In his first interview since being released from Israeli detention, a Canadian activist from the Free Gaza Flotilla activist describes seeing solidarity in the face of death, and what happened when the Israeli military took control of the humanitarian aid ship and arrested those on board. Kevin Neish tells his story to the media for the first time in this episode of rabble radio. Part of the interview is excerpted here:
Meagan Perry: Hello Kevin Neish, we're so glad you're okay.
Kevin Neish: Hello there...I'm, well I didn't realize I was dead but ...I'm glad I'm not dead. I mean I was kind of surprised...needless to say, everybody thought I was dead.
MP: There are varying reports about what had happened...
KN: It seems ask anybody who wasn't in jail or you could get ahold of saw me was at the front of the ship along the handrailing talking to a colleague in the moonlight... beautiful evening. And that was the spot that I guess several people were murdered earlier on in the fighting and they thought I was one of them and that I'd been pitched over the side by the Israelis or something. So yeah the Israelis knew I was alive but weren't telling anybody and I asked for my rights to the embassy I bet you 20 times.
So the embassy actually found me because the prisoners were all in Be'er Sheva and they literally just went from cell to cell calling out my name asking anybody if anybody had seen me and nobody had seen me. I think they came to almost the last place I think... and they called me out and I stepped out and their jaws dropped. The rest is history.
MP: So nobody knew what had happened to you...what did happen to you?
KN: What happened from that spot on the front deck. I think that was about midnight. I think the attack happened around 4:00 a.m. in the morning, I didn't check my watch. What happened was I took a little wander around after chatting with the friend there...I saw the Israeli ships in the distance. I've got colour blindness partially and I've got really good night vision because of that so I actually pointed out to the Turkish aid workers: "See those identical lights way off in the horizon" and they squint and say: "Probably the Israelis" and everbody got their life jackets on except me and they were quite concerned that I didn't have my life jacket on yet because I didn't take it seriously. You know,the Israelis they wouldn't attack us, a ship full of civilians. It just wasn't going to happen...I told them so and they thought I was nuts and they were right, I was nuts.
They had wooden stakes and wooden handles of things, and they had pipes and they had links of chain -- small chain, you could lock up a bike with. Across along the front railing, the teak railing on the front of the ship, was lined with old rusty pipe fittings and nuts and bolts, the size of a walnut... things like that. This is madness, I said what are you going to do with nuts and bolts you're throwing at the most sophisticated army in the world.
After that, I thought nothing was going to happen, I thought well I'm going to go down and put my feet up and have a few hours sleep and start off fresh when daylight comes. But I woke up because of all the noise, and what not, not the attack but people doing things. I heard grinders going which was bothering me and it turned out they were grinding the chains that they hang up around the lifeboat stations. They were grinding these chains off the middle posts as weapons within sight of the Israelis coming...and that's all they had.
MP: As a peace activist, what were your feelings about everyone preparing to fight back?
KN: They had every right to do it. Well peace activist, I'm not a pacifist, I'll defend myself if someone attacks me. What woke me up was flash grenades about 15 feet from the back of the ship. There were a huge explosions and flashes and then it was just a big cloud of tear gas and I could see people running through the tear gas with gas masks on because they had brought a large collection of gas masks, brand new ones. And again, I thought it was silly, at one point, I saw them putting these things on.
So that happened and I mistakenly thought I was safer on the big ship a) because I thought the big ship would get through to Gaza because it was such a big ship. I thought what could they do to such a big ship like that and I thought for sure the small ships would get picked off and they were picked off. They were shut down immediately, no resistance. Even the freighters were shut down, they had very small crews. At the end they made a combined effort on the main ship and that's when all hell broke loose.
MP: What did you see then?
KN: I saw dead bodies. I saw captured Israeli soldiers, I saw men fighting machine guns with three foot length of chain. It was phenomenal. When the flash grenades went off at the back I took note of what was happening there but I didn't approach it I backed off and just took note of what they were doing. They were hauling fire hoses out and what not. After the fact I found out that the firehoses actually worked. The Israelis backed off. They had zodiacs and speed boats with grapples trying to climb up the side of the ship. The firehoses and I guess the nuts and bolts actually drove the Israelis off. At the same time they had commandos coming down from helicopters over top. So I moved and took photographs went up and down the stairs following people and being of whatever assistance, witnessing and helping with things if I could.
I was actually when they hauled the captured Israeli soldiers in. I can't imagine how these young fellas with all the weapons you could possibly want, how these commandos got captured by humanitarian aid workers.
As far as what I saw, when it started I took photographs of this landing and they had a tarp for one person, an IV pole and a nurse and a doctor and basic instruments for medical emergency care. And in the end that whole area was full of bodies. There was people pounding on people's chests trying to bring people back. I saw for sure two people dead -- there were two bullet holes, very neat; and I think one other guy died in front of me, he was sucking wind and his eyes were going, going, going. And there was blood, blood all down the stairs, blood everywhere. I got blood on my pants and boots. It was something else.
I haven't seen any reports, I've seen nothing but I've heard the Israelis are saying that they attacked because they were shot at from the ship and that's a bald faced lie. Unless I missed something pretty dramatic somewhere, I heard no weapons fired, nobody else heard weapons fired. What I heard was the flash grenades and the tear gas of the start of the Israelis attacking. And then the helicopters started shooting onto the deck and that's when I started to hear gun fire from up above.
MP: What was it like in detention when you got there?
KN: Eventually, an announcement came over the air from the captain because the Israelis got to the bridge because they'd shot the people that were defending the bridge, and the captain surrendered the ship and he got onto the PA system immediately I guess because there was still fighting at the doorways and then the announcement came over the air in Arabic but I knew what it was because there was no other announcement, I knew what it meant...it was a very calm voice.
Then a female voice came on announcing in English that everybody stop fighting, stop resisting, the bridge is seized, the Israelis have command of the ship, there's no sense risking your lives anymore, go to the lounges and drop your weapons -- you know, weapons drop your pipes and chains and wooden staffs. I just retreated with all the other arab and turkish folks. I sat where I was before, near the back of the ship and there were Israelis peeking in the windows but they wouldn't come in and the woman's voice kept on coming over saying "Israeli soldiers please please stop shooting, we're not resisting anymore, we've released your captured soldiers. They're unharmed and they're released. Please stop attacking us."
Eventually the Israelis, the soldiers, [Haneen Zoubi] she's an Arab Israeli Knesset member, she's in big shit, she's in jail right now, it's simple they took away her immunity so they can do whatever they want to her now. She acted as a liason, brave woman, she walked right out with her hands up because anyone who was standing, was a target, basically. She had her hands up and she came forward and explained that there were numerous injured.
When that all happened they took us and hogtied us with plastic tie wraps behind our backs and marshalled us all up onto the open deck. There were 280 of us all tied up.
MP: Where did they take you? What did they do with you?
KN: They left us there for quite a while and you couldn't move. Talk about stress positions...you hogtie someone behind their back and force them to sit on their knees or on their ass, however they're first put down and not move, you didn't move. Eventually you'd start to hurt and try to wriggle around and then you'd get yelled and screamed at.
There were two young, big strapping guys and I guess they had had enough of being humiliated, and being abused. They rose up and immediately you could see, the sun was coming up, the soldiers charging through the people on the grounds with their guns up. And these guys were toast so I got up... it made the Israelis stop because they knew who I was. They had my passport and they gave it back to me and they took 4,000 bucks of my friggin' money but yeah, we won't get into that....so yeah I stood up with these two guys hoping that the Israelis would pause and consider, not shoot and they didn't... the guns went down but yelling carried on...then next they used batons to beat them down. Then these two guys, I guess they'd made their point, and they kind of gracefully eased down and when they eased down I dropped pretty quickly...