by Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
An Arab member of the Israeli
parliament who was on board the international flotilla that was attacked
on Monday as it tried to take humanitarian aid to Gaza accused Israel
yesterday of intending to kill peace activists as a way to deter future
Haneen Zoubi said Israeli naval
vessels had surrounded the flotilla’s flagship, the Mavi Marmara, and
fired on it a few minutes before commandos abseiled from a helicopter
directly above them.
Terrified passengers had been
forced off the deck when water was sprayed at them. She said she was not
aware of any provocation or resistance by the passengers, who were all
She added that within minutes of
the raid beginning, three bodies had been brought to the main room on
the upper deck in which she and most other passengers were confined. Two
had gunshot wounds to the head, in what she suggested had been
Two other passengers slowly bled
to death in the room after Israeli soldiers ignored messages in Hebrew
she had held up at the window calling for medical help to save them. She
said she saw seven other passengers seriously wounded.
“Israel had days to plan this
military operation,” she told a press conference in Nazareth. “They
wanted many deaths to terrorise us and to send a message that no future
aid convoys should try to break the siege of Gaza.”
Released early yesterday by
police, apparently because of her parliamentary immunity, she said she
was speaking out while most of the hundreds of other peace activists
were either being held by Israel for deportation or were under arrest.
Three other leaders of Israel’s
large Palestinian Arab minority, including Sheikh Raed Salah, a
spiritual leader, were arrested as their ships docked in the southern
port of Ashdod. Lawyers said that under Israeli law they could be held
and questioned for up to 30 days without being charged.
Contradicting Israeli claims, Ms
Zoubi said a search by the soldiers after they took control of the
Marmara discovered no arms or other weapons.
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It was vital, she added, that
the world demand an independent UN inquiry to find out what had happened
on the ship rather than allow Israel to carry out a “whitewash” with
its own military investigation.
Ms Zoubi spoke as Palestinians
inside both Israel and the occupied territories observed a general
strike called by their leaders. A statement from the High Follow-Up
Committee, the main political body for Israel’s Palestinian citizens,
described the raid on the flotilla as “state-sponsored terrorism”.
Demonstrations and marches in
most of the main Palestinian towns and villages in Israel passed off
quietly. Local analysts described the mood as angry but subdued, not
least because of the openly hostile climate that has developed towards
Palestinian citizens since crackdowns on their protests during the
Israeli attack on Gaza 18 months ago.
However, police were reported to
have been put on high alert, with thousands of extra officers drafted
into the north, where most Palestinian citizens live.
On Monday, clashes between
protesters and police broke out close to the al Aqsa mosque in
Jerusalem’s Old City and in the northern town of Umm al Fahm after false
rumours circulated that Sheikh Salah, the leader of Israel’s main
Islamic Movement, had been killed in the Israeli naval operation.
Even before the attack on the
flotilla, the country’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population,
had been braced for a backlash from the government and Jewish public
for its leaders’ participation in the flotilla. As the ships set sail,
Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, had asked whether Ms Zoubi was
an “MP in the service of Hamas”.
But faced with the severe
diplomatic fall-out from Israel’s killing of peace activists, Israel’s
Palestinian leaders warned that they were likely to come under even
fiercer criticism in coming days.
Yesterday right-wing parties
launched their first attacks on Ms Zoubi, demanding the revocation of
her immunity and her expulsion from the parliament. Danny Danon, a
member of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, called
for her to be “tried for treason”.
In her statement on the attack,
Ms Zoubi said that at 4am on Monday she had seen at least 14 Israeli
boats surround their ship 130km out at sea, in international waters.
She said the passengers had been
gripped with fear at the noise and confusion as the commandos abseiled
on to the deck. “I did not believe we were going to survive more than
five minutes,” she said.
Taleb al Sana, another Arab MP,
supported Ms Zoubi’s contention that Israeli claims that the commandos
shot only at the passengers’ legs were false. “I have visited the
wounded in hospital and they all have shot wounds to the head and body,”
Adalah, a legal centre for
Israel’s Arab minority, said nine lawyers had been given limited access
yesterday afternoon to the hundreds of activists detained in the
southern city of Beersheva and were trying to take testimonies “in very
Its lawyers and human rights
groups were also trying to track down who had been injured and where
they being treated.
“Our view is that Israel is
intentionally trying to obstruct this work and is enforcing an
information blackout,” said Gaby Rubin, a spokeswoman for Adalah.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based
in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of
Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto
Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human
Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.