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Gaza flotilla: notes on Peter Venner's eyewitness testimony

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David C
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Joined: 12 Jan 2004
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Location: Southampton

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Notes from meeting 8th June 2010 Abu Bakr mosque, Argyle Road, Southampton
Speaker – Peter Venner
Subject – His eyewitness testimony of the Israeli assault on the aid convoy.

Tuesday 8th June I received an email from a muslim friend saying that Peter Venner from the Isle of Wight would be talking at Abu Bakr mosque that night about his experience taking part in the aid convoy to Gaza that was attacked by Israeli forces last week, leaving 9 dead. Peter, 63, is a timber yard owner over on the island. He’s hardly what you would describe as a loony radical – a compact, weather-beaten man who looks like he spends most of his time outdoors, very well spoken with an upper-class English accent and vocabulary that suggests a quality educational background. He speaks quietly, smiles a lot and has expressive eyes. He struck me as modest, caring individual.

The meeting was chaired by a university lecturer who is from Gaza. He was quite emotional welcoming Peter and wept as he heard the account, explaining that he still had family in Gaza.

Here’s what I noted from Peter’s account last night:

He was standing on the starboard quarter (left side, towards the rear) of the largest ship the Mavi Marmara when the attack began. The several hundred peace activists on board had expected an attack from the Israelis so the ship had stayed well offshore in international waters in the hope that the Israeli’s would not attack at night, where it would be difficult to film evidence and pass it to the outside world.

The attack began shortly after the dawn prayers at about 0400. Life jackets were worn in case the Israeli’s tried to sink the ship, which was quickly surrounded by fast boats carrying soldiers. There were loud explosions which Peter took to be stun grenades (no explosive power) and then the soldiers started firing at the ship. Peter was surprised when bullets began to hit the sides of the ship as he had not expected the Israelis to use live ammunition. There was so much noise coming from the boats and gunfire that at this point he did not know that there were helicopters overhead as well.

This became apparent when he went below decks to see if he could find a gas mask to wear, as it was feared that the ship would come under gas attack. Not being able to find one (there were only a couple of dozen to go around several hundred passengers) he obtained a dampened cloth to wrap around his mouth and nose. Then casualties began to be rushed downstairs. There was a great deal of blood – people had been shot through the top of the head and shoulders by soldiers in helicopters hovering above the ship.

Only after opening fire with live ammunition were soldiers lowered to the decks. Some of the passengers did try and struggle with the soldiers. Two Israelis were disarmed, the magazines from their guns were thrown over the side of the ship. The disarmed soldiers were found to be carrying lists with names and photographs of some of the passengers – about 19 on the list, Peter wondered if it was a hit-list.

The violence did not last long. There were no firearms on the ship when it left Turkey – it was carefully inspected by the Turkish authorities before leaving port. He did see some catapults, they were in small boxes, and certainly some passengers did use the catapults to launch coins and other hard objects at the soldiers. For the well-armed soldiers with flak jackets and helmets to claim that they fired in self defence was absurd.

As the struggle ceased the passengers were handcuffed and lined up. Peter was cuffed for 4 hours on an upper deck. He was positioned near the stairwell and saw two soldiers slip on the blood that had spilled on the stairs. They landed heavily on their bottoms and their guns hit them hard as they landed. The passengers were scared that the soldiers would get angry and shoot again so nobody said a word when they fell. The guards had balaclavas under their helmets and goggles but he could see their eyes and he felt that some of them were nervous and perhaps surprised not to have found a ship full of gun-toting Hamas terrorists. He wondered what they had been briefed to expect.

Once ashore he was taken to a prison and interviewed. He was treated firmly but not with violence. He was surprised to be interviewed next by an Israeli social worker who asked if his family and children were OK – quite a contrast from the hostility shown by the military.

He was quickly deported. At the airport an Israeli guard asked him “was it alright for you?”. Peter replied that he was OK, but he thought that times were going to be tough for Israel after what had happened and he wished the guard well. Trying not to look too shocked at being spoken to kindly, the guard nodded.

On arrival in Turkey the people welcomed Peter and his colleagues very warmly. It was clear that Israel had badly misjudged the situation and that Turkey may have been lost as an ally. By Turkey taking the lead, it would be possible for Egypt to loosen ties with Israel too.

Peter also met passengers from the small vessels in the flotilla. Their boats were disabled quickly by the Israelis and there were no deaths. However they did have a grandstand view of the assault on the Mavi Marmara, one of them described it as looking like a scene out of ‘Apocalypse Now’ with helicopters and gunfire sounding across the water.

Steve Hall
Wed Jun 16, 2010 5:19 pm
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