The Gaza flotilla raid, first hand

Ewa Jasiewicz is a British-Polish activist, a coordinator with the Free Gaza Movement, and a member of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique’s Polish edition. She was in the Gaza Strip throughout the conflict there in January of 2009. Last May, she rode on the Challenger 1, one of the six boats that attempted to break the siege of Gaza before they were apprehended in international waters by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Nine Turkish nationals were killed by the IDF soldiers aboard another of the boats, the Mavi Marmara. Gaza has been blockaded by Egyptian and Israeli forces since Hamas took control of the Strip in June 2007.

The Mcgill Daily: How did you get involved in Palestine solidarity activism?
Ewa Jasiewicz: I first got involved through the [International Solidarity Movement] in 2003, because of friends of mine who had been out to Palestine. … I didn’t know that much about Palestine when I went there. This was just about six months after [Operation] Defensive Shield, so there were still a lot of incursions and curfews and, you know, once you see what the Israel army and state is doing to the Palestinian people – you see people’s homes destroyed, blown up, people killed, people injured and just daily violence – you can’t really forget it, can you? You can’t not be active around it because it becomes personal.

MD: What were the objectives of the flotilla that was attacked in May?
EJ: The objective primarily was to break the siege. The carrying of humanitarian goods was for us symbolic. … It did physically ease the blockade because the Rafah crossing [between Egypt and Palestinian-controlled Rafah] is now open. Okay, still not far enough, and Egypt is still a co-oppressor in the siege, but thousands of people were able to cross who wouldn’t have been able to cross before. That’s one measure of success. But it was also the boost it gave to the [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)] movement because it shifted many people into supporting the BDS tactic who before had maybe been on the fence. So many artists, musical acts cancelled their acts afterwards – [like] the Gorillaz and the Pixies. And then of course the United Nations fact-finding mission report just shows you again how Israel has violated international law. But it is a success to have brought in effectively another country. The government of Turkey reacted strongly and demanded a NATO emergency meeting and got it and really diplomatically put the spotlight on condemning Israel. And that’s a really positive thing and the whole of Turkey was really behind that. And it has really changed the relationship between those two countries.

MD: Israel has claimed that some of the members of the flotilla are linked to Al-Qaeda and that IHH [The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid, a Turkish NGO] is also linked to Al-Qaeda.

EJ: This is just absolute bullshit. Because if Israel really believed that there’s no way they would have let everybody go and released everybody. … They didn’t do that because it’s not true.

MD: Can you describe the flotilla raid?
EJ: The flotilla raid began in the early hours of the morning while it was still dark. That was a political decision by the Israeli navy, because they wanted to use the darkness to terrorize us and also to hide the actions of their soldiers. … So they continued trailing us and we were outrunning them for a while, maybe half an hour. We did hear shooting [from the Marmara], that was really horrible, but we were carrying on and then our captain decided to stop because he was feeling like they were going to cut us off and ram us and he didn’t want that. So he cut the engine and then they came closer and closer and then they just opened fire on the boat with plastic projectiles, smoke bombs. And they hit my friend in the face and she had blood all over her face and they wouldn’t let me treat her, they wouldn’t let anyone get to her, they were beating [my friend] Huwaida, and smashed the glass door open on the inside of the boat, they tasered the Sydney Morning Herald journalist, they cuffed me, they cuffed Huwaida, they put a hood on Huwaida and [another friend] Anna, they threatened to taser us, they were really brutal, they stomped on my face and then they took us into custody. … When it came to us being deported we kept saying that we wanted to see our council or our lawyer, that we didn’t want to leave, that we didn’t agree to this deportation, and they were just physically very aggressive with us and forced us out. They were beating people with truncheons and throwing chairs, and it was really horrible.

MD: And that’s when you were in detention?
EJ: Yes, we were still in detention.

MD: Were any of your fellow activists carrying weapons?
EJ: No, there were no weapons. Every single boat was searched. there were absolutely no weapons aboard any of the boats. That’s why people on the Marmara had to blowtorch some of the railings to make primitive weapons, to make crowbars, because they didn’t have normal weapons. They did have the right to defend themselves. You even have the right to defend yourself using firearms if you’re attacked at sea [in international waters].

MD: Do you feel that Hamas needs to be engaged diplomatically?
EJ: Without a doubt.