Flotilla Activist Shares Her Account Of Deadly Raid

Details are still emerging about what happened Monday when a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip was raided by Israeli forces. Huwaida Arraf, an activist who was on one of those ships, talks to Robert Siegel. Arraf is with the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

What happened? That's the big question today after yesterday's violence in the Eastern Mediterranean when a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip attempted to defy an Israeli blockade. While the six ships were in international waters, Israeli commandos repelled from helicopters onto their decks.

On one ship, the Marmara, fighting broke out. Nine passengers were killed and several dozen people injured. Huwaida Arraf is an American activist with the Free Gaza movement and she helped organize the flotilla. She was on one of the boats, the Challenger One, and described for us what she saw.

Ms. HUWAIDA ARRAF (Activist, Free Gaza Movement): Midway, about a hundred miles (technical difficulties) of Gaza, the Israeli Navy started radioing us and threatening us, (technical difficulties) that we turn back. And we kept letting them know, we let them know the name of our vessel, whos captaining it and that we are unarmed, we constitute no threat. I could see them first descend upon the Turkish ship that was carrying about 570 passengers from 40 different countries.

And they were firing something. We just heard explosions. And I saw people from that ship using water hoses to try to keep the soldiers away. We kept going until finally they overtook us and they fired concussion grenades onto our ship. They used tasers to subdue people and then they hopped on.

We tried to use our bodies to keep them off, urging them, telling them, we're on an American flagship, we carry no weapons, we are unarmed, don't use violence. But one girl ended up with a bloody face. They smashed my head against the ground, then tied me up and put a mask over my head. (technical difficulties) and took it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you to respond to what Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said. He said, unfortunately these people - he means you and the others who were on the ships, wanted a confrontation and they charged our blockade. Is that a different but a reasonable interpretation of what happened or not?

Ms. ARRAF: We did not want a confrontation. The thing that we wanted was to make it safely to the Gaza (technical difficulties). We reiterated over and over again that we are unarmed and urging Israel (technical difficulties). However, we knew that that was a possibility.

SIEGEL: You described how the people on the ship you were aboard, the Challenger One, you tried to use your bodies to keep the Israeli commandos off the ship. On the Turkish flag vessel, it appears that there were people aboard who were armed at least with sticks and knives. Is that a misrepresentation or are you surprised by the, let's say, less than passive resistance, less than civil disobedience that was exhibited elsewhere in the flotilla?

Ms. ARRAF: I, what I know, we had agreed with the coalition that we are not going to use any violence. However, I can't guarantee or say that some people didn't try to fight back. But we didn't have any guns. And I know that's because even when I myself at one point had to transfer to the Turkish ship because our ship was having mechanical problems. As soon as we entered, they took us to the side, checked us to make sure that we were not carrying weapons.

SIEGEL: Will the Free Gaza movement repeat this? That is, will you have more ships loaded with more supplies intended for Gaza, attempt to do the same thing and run the risk of a similar interception by the Israelis?

Ms. ARRAF: Well, that is not out of the question. We had one ship that was delayed. And this is the motor vessel, Rachel Corrie, which is a cargo ship that was prepared by the people of Ireland. And that is still making its way. We are assessing now in the wake of, you know, Israel's violent attack and the loss of life, what we can do.

But we at the Free Gaza movement don't believe that we can back down to this kind of violence because the violence perpetrated against the Palestinian people is a thousand times worse. And if we don't do something about it, we would be turning our backs on modern day crimes against humanity.

SIEGEL: Huwaida Arraf, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Ms. ARRAF: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Huwaida Arraf is an organizer of the flotilla that attempted to deliver aid to Gaza.

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