A Press TV journalist detained on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla describes mistreatment of activists detained on the aid convoy and his own ordeal in Israeli custody.
Still suffering a lack of sleep, Hassan Ghani explained how the Turkish-flagged vessel he was traveling on was surrounded by Israeli navy forces and finally underwent an attack.
"We were some 90 miles off the Israeli coast and we were by no means within the so-called military exclusion area, which was originally 20 miles but later extended to 68 miles," Ghani told Press TV on Thursday.
He described how the people on the ship used water hoses to repel the invaders and how the Israeli forces helicopters landed on the roof while a number of frigates approached the vessel on either side.
The commandos, armed with at least two weapons each, eventually landed on the ship.
"They came down and we heard gunfire.. at this stage we did not know if they were rubber bullets or live ammunition but we heard gunfire," he said, adding the activists used whatever handy and mostly their bare hands to defend themselves.
The soldiers tried to open fire with their machine guns when they faced resistance from activists who held them back from getting to the cameras broadcasting the events live from the main deck.
The volunteers disarmed some of the soldiers and took away their guns with bare hands, when live bullets were used and the fatalities began, he said.
"A man was shot right in the head," Ghani said, explaining that the murder indicated the soldiers had enough time to aim and that the decision to shoot was not made on impulse or out of fear.
According to Ghani, the gunfire continued for quite some time even after the activists raised their white flags.
Rejecting Israeli media reports about the use of guns allegedly carried by the activists, Ghani said the only weapons in the volunteers’ hands were those seized from the Israeli soldiers. The guns were taken and their bullets were removed from the weapons and preserved to be used as evidence later, he explained.
Ghani and his companions were held under gun point and constant threats for some 12 hours in the ship, with their hands tied tight behind their backs. He said his hands were tied so tight that it stopped the blood circulation in his right hand.
The soldiers took the entire luggage onboard and went through it all while the activists were forces to lie on the deck. Everybody’s belongings were smashed and thrown all around, he said.
"We were treated like animals, we were told when to sit when to stand up," he recalled. "Nobody was allowed to stand up, nobody was allowed to go to toilet," he said, unless the civilians begged and pleaded to the Israeli forces, who would refuse permission until after they had begged several times.
"Then we were taken to the port of Ashdod, where we were all taken down. We were not allowed to take any sort of personal belongings."
Upon their arrival, the activists were forced to sign a statement in Hebrew which the volunteers could not read. The international campaigners were interrogated and then sent to different prisons across Israel.
Close to their departure, they were given another paper and were pressured to confirm they agreed to being deported from Israel because they had entered illegally — even though the Israeli army had forcefully brought them in.
Those campaigners from countries which do not recognize Israel were bused away to Jordan and the others were sent to Istanbul on Turkish airline planes.
Ghani said a number of volunteers refused to leave Israel and said they decided to file a complaint and defend their cases in an Israeli court.
Their resistance was, however, met with violence from the Israeli side and they were severely beaten and dragged to the bus to the airport, and eventually forced to get on the airplane.
Throughout their detention, the activists were not given allowed to contact a lawyer or call their families, in contrast to Israel prison law.