(photo credit: Associated Press)
MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) broke her uncharacteristic silence early Tuesday afternoon, holding a press conference amid increasing calls from her fellow parliamentarians for her to face the music for participating in the Free Gaza Flotilla aboard the Mavi Marmara.
During the media event, held at her party’s Nazareth headquarters, Zoabi accused the IDF of planning to cause casualties and called for an international probe into the incident.
“It was clear from the scale of the forces that boarded the boat that the goal was not simply block the flotilla but to cause a very large number of casualties to stop similar initiatives in the future,” Zoabi told reporters.
“We demand the establishment of a UN investigative commission, in order to probe the Israeli claims. This is an international issue because the passengers on the ships were citizens of different nations.”
Zoabi provided her version of events, starting from the flotilla’s first contact with the Israeli authorities late Sunday night. “I went into the captain’s room. He was asked by the Israeli Navy to stop. He said that we are a Turkish ship at a distance of 130 miles. That was at 23:30.
“We saw four Israeli ships that maintained a distance because we were in international waters. At 4:15, we saw the ships approaching.”
Zoabi said that she saw both helicopters and light craft approaching the ship, and that the Israelis boarded the Mavi Marmara at 4:30.
“I didn’t hear any warning from the ships, because the main noise was from the helicopters and boats. Within ten minutes there were three bodies,” she said.
The freshman MK denied all claims that it was the international passengers on the ship that initiated the violent clashes with IDF naval commandos.
“There was not a single passenger who raised a baton,” Zoabi claimed. “From where I stood, in any case, I did not see any such thing. There was shooting, but I don’t know if it was with live bullets or not. There was shooting from the boats in our direction.
“The message was clear for us – that we should understand that our lives were in danger. We passed along messages that we did not want confrontation. What we saw was five bodies. There were only civilians and there were no weapons. I had the feeling that I might not get off the boat alive.”
Zoabi was released from police custody early Tuesday.
“Our goal was to break the blockade on Gaza,” she said. “We did not have any goals of confrontation. Israel tried to carry out a provocative military action. Israel is used to doing whatever it wants with the Palestinians. The main problem isn’t the flotilla but the blockade.”
In Jerusalem a top IDF operations official briefed a select committee of MKs on the IDF’s account of the operation. Col. Yitzhak Turgeman told members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that two pistols were taken from the naval commandos as they landed on the ship, and that the gun’s magazines were later found on two of the bodies recovered after the operation.
Turgeman said that witnesses believed that the men who took the guns had been well-trained, as they reportedly immediately cocked the weapons and began to fire.
When the helicopters threw down ropes, he said passengers on the ship
caught one of the cables and tied it to the mast, making only one cable
usable for the troops. The order to open selective fire only in cases
where there was mortal danger, he said, came from the commander of the
elite unit approximately seven minutes after the landing began, after
soldiers came under fire.
“If our force hadn’t been so trained and restrained, there would have been more killed,” Turgeman claimed.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) asked why the security forces had not tried
first to disable the ships’ engines, and Turgeman responded that towing
such a boat to Israel is complex operation, and that “the humanitarian
situation on the boat would be a greater concern.
“We knew that we wouldn’t be received with rice and roses, but we didn’t plan for the force that we encountered,” he explained.
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