PETALING JAYA: It was supposed to be a peaceful voyage of solidarity, but the 13 activists aboard the Women’s Boat to Gaza (WBG) flotilla ended up being treated like criminals by the Israeli authorities.
Malaysian participant Dr Fauziah Hasan recalled 15 Israeli navy officers boarding the Zaytouna-Oliva and restricting their movement and communication during a six-hour journey to the port of Ashdod, where they were detained for a day.
The Gaza-bound mission had been intercepted some 40 nautical miles from its destination on Oct 5 while on the final leg of its 21-day journey from Barcelona, Spain.
Dr Fauziah said Israel’s tactics reeked of intimidation as her group were not carrying weapons or harmful material on board.
“How could they come on board with such might for 13 ‘grannies’? We were harmless and had no means of communications. One (navy) boat would have sufficed, but they came with three!” she recounted in a recent interview with The Star Online.
The WBG participants ranged in age from 31 to 72, and included 1976 Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire and retired US army colonel Ann Wright.
The all-female team had been trained for any eventuality, including capture by the Israeli authorities, said Dr Fauziah.
“When they boarded our boat, we sat on the deck and made sure our hands were visible to show them that we were not carrying weapons and were not a threat.
“They did not allow us to go anywhere without an escort, even to the toilet,” she recalled.
In contrast, the Israelis boarded the Zaytouna-Oliva with GoPro cameras and other recording devices.
“It is very unfair because we did not have any means of communication and were not allowed to have our own cameras and phones.
“They were filming and taking pictures so that they could portray themselves in a positive light. But it will be a very lopsided view,” she said.
Dr Fauziah said they were treated courteously but unfairly by the Israeli officers, who did not allow them to communicate with the outside world throughout their detention.
They could not even reach out to their families and friends, and were not sure when they would be released.
“We arrived in Ashdod at midnight where we were screened in detail and forced to sign a deportation order but we refused, so they took us to jail.
“By 6pm the next day, they told us we would be taken to the airport for immediate release to our country of origin.”
Two Al-Jazeera journalists with them on the mission signed the deportation order and were immediately sent back to their home country, while the rest were placed in two prison cells.
Some of the participants were also subjected to a strip search by the prison guards, Dr Fauziah said.
“There were six bunks in each cell. We were only given a pair of pants and undies,” she recalled.
However, they were never physically harmed, and at no point did the flotilla participants become confrontational with their captors as they had been trained to take a peaceful approach.
“We had undergone non-violent training on handling the situation, and something I learnt is that you can achieve your message if you take a non-violent approach to those who are violent,” she said.
Despite not being able to achieve its desired objective of reaching Gaza, Dr Fauziah said the first ever WBG initiative was still a success.
“This was a symbolic mission, as we are bringing a message that Gaza is still under blockade.
“The people of Gaza were happy when we called them from the boat because they felt their plight has lately become overshadowed by the Syrian conflict,” she added.
The WBG initiative was organised by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition to raise awareness on the Palestinian struggle.
Another boat, the Amal Hope, had also been expected to join the Zaytouna on the mission from Barcelona, but was forced to turn back an hour into the journey due to engine failure.