måndag 6 mars 2017

Ship to Gaza 2015 - account of what happened, in English

This night is different. We don't talk much, we've finished joking, sailing out in the dark waters. We are expected to arrive in Gaza tomorrow afternoon. Or... There are now three unidentified vessels following us, yet not appearing on radar. Our satellite telephones shut down one by one.
This was meant to be a flotilla, six boats were to head towards Gaza together. To break the blockade which has made Gaza the world's biggest outdoors prison, with towering unemployment, no possibility to export and shortage of everything, including clean water. But one boat was sabotaged in Greek harbour by unknown divers, three were stopped already in Crete by the coast guard who succumbed to Israeli pressure and one has malfunctioned.
Now it's just us. A small Danish fishing boat with eighteen unarmed people on board. On high seas.
One can hardly imagine that the Mediterranean is so empty until one is out at sea. I had imagined that it would be full of boats: rowing, sailing, cruise ships, refugees. But several days passed without us having seen one other boat.
The mere constituency of the members is like a social experiment. Tunisia's first democratically elected President Marzouki walks around barefoot, dishwasing in saltwater exactly like anyone else and reads Agatha Christie. Responsible for nonviolent training is Bob Lovelace, earlier chief of a Canadian tribe of first nations. The captain Joel Opperdoes normally steers cargo ships around the whole world, but takes leave of absence six months a year to work solely with Ship to Gaza, repairing boats and steering them, all unpaid.
Silently they approach, and at one o' clock in the morning we are surrounded by four gigantic gray military vessels. From them rubber boats are dispatched. Newly painted with the text "Coast Guard". The nearest coast, however, is 100 seamiles away - we are far out in international waters. Their commander shouts to us: "You can cooperate and avoid violence. Otherwise you will bear responsibility for the consequences."
Soldiers climb in. The scary part isn't that they're heavily armed, but that they wear black balaclavas. They lift us up, throw us away and break the door open in a split second with an instrument. And then we hear the rattling sound of tasers, again and again. Occasionally the soldiers shout "this one will feel!"
As Joel is unwilling to surrender the boat, the soldier takes a gun and sets it on the table. "It's loaded. You choose." Then the signal sounds, the signal which means we have surrendered. Captured and shackled the crew is led forth and placed on deck with us. Skipper Charlie Andreasson is bleeding from his face. Then follows a body search. When Herman refuses to take off his Palestinian scarf they become so provoked that they taser him.
During those hours where we were sail to the Ashdod harbour I consider the absurdity of the operation. The four military boats are accompanied by helicopters and military airplanes. What does this even cost? It's an exercise in rhetorics above all. But there was something they hadn't considered: to apply personnel who can actually sail a boat. When they subdued us, they didn't know how to start the boat. They cursed and accused the mechanic of sabotage. After having bashed the captain's head against the wall and beaten him in the face he tells them that they should just turn the key. Now they're really angry. They then begin to wipe away, with great frenzy, the text ”Ship to Gaza”. But then we enter high seas and all thirty IDF-soldiers soldiers hang over the railing and vomit.
At harbour more than a thousand soldiers await us. All focused on eighteen people. I say "What an honour, where is the red carpet?" but they don't laugh. They look at me as if I was some strange animal. They photograph us. They strip us several times. I count five strip searches before losing count. Occasionally it is the same person who strips you, ordering you to get dressed only to order you to strip again. "We know you're hiding something in your body. Take it out now, or it will be worse for you. We'll have to do other kinds of searchings!" Several of the men get fingers inserted in their ass and are photographed throughout.
Then I get an envelope. "A letter for you". The letter starts "Welcome to Israel. You seem to have gotten lost. Perhaps you meant to sail to a place not far from here, Syria, where Assad's army slaughters his people each day and is supported by the murderous Iranian regime" Furthermore it says that there is no blockade on Gaza, but that the right to stop boats is "even backed by a committee commissioned by the United Nations Secretary General". The letter is not signed. I begin to comment the language in the letter, especially the "even" argument which I opine suggests uncertainty of one's own argument, until the soldier tells me it is written by Prime Minister Netanyahu himself.
The interrogation leader looks at me and says "Kajsa, you have an eight year old son in Sweden. Aren't you worried something might happen to him when you are away?" He mentions in passing that he knows what school my son goes to.
I ask them how they managed to get access to our emails.  The interrogation leader answers sarcastically: "Don't you know that you've come to the Holy Land, God helps us get access to mail."
The interrogations go on all night. I am allegedly not accused of anything, but am sat in a car without windows and am taken to a jail which I don't know the name of.
During the week that follows I have plenty of time to get to know it from the inside. 23 of the day's hours pass in a cell with a small, barred window. An hour a day we get to go out to the yard. The place feels deserted. The whole department is shut off for us alone, we don't get to meet the other prisoners. I sit together with the Russian journalist Nadezhda Kevorkova.  The other Swedes are all men, and placed in the next corridor. I can hear them speak, but I don't have the right to talk to them. No phone calls, no newspapers, not even the right to bring in a pen to the cell. We start employing a black humour - "This is better than having a jealous boyfriend, here at least you don't have to cook."
At night, four-five men come in our cell and flash at us with flashlights. They don't do anything, they don't say anything. If this is how we are treated, having millions of readers in our home countries, what do they normally do? I don't know any Palestinian who hasn't either served time in prison or hasn't got family members who have. They have told me of other, deliberate thought out torture methods. 40 pct of all adult Palestinian men have once been in prison, often without trial.
All the while we are being filmed from a camera in the ceiling. We spend time listening to the desperate screams that can be heard through the window. Are those prisoners being tortured? But the screaming is somewhat monotonous and continuous. Is it a recording made to scare us?
One time the door to the men's corridor is open and on the way back from the break I stick my fingers between the bars to our comrades. They hold my fingers less than one second before the guards come. I live on this moment the rest of the day.
Suddenly after one week we are deported, just as quick as we were detained, without explanation. We drive in a car directly out on the flight tarmac. The driver shouts at Dror. "You there Feiler, you have betrayed your own people! I know who you are. I am a settler, I have many Arab friends, but just look at all those Arab countries how it goes. Syria, Egypt, if they don't have dictatorship it's chaos. Everyone hates us and want to destroy us. We have to think about our security! With the boat you've opened Pandora's box, first you and then it's going to be flooded with weapons! If your kid lived here you would understand!"
Dror answers calmly, but is not listened to until he himself begins to shout. He makes me think of the Afrikaans writers Breyten Breytenbach or André Brink as he answers: ”I am doing this for your sake! For our sake! Because the only thing that can give peace and security is that Israel ends its occupation and oppression. Equal rights for all, a democratic state and not a state built upon ethnicity. Otherwise it's going to be hell for us all!”

Translated into English by Jonathan Ofir