The night Israel crushed the Freedom Flotilla

The night Israel crushed the Freedom Flotilla
Blog: In a personal account, Angela Lano remembers the night five years ago Israel brought death to a peace mission when it raided the Freedom Flotilla.
4 min read
03 Jun, 2015
The Freedom Flotilla was attacked by Israel in international waters [Getty]
Monday 31 May 2010: The Mediterranean sea, in the still of the night.

The silence is broken by a din of helicopters mixed with the guttural and frightening cries of Israeli soldiers assaulting out boats from the sea.

We reach for our life jackets and rush to the deck of our ship, the Sfendonh 8000. The Freedom Flotilla's vessels are surrounded by the Israeli navy.

It is about 4.30am and some of the Zodiac boats manned by Israeli soldiers hit the sides of our hull; the soldiers jump on us like The Furies. Gunshots, sound bombs and tear gas canisters add to the cacophony.

The commandos attack. Someone falls down under the shots, or from the beatings, or an electric-shock inflicted by an Israeli with a Taser gun.

'They'll kill us, we think'

Some try to resist, peacefully. Others cry out in surrender to avoid being killed. We seem to be catapulted into an unreal horror film. Journalists record the scene with video and still cameras, amazed. After a short while, another commando jumps on the deck, pushes us aside and seizes our equipment.

They'll kill us, we think. They're here for that, to give a lesson to the world: no one dares to challenge Israel! Not even boats loaded with unarmed people and aid for 1.5 million human beings under siege in Gaza.

     Some try to resist, peacefully. Others cry out in surrender to avoid being killed.
The soldiers take command of the boat and stop the engines: we are in the open sea, 70 miles from any coast, and deep in international waters.

Some 100m ahead of us the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship, is also under attack: shouts, shots and smoke are coming from her. All boats are under assault. Israeli soldiers use tear gas and sound bombs to provoke panic. They shoot to kill: shots to the back of heads, rounds to the body.

Blood and terror are spread in the corridors, in the bathrooms, in the holds. The result is nine Turkish activists shot dead and 50 wounded.

Reporters and cameramen aboard the Mavi Marmara record the assault and videos are broadcasted live. The whole world watches what Israel is doing. From the point of view of the image, for Israel it is a disaster, a home goal.

Hours later, our boat sets off again, steered by Israeli commandos. We sail toward Israel. Shortly before reaching the port city of Ashdod, we're taken to a lower deck, to the lounge, and counted like sheep in a pen.

At the Ashdod's port an enormous tent has been set up, with many desks, computers, booths, and hundreds of soldiers, policemen and journalists.

I'm escorted to a desk where an interior ministry official says to me: "You've entered Israeli territory illegally. You've violated Israeli law."

I reply that it is Israel that has violated international law by seizing us in international waters and taking our possessions. He places a document written in Hebrew in front of me, and then a copy in English, only after my insistence, and asks me to sign the "confession of violation of immigration laws and illegal entry into Israel".

I refuse, repeating that I was kidnapped in international waters and that I am an "on duty" journalist. Then I add that my right to perform my profession has been denied as well, "strange for a country that calls itself democratic".

Prison beckons

He flashes a wry smile. "Why are you getting angry? Well then, if you won't sign, you're going to prison," he says. "I'll go to prison," I reply.

They take me around to other stations to photograph me, take my fingerprints, and ask questions about my health. Then I'm subjected to a body search and forced to undress in front of two women soldiers. I ask why. "Because you refused to sign the document," one says.

We are taken to prison, in Beer Sheva in the Negev desert, the most notorious prison area in Israel. We are 700 people of 43 countries, including dozens of MPs, journalists, Muslim and Christian leaders, NGO workers and representatives, writers, academics and many activists.

We are imprisoned, while the international community strongly reacts against Israel: UN, Nato, governments and world organisations condemn Israeli's actions. International diplomacy exerts pressure on Israel for our release and on 2 June we are freed.

The Freedom Flotilla, which aimed to break the Israeli siege and embargo that was suffocating 1.5 million Gazans, failed in its goal.

It did, however, succeed in breaking the long-lasting wall of silence that hides the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem.

Now a new flotilla is gathering people around the world, again towards Gaza. What will Israel's reponse be this time?