that the activists were the ones who were acting in self-defense.
Haneen Zoabi, who is a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel and an MP for the National Democratic Assembly or Balad party, was on board the Mavi Marmara when it was stormed by Israeli commandos in international waters. She told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Israeli ships besieged the [Mavi Marmara] ship and began firing on it before the navy commandos rappelled [onto the deck] by rope from helicopters, firing [bullets] and a water-cannon at the activists.”
MP Zoabi categorically denied the Israeli assertions that there were weapons on board the ship, and that the international peace activists came prepared for violence, saying “there were no plans for resistance, this came as a natural response in self-defense, and this is something that could have happened at any time or place…for when somebody finds themselves under attack they find themselves in a natural manner trying to defend their lives by all available means.”
She added that “the iron bars that they are talking about are present on every ship or boat in the world, and there is no evidence that people were armed with this…this is untrue and has no basis in fact.”
Zoabi, who was released by the Israeli authorities due to her immunity as a member of the Knesset, described her astonishment and condemnation of what took place. She said that prior to the attack she could not have imagined this happening, and that the “freedom flotilla” was carrying a humanitarian and political message to the million and a half Palestinians who have been virtually living in a prison for years.
Zoabi said “We were expecting an intercept and inspection mission, with the ship then being escorted to the Port of Ashdod, but we did not expect this to take place with such military intensity, and utilizing such weapons. This was a terrible attack on 600 activists, who are civilians, parliamentarians, and peace activist, and Israel has described them in a negative manner since the flotilla left port as being ‘terrorists’ and this is in order to justify aggression against them.”
MP Zoabi also indicated that another aim of this Israeli aggression was to intimidate and deter anybody from participating in future attempts to break the Gaza blockade. She said that prior to the attacks, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Israeli army spokesman spoke about the presence of terrorists on board the flotilla, and this was in order to prepare Israeli and international public opinion for the deadly operation which followed.
Speaking about the details of what happened aboard the ship, Haneen Zoabi said “the operation began at around 11.30 pm on Sunday…we saw the lights of vessels far away. At around 1.30 am, these ships approached our ship, and at around 4 am there were around 13 ships and dinghies surrounding our ship…and as they approached they began to fire machine guns [at the ship], and then suddenly there were helicopters with commandos disembarking [onto our ship] whilst firing weapons, and firing a water cannon onto the deck of our ship.”
She confirmed that all of this took place in international waters, approximately 130 miles off the coast of Israel. Zoabi also revealed that the flotilla organizers [on board the ship] asked for passengers to put their life jackets on and to clear the ship’s deck. She said that the Israeli soldiers began rappelling onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara in a quick manner, and that 5 activists were killed and dozens more wounded within a period of 10 minutes. Zoabi also said that she did not personally see any passenger or activist carrying iron bars or sticks or any other kind of weaponry.
Zoabi also said that she believed that her life, and the lives of the other activists and passengers on board the Mavi Marmara were in danger, and that the Israeli forces were aiming not just to stop the ship, but to send a message to prevent future attempts to break the Gaza blockade. Speaking about what happened on the ship, Israeli MP Haneen Zoabi said “there were deaths within minutes, and the aim was to create an atmosphere of terror. [I remember] somebody raising a white flag…there were sufficient indications that we did not desire any confrontation.” She added “There was no provocation…the Israeli story talks about provocation, but there were people who were afraid for the safety of the passengers, and the organizers gave the passengers instructions to move to the lower levels [of the ship] and stay in their rooms for their own safety.”
Zoabi revealed that Israel gained control of the Mavi Marmara’s control room around an hour and a half after the military operation began, and that the passengers were all interred in a number of large cabins where – except for women and the aged – they were all shackled, and sniffer dogs were brought in to search for weapons, but the Israeli forces failed to find any. She said that the ship then set sail for the port of Ashdod, making land at around 6 pm, where the Mavi Marmara remains under the control of the Israeli army. MP Zoabi said “we only knew about 5 dead and dozens of wounded…there were also 7 who were wounded and in critical condition, we asked them [the Israelis] for the wounded to be provided with priority first aid, but they did not cooperate with us, and this resulted in two of the wounded dying because they were not provided with medical assistance.”
Zoabi ended her statement by calling for an international investigation into the attack, as well as for international pressure to be exerted on Israel to release the rest of the activists that are currently being detained.