By Robert Booth, The Guardian – 3 June 2010
Sarah Colborne said pleas for aid were dismissed by the troops who fired live rounds at the activists and handcuffed medical staff
The first British survivor of the assault on the Mavi Marmara Gaza aid ship to return to London has told of her terror as Israeli troops ignored SOS calls for medical aid and continued to fire live rounds at activists.
Sarah Colborne, director of campaigns and operations at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who was on board the Turkish ship when the Israeli navy mounted a raid early on Monday, gave a press conference in central London still wearing her grey prison fatigues from her spell in jail in Be’er Sheva, southern Israel. She described how she saw one man fatally wounded from a gun shot to the head and how passengers feared for their lives as Israeli troops trained laser sights on the activists through the ship’s windows.
Colborne, 43, from London, insisted the activists on the boat were on a purely humanitarian mission and the passengers were aged between one and 89. She claimed:
• Unarmed activists were shot by Israelis using live ammunition;
• The death toll of nine is likely to rise, because some activists remain missing;
• The Israelis ignored calls over the Tannoy and on written signs calling for them stop firing and to evacuate the critically injured;
• The Israeli forces handcuffed members of the activists’ medical team who were sent to help treat the injured.
Colborne said she was positioned on the deck when the assault was at its peak.
“It felt a bit surreal,” she said. “I couldn’t quite believe they were doing what they were doing.
“There was live ammunition flying around and I could hear the sounds of the bullets flying and the whirr of the helicopter blades as people were dropped down onto the roof. What I saw was guns being used by the Israelis on unarmed civilians. I saw a bullet wound in someone’s head. It was very clear it was live ammunition.”
She said the activists had set up a makeshift medical centre below deck on the previous evening, after Israeli naval vessels were detected on the ship’s radar. They also donned lifejackets and some went to sleep.
“At around 4.10am I woke up, went up to the deck so I could see outside and I saw small dinghies bristling with guns and Israeli military speeding towards the ship,” she said.
“Helicopters then appeared and gas and sound bombs were used … We then had the first passenger fatally injured. He was brought to the back of the deck below. He was shot in the head.
“I saw him. He was in a very bad way and he subsequently died. There were bullets flying all over the place. We asked for the Israelis to stop the attacks. We asked this in English: ‘We are not resisting, please help the injured.’ Instead of helping the injured the saloon remained surrounded by soldiers targeting individuals with laser sights.
“The captain announced live ammunition was being used, to stop resisting and to go downstairs. At 5.15am we started broadcasting over the Tannoy for help to evacuate the critically injured and for emergency medical assistance. We asked the Israelis to stop the attacks in English.”
She said she could “see the red of the laser sights sweeping over people’s heads”.
“The Israeli military were firing on us,” she said. “We had no arms. We made two attempts to get the message across in the written form. We wrote a sign in Hebrew saying ‘SOS! Need medical assistance. People are dying. Urgent.'”
After 7am, after the commandos had taken control of the boat, she said they handcuffed everyone using cable ties, confiscated their phones and told them to sit in lines on the deck in the sun for several hours, before being taken into the cabin after some complained of dehydration.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “If you talked they pointed a gun at you.”
She said they were then taken to the port of Ashdod where men and women were separated, before being bussed to prison at Be’er Sheva.
Asked if the trip had been worth it, she said: “We are hoping that the horrific deaths of the people will not be in vain. We are hoping this will act as a wake up call internationally …
“We can’t sit by and watch Israel violate international law every day. We want the British government to take action, ensure there is no future attacks on humanitarian aid convoys, to ensure there is a search carried out for those that remain missing, to ensure that those people who have been detained illegally will be released and most importantly to end the siege of Gaza.”
The complete IOA coverage of the Gaza Flotilla