The mission of Palestine to the UK hosted a press conference yesterday with two international activists who were on board the Gaza-bound 2018 Freedom Flotilla. The two boats making up the flotilla, one Swedish and another Norwegian, made their way to the Gaza Strip in an attempt to break the siege imposed on the territory since 2007.
Dr. Swee Chai Ang, a consultant orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Medical Aid for Palestinians, was on board Al-Awda boat, which was carrying 22 activists from various countries across the world. The Norwegian fishing boat, which had been donated and fitted with an engine, was violently boarded by the Israeli navy on 29 July and all the activists on board were detained and held in Israeli prison before they were deported back to their countries.
Journalist Iain Diez was one of 12 international activists on board the Swedish boat Freedom, the second boat to be boarded by the Israeli navy in international waters as they approached Gaza. Diez was the first of the Freedom crew members to be deported. He arrived in London on Sunday morning after being held in Israeli prisons for 24 hours and signing a voluntary deportation form.
Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, said in his opening remarks:
The flotilla was attacked in international waters. It was not in the Israeli territorial waters, which means that this is piracy par excellence, and to confiscate what was on the boat in itself epitomizes what Israel is all about.
"[Ang's] courage and her determination to be on the flotilla, and the way that the Israeli pirates have dealt with these human rights activists is another badge of dishonour to humanity," he continued.
Ang described her motivation for taking part in Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, expressing her commitment to the Palestinian cause and her desire to see justice restored to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
"My life is divided into two parts, before I met Palestinians and after," Ang told members of the press. "Before I met Palestinians, I exist," she explained. "After I met Palestinians, I resist, and the resistance is not violent resistance. It's a resistance inspired by the steadfastness of the Palestinians."
"We were captured," she added, "but [the flotilla] is a declaration of hope, of solidarity, of love with the Palestinian people, and that's what it's all about."
Before relating her account of the takeover of Al-Awda, Ang told members of the press that it was important to remember the Palestinian flotillas heading out from Gaza in hopes of breaking the decade-long maritime siege on the coastal enclave.
"We ought to remember the three flotillas which the Palestinians have actually sent out to take their wounded to Europe for treatment," she said. "They've all been captured and the captains have been in prison since May, since July and nobody knows where they are."
"If [Diez] and I were Palestinians, we wouldn't have the luxury to speak up, so it's our duty because we've got a voice to be their voice."
Ang described the takeover of Al-Awda as being "violent" and "horrible". "Forty-two nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, while still in international waters," she said, "at least three Israeli warships and five other smaller boats showed up with about 100 soldiers and stormed our boat."
"They beat the captain…and forced us to be driven to Israel," she continued. "In Ashdod, they took us to a closed military zone and put us in Israeli prison, and if not for the fact that we are from so many different countries, I think we would have still been in prison."
She also described the racism she was subjected to, disrespect and mistreatment in prison and theft of her belongings, including her phone, clothes and bible, and criticised the lack of action by her MP in the UK.
The fact that the Israeli military feel that they should conduct themselves and the Israeli prison services and immigration should treat our people with such disdain, such contempt, and the way in which people have had their medicines denied, drinking dirty water, food was being spat upon inside prisons. People have had their food stolen, their goods stolen, people have had their clothes stolen
James Godfrey, spokesperson for the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, said. "These accounts are a testament to the inhumanity, the dehumanising of people who put themselves alongside in the struggle for the freedom of the people of Gaza."
Diez described his experience when the Israeli navy took over the boat Freedom, which he said was very quick. "They came without any warning," he said, adding that it was clear how well the soldiers were prepared for the takeover. Just like with Al-Awad, the Israeli soldiers sailed Freedom to the port of Ashdod.
They reached the port at dawn on Saturday, he said, where they were met with over 200 officers, including military service, immigration officials and police officers. They were then given numbered bracelets, searched for over two hours, and questioned before being taken to their prison cells. "The entire process was designed to break you down," he added.
"Because I was a journalist and had over seven hours worth of footage that I did want to keep, and I had a camera and laptop, my collaboration with the Israeli authorities went beyond the collaboration of the rest of my peers," he continued. "I have to say it kind of worked and I did manage to have quite a lot of my footage on my laptop without being deleted or erased, but they did take away my phone and they did break my camera."
"Maybe they just were not aware of the amount of the footage I actually did have on my laptop," he said, adding that he is planning on using it to make a documentary about the journey.
"If this journey has done nothing, it brings hope," Ang said. "There is a whole journey ahead, but we'll make it. We are strong."