Sunday, November 21, 2010

We are the Mavi Marmara II…

Excerpt from Lillian Rosengarten’s rather shocking account of being on the Jewish boat to Gaza – Irene…:

The organization in Gaza ready to welcome us is the Palestinian International Campaign to end the siege on Gaza directed by Gaza psychiatrist Dr. Eyad El-Serraj. I couldn’t help but be excited especially when a message came over satellite phone that they awaited us and prayed for our safe arrival. The response I received to this invite from folks at home goes like this,” Are you crazy? You looked forward? Hamas would have killed you immediately." This culture of hate must end before all is lost and the earth becomes a vast desert without life. To witness these hateful, ignorant comments tests our strength and resolve to push on and to not get caught in needing to defend that for which there is no defense.

We were 4 passengers, Rami, Edith, Reuven and myself. Rami and Reuven are Israeli citizens. Our captain Glyn , a British citizen and long time activists sailed our little boat under a British flag. Our crew were Israeli heroes. Itamar and Jonatan Shapira, 2 stupendous men, former air force pilots who said no to bombing and killing. Also 2 photojournalists also on board whose cameras and photos were conviscated. Rami had told me he and his his wife Nurit’s daughter Smadar (means blossom of the flower,) and sister of Elik, was murdered by a suicide bomber in a mall when she was 14 years old. Imagine this family has joined hands with Palestinian families who also grieve as they stand arm in arm together in solidarity. These are the true patriots who together are one in their humanity.

Our group had gathered in North Cyprus, the town of Kyrenia, for one week as we waited for news that the Irene had found a safe port. I had flown to London and stayed with one of the organizers and his wife. Everthing was kept completely silent so that we would not be intercepted by the Israeli secret police. The need for secrecy was nerve wracking but it worked. Two days later, we flew to Turkish Cyprus where we would in one weeks time begin our journey to Gaza.

I cannot tell you what it has meant for me to be on this little 1970 catarmaran about 36 feet long, together in solidarity with these activists. We were one in our longing to reach Gaza. If they were to kidnap the boat, they would have to navigate it themselves.The promise of non violence from our passengers and crew filled me with strength and great courage. We would not incite the pirates.

On the Irene that fateful Tues morning, the weather was beautiful as the sun reflected a mirage of gold on the Mediterranean. It was the day we would have reached Gaza and we were now close to 20 miles from shore but still in International waters. At 9 AM we sighted warships on the horizon moving towards us. Soon we could see the guns and war paraphernalia on board. It was all so surreal. Surely this was not really happening? I felt I was watching a war movie. Several smaller frigates moved too close to us, one in the front, back and on both sides sides. What act of insanity could this be? For a moment I imagined myself escaping, our small boat of tired Jews surrounded by the Nazi navy but I moved quickly away from this thought. Instead, try to imagine in the same space as the warships, a fleet of 4 or 5 pleasure sail boats gliding along as if nothing was happening. It was ludicrous to see pleasure sail boats n the same waters as the warships. Did they feel protected from the enemy “terrorists” on the small sailboat, by the big Navy fleet? Keep in mind we were a tiny unarmed boat dressed with wonderful flags including the Palestinian flag and dozens of names of potential passengers surrounded by doves sewn by Edith.

All I could think of is why are these warships coming to board our little catamaran with 9 Jews mostly in their 60’s 70’s and 80’s? How did it come to this, Jew against Jew? What insanity brought these soldiers dressed to the gill with high boots, tasers, guns, helmets and gloves with their fingers uncovered to take over our boat, in essence to kidnap us? One soldier tire down and ripped apart our beautiful flags while we huddled close together, hands linked and sang “we shall overcome.” Although the Israeli press described the kidnapping of our boat as without incident, it was anything but that. We were one in our stance of passive resistance and non violence. It was crazy as they boarded in large numbers. One had to see this to believe it as a few of them kicked Glyn until he fell as he held onto the wheel. It was all so brutal, so completely unnecessary, insane. They ceased to be human as they dragged Itamar to their frigate, tied his hands and kicked him as he lay flat on his back, his hands tied. Jonatan was by then trying to quiet 82 year old Reuven who lost it when his harmonica’s fell to the floor where they were about to be stepped on. Reuven with a pacemaker inside him became agitated and screamed at the scary looking steely faced soldiers that they should be ashamed of themselves. Luckily we rescued the harmonicas but at that moment I knew if the Mavi murders had not happened, they could have shot Reuven or any one of us. Instead restraint had most likely been ordered. Then we heard a scream. These military robots, 3 or 4 of them had knocked Yonatan onto the ground, pulled away his life jacket and tasered him in his heart. His cry like a wounded animal is something I will not forget. Unconscious, they dragged him onto the frigate.I saw first hand the dehumanization and the brutality. They picked on 2 true heroes of Israel and I suspect targeted them to hurt them. Since Glyn had made sure the engines would not work, we were towed to Ashdod at a speed of 10 knots, twice as fast as this boat was able to do for we had sailed no faster than 5 knots. We thought the boat could break in two and sat anxiously in our life vests. But this wonderful boat held out for us.

And now we were towed to Ashdod. It was brutally hot as we were herded from the boat into a courtyard. To get there each of us had to be pulled up a steep stone wall one by one. I noticed someone had pulled away a ladder which would have been less humiliating and easier for us. During our individually performed searches, all cameras, computers and cell phones were confiscated. I soon found myself in a well guarded van with tightly closed shades as we had become prisoners that had been arrested. I was happy to see Edith in the van. Her clothes were still wet from partial flooding on our boat while being towed at such a rapid speed. Despite the heat, she was shivering. I did not know then where the rest of us were. Edith and I were taken to Holon, about an hours drive on the outskirts of Tel Aviv while loud music roared in our ears. All we could say to one another was to acknowledge Israel as a state of collective mental illness.

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