Captain ‘feared for life’ when Israelis boarded

THE captain of the Irish ship involved in the attempt to sail an international aid flotilla to Gaza has spoken of how he feared for his life when heavily armed Israeli soldiers took over the vessel.

Derek Graham was ordered to remain alone in the wheelhouse of the Rachel Corrie after he informed the army by radio that his fellow activists were assembling on deck and would offer no resistance.

He said as he obeyed orders and waited for the soldiers to board, he thought of the captain of the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, who died along with eight other activists when the army stormed their vessel four days earlier.

“From what I had been told, the captain of the Mavi Marmara was basically executed. It was a clear shot to the head. When they came on board, I had at least six guns pointing at me,” he said. “Yes, you do get a bit worried.”

Mr Graham arrived back in Ireland yesterday along with fellow Irish activists, his wife, Jenny Graham; Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire; former United Nations assistant secretary-general Denis Halliday; and film-maker Fiona Thompson.

Ms Thompson revealed she smuggled out video footage of the boat’s trip and communications between the boat and the Israeli authorities, up to the point where the Israeli soldiers came speeding towards them.

All her camera and computer equipment was confiscated but she managed to hold on to the footage despite repeated searches and a two-day stay in an Israeli detention centre prior to their deportation.

The group, supported by the Free Gaza Movement and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, called for an independent international investigation into the deaths on the Mavi Marmara and urged the Irish Government to put pressure on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza.

Mairead Maguire said she felt the flotilla had let the Palestinian people down by its failure to reach their shores.

“We lifted their hopes that the world cared and sadly we let them down but we say to the people of Gaza, we will be back. We will treble our efforts because we will not rest until the siege is ended.”

The Rachel Corrie, and the five other ships in the flotilla, are being held at the Israeli port of Ashdod with the aid still on board. The Irish group carried mainly cement – a banned item under the Israeli blockade.

Mr Graham said there was still a chance the aid could get to Gaza. “We had aid on board from Norway, England and Scotland as well so if these countries put enough pressure on, Israel may have to let it in.”

A demonstration is planned for outside the Israeli embassy in Dublin today to register opposition to the Israeli action against Gaza and the flotilla.

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