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Flotilla Eyewitness Speaks: Alex Harrison

21 August 2010

Alex Harrison of the Free Gaza Movement spoke candidly about her experience on board the MV Al-Samoud (The Steadfast), the smallest ship in the flotilla bound for Gaza, and what happened after Israeli commandos attacked the flotilla and abducted her and the other passengers. The meeting was a Palestine Solidarity night at the Ratstar Centre on 22nd July 2010. (Audio originally posted on Indymedia).

Alex Harrison speaking at a rally upon her return to England

[need flash]( 43Mb )

What follows is summary quotes from her 46 minute talk. Please listen to the full talk as it contains so much more information and provides context to some of the quotes below.

Right to defend

We were on boats flagged Comoros islands, Turkey, US.. and flagging in those countries has the effect of effectively making them the territories of those countries when you are in international waters. So we have the same rights to defend ourselves as if we were attacked by the Israeli army here. If the Israeli army came on to the streets of London, or America, or Comoros, or Turkey, or where ever the boat was flagged and attacked us you would have a right of defence with proportionate and similar force. So actually the passengers on the Mavi Marmara legally had the right to return the aggression with live fire, with helicopters, with gun boats, with submarines, with everything the Israelis used. A few broom handles and bits of metal [railings] were just not an attack, I think that was just legitimate, understandable self defence.

Challenger 1 was renamed Al-Samoud,
meaning 'The Steadfast' before leaving Crete
to join the flotilla heading for Gaza.
The name was chosen by school
children in Gaza.

Attack on MV Samoud

Before they even got aboard, the zodiacs [Israeli military speed boats] came around us and they opened fire even before they came near. We were not offering any kind of physical resistance except to stand on the decks. 17 of us on board, two of the 17 were journalist who were not taking any role in it so we were 15 activists on the boat.. aging from 26 to 80, we had 4 people over 60 on the boat, 10 were women.. very clearly not a threatening group.. as the soldiers came they, masked, covered in weapons, they began firing..

Treatment on board

Women were held face down on the broken glass, a lot of them we could see had cuts or bleeding on their faces because they had been pushed on to the broken glass. They were all held with cable ties behind their backs, two of them had masking tape put over their eyes and then they were hooded Abu Ghraib style.. absolutely unnecessary.. we were still between 60 and 80 miles away from Gaza at that point.. it took us another 6 hours to get to Ashdod, that gives you an idea of how far away from Israeli waters we were..

On the boat they didn't let us go to the toilet, we had an 80 year old man on board they made him piss himself. When we did finally get to go to the toilet they stood over us, male soldiers stood over us, and we had to go in front of them..

And they got all our belongings, rifle through them, and looted them in front of us.. then went over our persons and took everything unnecessary that we were wearing, they literally left me wearing shoes, trousers and t-shirt, they took away my shirt.. they hissed at us, jeered at us and insulted us relentlessly the whole time.

Israeli Zodiac navy boats returning to Ashdod
after the bloody massacre

Treatment at the port

We weren't allowed to walk off the boats, they carried us.. one by one.. four soldiers taking a limb each. If we weren't bruised from the attack on the ship, we were bruised just from being held.. we all had hand prints on our thighs and tops of our arms.. and were held there with thousands of soldiers jeered and screamed at us and photographed us against our will.. illegal under the Geneva Conventions..

When we got to the reception area we were searched again and again and again.. some of us were strip searched up to a total of three times.. first by the soldiers on the boats, then by the police, and then by the prison authorities all within a 10 metre stretch! Some of us were held down, myself included, and given an internal examination against our will.. as well as being the full body cavity search, its very thorough - I'm not just talking about the rubber glove treatment.. they go between your toes, in your ears, they brush out your hair. Kate [Geraghty - reporter for Sydney Morning Herald] had a bridge in her mouth glued in, they pulled it out even though it was glued in, to check if she hadn't hidden anything in her tooth.. it was purely abusive.


They didn't give us a change of cloths, we were there three days still in the same cloths from when we were taken.. we were abused, insulted.. They filmed us in our cells, in the toilets, in the showers.. there were showers but you had to get naked on Israeli camera if you wanted to use them so we generally decided not to. There were injured women.. some of them were walking round covered in blood. They took headscarves from a lot of the Muslim women..

Ken O'Keefe was brutally beaten
by Israeli security forces.


After six hours in a prison van with no food, water or toilet facilities we found ourselves in the cargo hold of the airport. When we got out we had another reception committee of screaming, jeering soldiers who were shouting abuse, getting in our faces and laughing us. As soon as we got out of the van they immediately started pushing us about. We were the last group of 12 women at that point, they closed down the whole airport terminal for us and it was full of literally hundreds of soldiers..

They put us in a pen, penned in and surrounded by soldiers. From our pen we could see the male passengers being processed in very small groups. We saw four different individuals, one of then Kenneth O'Keefe from London, Paul Barrigan? from the US and Fiachra O Luian from Ireland, who was on my boat, and one other man being beaten by the soldiers. No provocation.. what happened time and time again, we'd see a man would be standing the next thing we would see is two or three soldiers would leap on him from behind start beating him, hitting him, tackle him to the ground, then you would see more soldiers jump and pile on, all the other soldiers would be standing around screaming, jeering, encouraging it, and they would close around him so we couldn't see..

On two occasions they came in to the women's pen, and one of the soldiers just jumped of a chair and smacked women about at the back of the head and knocked one of them over.. absolutely no provocation, purely abusive. And his colleagues rather than stop him jumped on us and pushed us away so we couldn't help the two girls that were being beaten.

What upset me most was their treatment of Turkish injured men. We were held till the last so we saw the injured men going through. This is Wednesday night, we are still in the cloths we were in on Sunday night. I saw the Turkish men coming through, a lot of them had a leg cut out of their trousers or maybe an arm cut out of their top. It had been cut out to treat their wounds.. they were covered in blood, blood that had been there for three days, and some of them had wounds that were still bleeding..

What upset me most was seeing the dozen men, one after another, hobbling across the terminal with a bandaged foot. I couldn't ask them why so many of them had a bandaged foot, I couldn't ask them what had happened, because if they spoke to anybody or if any of us spoke to them the Israelis beat the injured person for responding to us. We couldn't ask them, we later found out that they had these injuries on the tops of their feet from when the troops came down from the helicopter on the Mavi Marmara, and they came down firing - they had been shot from above. Some of the men that were killed were shot at close range - head and chest, but a dozen of the men who were shot, among 59 people who were shot, they were shot at the tops of their feet - the bullets were coming down.

Its the abuse and hatred and humiliation that has the most lasting effect on me I think, much more so than the violence.. Of course all that we've gone through is not 1% of what Palestinians go through..

Alex Harrison

So these men still in the same cloths, covered in sweat and blood, three day old blood, were being made to hobble across the terminal. They weren't given a wheelchair or a pair of crutches, and if any of the other passengers stood up and tried to offer them an arm to lean on as they walked all the way across the terminal, 200 metres, that person was dragged away and smacked by these Israelis. The Israeli soldiers sat on the floor and laughed and sniggered and made every one of these Turkish men who had been shot in the foot hobble and hop all the way across, everyone of them one by one made to do that purely for the sick amusement of the Israeli soldiers.

Final comments

Its the abuse and hatred and humiliation that has the most lasting effect on me I think, much more so than the violence. Of course all that we've gone through is not 1% of what Palestinians go through..

Source: www.inminds.co.uk

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