After the Tahrir is stopped: A day of state piracy, hijacking and kidnapping
| November 14, 2011
The following 24-hour chronology was compiled by David Heap, from London, Ontario, one of the delegates on board the Canadian Boat to Gaza, The Tahrir, which set sail from Turkey at the beginning of November with the aim of penetrating the longstanding Israeli blockade around Gaza.
Friday, Nov. 4, at approximately 8:00 a.m.
The Tahrir and the Saoirse enter Israel's unilaterally declared 100 nautical mile military exclusion zone. We are in fact in international waters up until and after we are boarded.
First spotted large military vessels (frigates?), one to port two to starboard.
12:30 p.m. to 13:00 p.m.
We begin to lose communications with the outside world (satellite phones blocked, also internet connection and TV transmission) and we expect the worst.
First radio hail from the Israeli navy: Vessel Tahrir come in, this is Israeli navy. We didn't answer at first, but eventually when asked to identify our course and destination... I respond with words I have been waiting over a year to use: Our course is the conscience of humanity. When pressed for more details, Ehab [Lotayef, Canadian] adds: Our final destination is the betterment of humankind.
Last of the satellite phone connections is gone.
14:15 to 15:30 p.m.
Three-way radio communication between Israeli navy, Tahrir and Saoirse (the Irish Boat to Gaza). We will not give our consent to be boarded, nor will we resist.
We observe Israeli naval vessels chase Saoirse and soak her from two sides with water cannons. Water damage causes an electrical fire on board the vessel.
After spraying our foredecks with water cannons, heavily armed Israeli naval commandos board the Tahrir. Sprayed water creates slipping hazard for soldiers as well as for us. When Ehab and I refuse to leave our captain George alone in the wheelhouse, commando threatens -- then uses -- taser on my arm. Commandos take control of the Tahrir and carry out a thorough search of delegates, journalists and ship. Of course, no arms or ammunition of any kind are found (fact confirmed by commanding Israeli officer) but they nonetheless take our ship to Ashdod by force.
19:30 to 20:00 p.m.
Reach dockside at Ashdod. Five journalists leave when asked, as does George, our captain. Six delegates refuse to cooperate with our kidnapping by leaving our ship willingly. Change of uniformed personnel (IDF to police?). Karen [DeVito, Canadian] and Kit [Kittredge, U.S.] are escorted off, Ehab is pushed off, Michael [Coleman, Australia], Majd [Kayyal, Palestinian from Haifa) and I are dragged and carried off ship. One of the officers carrying me deliberately knees me in the right thigh, leaving a deep bruise that has me limping for the next two days.
20:00 to 22:00 p.m.
We are searched again dockside, and then again more thoroughly in tents inside a warehouse area. Asked to identify satellite phones, cameras and other electronics on a property table -- we are told these items are tagged with our ID numbers and will be returned to us at the time of our deportation (in fact, we never see any of these items again). Identified as "trouble" for resisting, Michael and I are shackled and handcuffed when place on a bus, where we are joined by some of the Irish from the Saoirse.
Taken by bus to an immigration processing centre. We are individually photographed and fingerprinted and told that if we sign a document voluntarily waiving our right to appeal our deportation before a judge, we will be deported within 24 hours. Ehab signs, the rest of us do not. Ehab signs a similar document two days later (Sunday afternoon, Nov. 6) but is not deported until Wednesday night (Nov. 9), at the same time I am. Additional security interviews seeking details of our organization make it clear our discreet departure from Turkey had taken Israeli security by surprise.
Saturday, Nov. 5 at 2:00 a.m.
We are again transported by bus (no shackles or cuffs this time) to Givon prison. More searches, paperwork. Last off bus and into cells at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Consular visits and formation of political prisoners committee to press our collective demands.
David Heap wrote about his experience in Givon prison in a letter smuggled out while he was still under arrest. This can be read here.