Two survivors of the Gaza aid flotilla yesterday described the moment they saw friends gunned down ”in cold blood” as Israeli military took control of their convoy.
Peace campaigners Ibrahim Musaji, 26, and Cliff Hanley, 61, were on board the Mavi Marmara when it was stormed by Israeili troops.
Speaking at a press conference in Bristol, Ibrahim described how the first victims were shot dead by soldiers firing from the helicopter above before they had even boarded the boat.
The care worker, who has volunteered for Bristol Gaza Link to provide aid to the Palestinians for four years, said: ”They could not board the ship so some of them started shooting from the helicopter and some of them came down on ropes and jumped on to the top deck.
”There was a state of confusion and panic. There was tear gas, there was loud pops, some of the military were armed with paintball guns, and the helicopter was right on top of the boat.
”I went to the upper deck. While we were standing there we heard of the first victim. He was on the right hand of the ship, and somebody was shouting in Turkish but we heard the word, ‘Shaheed’, and that means martyr.
”They brought the body and put it just close to my feet. He was just taking a picture. He was not armed or anything.
”He was shot from the helicopter and he was shot right in the head. You could see some of his brain coming out of his head.”
Ibrahim told how crew from an Israeli ship contacted the captain of the Mavi Marmara at 11pm on Sunday evening, instructing them to turn around or ”expect the worst”.
Over the next few hours they saw helicopters, spy drones and two ships circling the area before the attack began at around 4:30am – just as the Muslim passengers began their call to prayer.
Ibrahim, of Gloucester, said: ”While we were praying some of the members were screaming, ‘They are coming, they are coming!’. That was when it started.
”On Sunday evening we were told that Monday would be an eventful day.
”But we didn’t know that it would be early hours of Monday morning that these events would happen.”
Nine people on board the ships died, most of them Turkish activists.
Ibrahim described how Bulent Yildirin, a charity worker also on board, removed his white shirt and handed it to another passenger to wave to the Israelis in surrender. He was also shot dead.
The boat came under Israeli control between 6am and 7am, when an excrutiating process of searching and interrogation began for the remainder of the day.
Ibrahim told how the captain of the boat was forced to hand over control after soldiers held a gun to the head of his one-year-old child, who was on board.
Convoy passengers were were handcuffed with plastic ties, strip-searched, and forced to kneel on the wooden deck in the hot sun without food or water, many without the ability to go to the toilet. Some were gagged and blindfolded.
Cliff Hanley, an artist from Bristol, lifetime peace campaigner, and treasurer of the Bristol Gaza Link, called the treatment ”outright torture”.
He said: ”I would describe this as outright torture. There was no other word for it.
”The journey took a long time to get to Ashdod (Israeli port). It was an area designed for far less people than were stuffed in there.
”There was no question of getting water or food.
”In Ashdod a girl said to me, ‘What you have done is illegal.’ Then she took my pen and tossed it away because we were not allowed writing materials.
”And then she passed me on and said, ‘Enjoy’.”
They were taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod where there were further searches and interrogation before all were escorted to Beersheva prison.
They were finally returned to the UK on Sunday.
Despite their ordeal, both men said they would be returning to Gaza on future aid efforts.