The following is an excerpt from the written testimony of Glyn Secker, captain of the Irene, the latest boat to attempt the breaking of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The weather was still very kind to us and we made better progress than expected. Not wanting to time the encounter with the Israeli navy in the dark we slowed down and when the morning had warmed up I suggested that a good way to de-stress would be to stop the boat and for us all take a swim in the sparkling deep blue water.
We put out a long line with a fender on the end and in we all plunged – a swim to remember. Reuvan, our 82-year-old holocaust survivor, was amazing, confidently swimming away from the boat and me trying to keep him within reach of the safety line! I think I was the only one who had any breakfast – home made muesli (wonderful almond nuts).
And then finally after all these days and weeks of anticipation we identified a frigate on the horizon. It shadowed us for some considerable time, keeping on our port side about five miles off. Then we saw a number of smaller craft lined up and realized that the encounter was approaching. We rehearsed our strategies and waited, with adrenalin levels slowly rising. Shortly there came a call on Ch 16 over the VHF from the frigate asking us our intentions and the flag of the boat. I informed them that we were heading for Gaza port, that we were in international waters and had no intention of entering Israeli waters. They replied that Gaza was within a prohibited area and that we should change our course.
I responded by stating that that did not accord with international law, that we were unarmed, had no materials which could be put to military use, that we carried a consignment of aid for Gaza and that we expected safe passage. They then warned us that they would intercept us, that this could be dangerous for the crew and damaging for the boat.
I reiterated that as a British flagged boat they had no legal right to intercept us and that we intended to maintain our course to Gaza. There was no reply and we continued on our passage for perhaps another 20 minutes – presumably they were waiting for us to cross the boundary of their unilaterally declared prohibited zone.
There then developed a sight which will remain with me for the rest of my life – with the frigate in the background, two gunboats, two landing craft and four high powered ribs spread out in a semi-circle speeding towards us at perhaps 35 knots, with their bow waves and wakes flashing in the sunshine. It was surreal, it was like an action movie, and entranced by the sight I had to remind myself this was actually happening – this overwhelming force for a 9.7 meter 40-year-old boat, the majority of its Jewish occupants over 60 years old, with no weapons and a publicized policy of passive resistance.
The next we knew there were two ribs very close alongside with the commander on a megaphone again warning us of the dangers if they boarded us. I reiterated our legal rights, and for what it was worth I accelerated, just to make a point that outpacing them was fantasy. Then as planned Itamar addressed the commandos in Hebrew and English, calling on them not to obey the orders to take actions which are illegal under international law. The ribs closed in, and the boarding commenced.
All the crew and passengers (apart from myself as I was steering) held hands.They boarded us simultaneously from both sides. At that moment we cut the engines and sat over the access points to the cut offs to prevent them restarting the engines. The wheel is on the starboard side of the boat. I was surrounded by three commandos, I held on to the wheel as hard as I could. It reminded me of being on violent picket lines with the police trying to break through. One grabbed my left arm, another my right arm. The third stood by with a Tazer gun. After a struggle they managed to prize my hands from the wheel and threw me down on the floor. I managed to crawl behind them and remove the engine starter keys but one of them saw me and prized the keys from my hands.
On the opposite side of the cockpit Yonatan Shapira [a former officer in the Israeli Air Force] and his brother Itamar had been identified by the naval commander in charge. He sought to separate them from the others. Yonatan clasped Rami in a hug to prevent himself being removed. The senior officer then moved one side Yonatan’s lifejacket covering his left breast, placed a Tazer gun in contact with his clothing and fired it directly into his heart.
Yonatan let out a dreadful scream and the force of the Tazer caused him to lose control of his muscles. He was pulled off Rami and across the cockpit to the middle. He was then hit twice more by the Tazer gun, screaming out again. Both he and Itamar were forcefully pulled off our boat onto the Israeli naval rib on port side.They were driven at very high speed over the waters, which had now become moderately rough (the wind had increased to a F4) and it would have been very uncomfortable especially for Yonatan still recovering from the Tazer shocks. They were taken to the frigate where they were treated normally, then to shore and released on bail without charges.
Meanwhile I had turned off the fuel supply to the engines. After some time (the engines only burn 1 1/2 liters per hour) when the fuel in the pipes had been used up the port engine started to fail. (The starboard fuel shut-off failed to work). After many attempts to restart the engine the officers took the boat in tow. The boat is designed to go through the water at a maximum speed of about 8 knots. They towed us through the rough waters at 12 – 14 knots.
The boat was bouncing about violently, it was dangerous for the remaining passengers and crew, including Reuvan. We all sustained bruises and the passage to Ashdod was exhausting. There were something like eight commandos on the boat in addition to ourselves so it was grossly overloaded. It was surprising that the boat did not begin to break up, the whole structure was groaning and making cracking sounds. It was clear that they intended to seriously mistreat the boat. During the passage they tore down all the banners and flags – including the red ensign (the UK flag) which legally has to be displayed in all foreign waters.
As a gesture of defiance I decided to cook lunch! Not easy in the circumstance but I managed to produce omelet (with garlic) sandwiches which Reuvan, Lillian and I think Eli and I shared. Whilst in the galley I took the opportunity of chucking out of the window the carving knife, the bread knife, a chisel and two hammers from the tool box, remembering that similar items had been photographed as evidence of weapons on previous boats.
I’d like to point out that in the US it is illegal for the police or the army to fire Tazers directly into the heart as there have been a number of cases of heart failure and death as a result of such targeting.
The fact that Yonatan was released without charge makes it very clear that the use of the Tazer on him was purely malicious.
Contrary to Israeli military reports, there was therefore, considerable resistance, be it non-violent, to the army’s illegal hijacking of our boat, and there was considerable, unprovoked and very dangerous violence perpetrated by Israeli forces.
Glyn Secker is a British human rights activist who participated in the Jewish Boat to Gaza in September 2010. His full testimony can be found here