Sarah Colborne (Campaign Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign) arrived at Heathrow airport this morning clearly tired and shaken but steadfast and determined. She was the only one aboard the flight to London as most of her fellow British flotilla members had chosen to stay in Turkey for the funerals of nine of their companions who were brutally slain in the Israeli massacre aboard the flotilla. Still in her grey Israeli prison uniform Sarah stood in the terminal and recounted how the massacre unfolded and the nightmarish events of the last few days.
MEMO staff were there to welcome her home and hear her story. Her first concern was for the flotilla members who are still unaccounted for. Many people are "still detained inside Israeli prisons" she said and "we need to find out now where they are." "Not everybody managed to get out." Regarding the arrests of all the flotilla members and the continued detention of those left behind she said, "[We] were abducted; kidnapped in international waters. [We] committed no crime. [We] in fact were challenging the crimes of the Israeli state in terms of maintaining the siege. Those people should be released immediately…" She further added, "We need the bodies of the dead returned to their families for a proper burial."
She described how the events began to unfold at 11 o'clock on the Sunday night when Israeli warships were spotted on the radar and were then spotted visually as they began to approach the unarmed humanitarian sea convoy. She explained that those on board tried to issue a distress signal and "were trying to broadcast messages that we were a humanitarian aid flotilla. That we were peaceful, that we had no weapons, that we were being threatened by the Israeli Navy in international waters and that we were calling on the international community to come to our aid. Israel had been blocking the satellite transmission and so it was difficult to get the message out."
She described how the boat was attacked and forcefully boarded by the Israeli commandoes following which the captain of her ship made an announcement that live ammunition was being used and that all the flotilla members should go below deck for their own safety. They immediately started transmitting messages to the Israeli forces saying that they had critically wounded people on board and that they were asking for their help in moving them and giving them treatment. Knesset member Hanin Al Zoubi, who was part of the convoy, even transmitted this message in Hebrew to ensure that the soldiers understood what was being said, but to no avail. They were surrounded by soldiers pointing guns at them and sighting them with lasers. Everyone was cuffed and forced back onto the deck. Even the medics on board were cuffed and not allowed to tend to their wounded friends. As the dead and wounded were eventually evacuated Sarah recounted seeing four dead bodies just lying there.
When asked what was going through her mind at that point during the invasion Sarah replied that she was aware that people had died and that more were going to die without urgent medical attention. "It was like a horror movie. There was a massacre going on. There was live ammunition being shot and everywhere you were seeing dying…. It was just a horrific experience. We were forced up to the top deck where our hands were bound with cable ties. We were forced to either sit or kneel. We then ended up waiting in the hot sun. We did not have water. There was a woman on the top deck who was pregnant. There was a woman on the top deck who was also seriously ill, there was a man who, when I managed to get some water to him, looked like he had fainted."
"It felt unreal. You just couldn't believe that this was happening. We knew that the Israelis could use tactics like this. We know they use tactics like these against the Palestinians, they have massacred Palestinians in the past, [but] we did not think they would use these measures against a group of civilians, aged from, the youngest was under one, the oldest was 89. We never thought they would do this to civilians from 32 countries on that ship, (there were more countries represented on the entire flotilla). [We] were on a humanitarian aid mission. We obviously had no arms. We had gone through the Turkish port and obviously everything had been thoroughly searched by the Turkish authorities. There was absolutely no way there were any arms on the ship."
She describes how they had all put on life jackets as soon as the Israeli boats were detected on the radar but said that they never could have dreamt of what was about to befall them.
When one reporter asked if any Israelis had shown them any empathy, saying that many Israelis are ashamed of what happened to the flotilla, Sarah responded that no, none of them had shown any flicker of compassion. In a shaking voice she told us how one man who was killed on the ship had been with his wife and that, grief-stricken, she was taken to the same prison as Sarah where she was treated exactly the same as the rest of them and shown no compassion at all. Sarah said, "It was a horrific experience and I just hope that their deaths weren't in vain. I hope that the British government and the governments around the world sit up, take notice, take action….end the siege on Gaza, implement international law, force Israel to end its violations of international law and free Palestine."
She added, "We are aware that obviously there are people in Israel who feel shame at what happened and we think it is very important to support them in brining their government to task."
When asked if she would ever consider such a mission again she said without hesitation "We have to, we have to do this. We have to break the siege on Gaza. We have 1.5 million people in Gaza under an illegal, brutal, inhumane occupation and that has to end. The apartheid regime that Israel is carrying out has to end. It cannot continue. If we consider ourselves anywhere near decent human beings we have to do everything we can to end the mistreatment of the Palestinians. We have to do everything we can to bring them justice."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.