On May 31 Israeli forces attacked innocent unarmed human rights activists on the Freedom Flotilla which had terrible consequences, resulting in the death of (at least) nine civilians and the wounding of over 40. It was unprovoked, unwarranted, and illegal. As recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations (UN) and every government in the world, Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza when Israeli military forces took control of the six ships in international waters on 31 May 2010, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 then applied to the civilians on board.
by Elias Harb - Editor, Intifada Palestine
Elias Harb: How long did the IDF boats shadow the Mavi Marmara, at what point did they fire the first shots?
Ken O’Keefe: We were followed for several hours before the attack; the first shots were fired at first contact, when the first assault boats came up to the side of our ship. The first murder occurred within the first three to five minutes.
EH: Were people aboard the Mavi Marmara who had been shot by the gunboats already being medically treated as the helicopter assault began?
KO: Yes, absolutely. We found ourselves in a combat situation in which we did not have combat weapons and as a result the injuries piled up very fast. The situation was chaotic, exactly as the Israeli leadership designed it. As Ehud Barak said previous to our departure, they would stop us “at any price.”
EH: The Israeli attack on May 31 in the dead heat of the night must have been has been a terrible experience for passengers in the free Gaza flotilla. You are an ex-marine, what do you think was the objective of the Israeli Commandos, was it to deter the passengers or did they have something else in mind?
KO: Having combat experience I saw the attack as a mirror of what we are trained to do as US Marines in war. You need to achieve tactical advantages over your enemy. The Israeli commandos did this by firing smoke bombs, percussion grenades, tear gas and live rounds, creating a state of fear and chaos. With that you achieve an advantage by disorganizing your enemy. These are basic strategies, very easily understood.
It was clear from the beginning that this was an attack, and it was also clear within the first three to five minutes, when I saw one of our photographers with a bullet dead centre in his forehead, that one of their primary objectives was to hide the truth. They did this by trying to jam all our satellite transmissions; unsuccessfully, killing a photographer and confiscating all of the footage and releasing only that which could to some degree support their propaganda needs.
EH: Israel has declared that there were terrorists among the activists, how do you respond to that? Can you give us a makeup of the passengers?
‘KO: Nelson Mandela was a terrorist according to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan because he refused to renounce violence or recognize the racist Apartheid system that made him and his people sub-human. I agree with Nelson Mandela 100%, and I have no doubt that virtually all of us on that ship feel the same. I say the right of self-defence is a central issue and I feel we should not shy away at all from saying that yes, we did use non-lethal force to repel a murderous, racist, Apartheid acting Israeli force…’
Furthermore, we had three Israeli commandos completely disarmed, completely at our mercy, surrounded by at least one hundred men inside the ship, away from the attacking Israeli commandos outside. I myself helped disarm two of them, one of which I took possession of his 9mm pistol which had real bullets. If I wanted to, if I was a “terrorist”, I would have surely turned that gun on the commando I just disarmed. But I did not, nor did any of my brothers on that ship.
The terrorists on that night wore Israeli commando uniforms, complete with Balaclavas, assault rifles and pistols. They executed people in international waters, that is the truth no matter how much propaganda spin is applied.
EH: Of the activists that were killed, were any people you knew? Were any personal friends?
KO: I see all of them as brothers, literally as brothers. But I did not establish personal relations with those that were murdered.
EH: Israel declares that it had the legal right to confront the flotilla from reaching Gaza. What is your position on that?
KO: Israel likes to have it both ways, if it is an occupying power it does (according to law) have not just the right, but obligation to protect its citizens. But that right does not include attacking a civilian ship on a humanitarian mission in international waters. Furthermore, if it wants to claim the rights of an occupying power it has a positive obligation to provide for the safety and welfare of the occupied people. Not only is it not doing this, they are treating the Palestinian people like dogs and subjecting them to a brutal collective punishment policy. Most shameful of all is the fact that the population of Gaza includes over 800,000 children. In this fact the world is guilty of gross complicity in allowing the Israeli blockade to continue. Those of us on those ships are the effective conscience of humanity.
EH: How were you and other activists treated by the Israeli Authorities after you were detained?
KO: Like dogs, although better than the Palestinian people experience every single day. We were denied water, food, access to toilets, access to an attorney, access to a phone, women were sexually harassed, we were threatened, beaten, lied to, you name it, if it is a form of disrespect the Israeli’s probably did it. So let us amplify our treatment times 100, and we begin to know what Palestinians are dealing with. I myself can say without any doubt, if I acted as I did as a Palestinian in jail, I would be dead. No doubt about it.
EH: Israel has accused you of planning to form and train commando units for Hamas once reaching Gaza. How do you respond to that?
KO: I respond by saying what you rarely hear in the west, that I support the right to resist and the right of self-defense 100%. I respond by pointing out once more that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist for refusing to renounce violence in the face of South African Apartheid. The Founding Fathers of America were the “terrorists” of the day if you asked the British colonial powers. The Irish kicked the British out of most of Ireland through resistance. Israel was created on the back of Israeli terrorism, that is undeniable. The truth is the truth and if you subject any people to invasion, occupation, theft of land and resources and mass-murder in the form of war, they will fight; with any means necessary. The Swedish people would fight, and certainly the American and British people would fight if they were dealing with what the Palestinian people are dealing with.
The people of Britain and America are delusional when they refuse to acknowledge that people who resist are “heroes” according to their own definition. Those that refuse to fight, or worse yet collaborate with the invader; they are the cowards and traitors.
Having said all that, I would urge that the Palestinian resistance be intelligent first and foremost. Do not resist for the sake of resistance, resist for the sake of justice, and never lose your way on that path. I think the time has come to embrace all forms of non-violent struggle, as so many are already doing, and capitalize on the growing support from people of conscience from around the globe. It has been a far too long time coming, but the support is there. I have to say, it is my hope that the South Africa model is adopted and the struggle becomes about human rights for all people, not about “two states”. I know the world will support his just as they did in South Africa.
As far as me training commando units for Hamas, this is beyond a joke. If I was going to Gaza for this purpose, why did I disarm an Israeli commando only to let him go? Does that sound like a “terrorist” to any person with a functioning brain?
EH: Israel seized all cameras and communication machinery .Do you have a plan for getting your personal possessions back from Israel? Do you know how others are doing in this same respect?
KO: I am more focused on what I can control. The Israeli’s are the definition of pirates, common thieves among other nasty things; I accept that I will likely never get my property back.
However, Israel has my laptop, my personal information, my Irish and Palestinian passports and my DNA in the form of my blood on cloths and my toothbrush, etc., they have what is required to link me to future acts of terrorism and they are fully capable of attempting to frame me for crimes that I will never commit. They can also do this to others; that we should all be well aware of.
EH:It was reported that Israeli authorities confiscated your passport and another documents. Did they return your documents?
KO: No, they have stolen all this and more.
EH: Israel has announced that there has been an “easing of the blockade” Some say this is P.R. stunt or Israeli propaganda. What is your position on Israel’s easing of blockade restrictions?
KO: Anything less than the end of the blockade is unacceptable, period.
EH:The pro-Israeli lobby is pressuring U.S.Congress to declare free Gaza activists as “terrorists” How do you respond to that?
KO: This is Orwellian doublespeak in which truths are turned upside down. That is the purpose of propaganda and corrupt governments. It is identical to Nelson Mandela being accused of terrorism while America and Britain, and Israel, were happily doing business with the openly racist Apartheid government. The truth is that the Apartheid government were the terrorists and Nelson Mandela was the face of resistance, a true freedom fighter. Resisting terrorism can hardly be called terrorism.
Nothing has changed really as far as governments and propaganda; the US government is an embarrassing farce posing as a “democracy”. They shame the people of America; they are servile prostitutes to an agenda that knows nothing of justice, lust for power and greed for material wealth is what they worship. So it surprises me not that they may define us as “terrorists”. Stop waving that flag Americans and start reading your Constitution, and then read the “Patriot Act”; real patriots are needed now and it is time for your government to fear you.
EH:It was reported that you disarmed Israeli commandos. How many did you disarm and how?
KO: I was involved in disarming two of them, one of his 9mm pistol, the other of his assault rifle. They had fallen from the top deck to the deck below, myself and another brother were there, we immediately acted to neutralize and disarm them. It was that simple, I am sure any man of means would do what I did in that situation.
EH: Can you update us on how critical is the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?
KO: I feel somewhat irrelevant in saying this as the people of Palestine make it perfectly clear themselves, but the situation is dire. Anything less than the complete end of the blockade will maintain this reality. Once again, the most disgraceful fact being that 800,000 children are being subjected to this collective punishment policy. Shame on us all for allowing that.
EH:What are you focused on now?
KO: I am working with people to purchase a ship that will be the biggest ship yet for the next flotilla. That flotilla is being planned for June 8th, the anniversary of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. We do it next year so as to make it as powerful as it needs to be to end the blockade. On this ship we will have at least one respected representative from every single nation on Earth. We will have at least 100 representatives of colonized, occupied, aboriginal peoples including native Americans, Hawaiians, Maoris and others; the point of this being for all people who know injustice to express their solidarity with the people of Palestine. We will defend the ship with non-lethal means. We will have survivors of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967. We will have 9-11 family members, hopefully Hugo Chavez and Nelson Mandela and everyone serious about justice and peace. We will have a formidable ship and we will succeed. So we call on the people of Palestine and the world to make the purchase of this ship possible.
EH: Can you tell us about Aloha Palestine, trade vs. aid.?
KO: Once we break the blockade, and we will, we will use our ship to further the mission of Aloha Palestine (http://AlohaPalestine.com). While it is that so many people are focused on bringing in aid, we are focused on importing the raw materials into Palestine in order to reopen the factories, create jobs and revive the Palestinian economy. To then in turn export Palestinian products to the European Union and beyond.
We do this because we know that the people of Palestine, like all people, do not choose to live on charity. We must establish full trade; safe and fair trade, in doing that self-determination will begin to return to the people. Ideally what I want is for Aloha Palestine’s assets, the ship and otherwise, to be owned by the people of Palestine and our company to serve the community of Gaza.
EH: Thank you Ken O’Keefe
Ken O’Keefe (born July 21, 1969) is an American born activist who renounced his US citizenship on March 1, 2001. He has since acquired Irish, Hawaiian and Palestinian citizenship. On January 7, 2004, O’Keefe burned his US passport in protest of “American Imperialism” and called for US troops to immediately withdrawal from Iraq. He replaced his US passport with a World Citizen Passport, proclaiming “ultimate allegiance to my entire human family and to planet Earth.” He is a former U.S. Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War and subsequently spoke out about the use of depleted uranium as a “crime against humanity” and the US military using soldiers as “human guinea pigs” (with experimental drugs that were directly linked to Gulf War syndrome). He is also a social entrepreneur utilising direct action marine conservation in which he pioneered endangered Green Sea Turtle rescues in Hawaii. But he is more widely known for leading the Human Shield Action to Iraq (2003) and as a survivor of the Israeli attack on the MV Mavi Marmara (2010) in which he participated in “defending the ship” and “disarming two Israeli Commandos”.
In October 2009 he founded Aloha Palestine, a social enterprise dedicated to purchasing a ship and conducting regular and reliable trade with Palestinians in Gaza. For more Information Click World Citizen – Ken O’Keefe http://www.worldcitizen.uk.net/