On 29 July, the Israeli Navy stormed the Freedom Flotilla boat al-Awda and diverted it from Gaza to Israel. Dr Ang Swee Chai, medical doctor on board, recalls what happened that night
By Swee Chai Ang
6 August 2018
The last leg of the journey of al-Awda (The Return) was scheduled to reach Gaza on 29 July. We were on target to reach Gaza that evening. There are 22 on board including crew with $15,000 worh of antibiotics and bandages for Gaza. At 12.31pm we received a missed call from a number beginning with +81… Mikkel was steering the boat at that time.
The phone rang again with the message that we were trespassing into Israeli waters. Mikkel replied that we were in International waters and had right of innocent passage according to maritime laws.
The accusation of trespassing was repeated again and again with Mikkel repeating the message that we were sailing in international waters. This carried on for about half an hour, while al-Awda was 42 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza.
Prior to the beginning of this last leg, we had spent two days learning non-violent actions and had prepared ourselves in anticipation of an Israeli invasion of our boat.
Vulnerable individuals, especially those with medical conditions, were to sit at the rear of the top deck with their hands on the deck table. The leader of this group was Gerd, a 75 year old elite Norwegian athlete. Gerd had the help of Lucia, a Spanish nurse in her group.
The people who were to provide a non-violent barrier to the Israelis coming on deck and taking over the boat formed three rows – two rows of threes and the third row of two persons blocking the door to the wheel house for as long as possible. There were runners between the wheel house and the rear of the deck. The leader of the boat, Zohar, and I were at the two ends of the toilets corridor where we looked out at the horizon and informed all of any sightings of armed boats.
I also would be able to help as a runner and would have accessibility to all parts of the deck in view of being the doctor on board. Soon we saw at least three large Israeli warships on the horizon with five or more speed boats (Zodiacs) zooming towards us.
As the Zodiacs approached I saw that they carried soldiers with submachine guns and that mounted on the boats were large machine guns pointing at us. From my lookout point the first Israeli soldier climbed on board to the cabin level and climbed up the boat ladder to the top deck.
His face was masked with a white cloth and following him were many others, all masked. They were all armed with machine guns and small cameras on their chests. They immediately made it to the wheel house, overcoming the first row of people by twisting the arms of the participants, lifting Sarah up and throwing her aside.
Joergen, the chef, was too large to be manhandled so he was tasered before being lifted up. They attacked the second row by picking on Emelia, the Spanish nurse, and removed her, thus breaking the line. They then approached the door of the wheel house and tasered Charlie, the first mate, and Mike Treen who were obstructing their entry to the wheel house. Charlie was beaten up as well.
By force ad coercion
Mike did not give way after being tasered in his lower limbs, so he was tasered in his neck and face. Later on I saw bleeding on the left side of Mike’s face. He was semi-conscious when I examined him. They broke into the wheel house by cutting the lock, forced the engine to be switched off and took down the Palestine flag before taking down the Norwegian flag and trampling on it.
They then cleared all people from the front half of the boat around the wheel house and moved them by force and coercion, throwing them to the rear of the deck. All were forced to sit on the floor at the back, except Gerd, Lucy and the vulnerable people who were seated around the table on wooden benches around her. Israeli soldiers then formed a line sealing off people from the back and preventing them from coming to the front of the boat again.
As we entered the rear of the deck we were all body searched and ordered to surrender our mobile phones or have them taken by force. This part of the search and confiscation was under the command of a woman soldier. Apart from mobile phones, medicines and wallets were also removed. No one as of 4 August has got their mobile phones back. I went to examine Mike and Charlie.