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2010-06-09

Palestinian Member of Israeli Knesset Receives Death Threats After Surviving Israeli Raid on Gaza Aid Flotilla

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Hanin Zoabi, Palestinian member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. She is the first woman to be elected to the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party.

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Hanin Zoabi was aboard the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the flotilla where all nine activists were killed, and she witnessed some of them bleed to death. When she returned to Israel to speak in the Knesset, she was verbally assaulted by parliament members for her participation in the flotilla. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the situation in the Middle East. Nearly two dozen nations have condemned Israel’s deadly raid on the Gaza aid flotilla at a regional summit in Istanbul. Israeli commandos killed nine activists, wounded more than a hundred, when they raided the flotilla in international waters last week. The summit in Istanbul was a meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. The Turkish president released a statement, agreed to by twenty-one of the twenty-two participants in the conference, condemning the raid. Israel was the only participant to refuse to sign the document.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the summit and told reporters he would raise the issue at the United Nations of who should investigate the Israeli attack. The Israeli military has announced it will conduct its own internal investigation and has rejected calls for an international tribunal. It will report its findings on July 4th.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is arriving in Washington today to meet with President Obama at the White House.

Yesterday, I spoke with another one of the survivors of Israel’s raid on the Gaza aid flotilla. Hanin Zoabi is a Palestinian member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. She’s the first woman to be elected to the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party. She was aboard the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the flotilla where all nine activists were killed. She witnessed some of them bleed to death. When she returned to Israel to speak in the Knesset, she was verbally assaulted by parliament members for her participation in the flotilla. I reached her yesterday in Jerusalem.

She began by talking about what happened during the Israeli assault.

    HANIN ZOABI: At half past four in the morning, when I saw fourteen Israeli ships approaching us, with helicopters, each ship with tens of soldiers, I thought to myself that this is not the kind of forces that’s to stop us. We are 600 passengers. Maybe less than a quarter of these forces, maybe less than tenth of these forces, can just prevent us very, very easily. And I was — I actually — maybe for the first time, I think, in my life, I was very afraid. And I thought to myself, this will not — the end of this will be a tragic [inaudible] end. It will not end without dead bodies.

    A helicopter attacked us, or a helicopter with soldiers just shoot — I cannot — I didn’t count. Maybe more than ten, twenty soldiers, or ten, came out from the helicopter. I couldn’t count. And they start — not the soldiers inside the helicopter, the soldiers inside the ship surrounding Marmara started to shoot. I don’t know if it is real bullets or it’s just noise bullets. I don’t realize, but all of us were in panic, all of us were afraid. And most of us enter the room.

    After ten minutes, two injured, seriously injured, went inside and sat on the floor, and they died after a while. Then, after twenty minutes, another three came inside. One died after a while. They were hurt in their neck, in their head, and in their stomach, in their stomach [inaudible]. And a fourth and a fifth man didn’t die. They just bleeded 'til death. I approached the soldiers with a sign in Hebrew asking them for medicine for — to give us some medical help for the two injured who are bleeding. I just for twenty minutes tried to approach them and tried to — and to ask them, and I did twice, also verbally and also by writing this sign. They refused to — they refused just to give us this support. And the two men died after maybe half an hour.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened when you went into the first Knesset meeting, the first parliament meeting, after the Israeli commando raid on the ship that you were a part of? What happened to you?

    HANIN ZOABI: During the first meeting, there was a hard aggression, and they called me "traitor" and "terrorist." "Where are the knives? Where do you hide the knives?" You see, and even sexual — even sexual remarks, even things related to my age, even things related to the fact that I'm a single, I’m not a married woman. They said to me, "Go to Gaza. You are thirty-eight years old. Go, and we will see if you will manage to be in Gaza and to live in Gaza as a single woman, thirty-eight years old." It was below any level. It was below not just unethical remarks and not just unhuman remarks. It was something that I never imagined to be in the Parliament. It was something unbelievable.

    They couldn’t argue with me on the political level. They couldn’t challenge my political discourse and claims. I was in a political activity. I am against siege. I am against occupation. What happened in the flotilla is not — this is what I said in the Knesset. What happened in the flotilla is not the big crime of Israel; this is the small crime of Israel. The big crime of Israel is the occupation and the siege. And I am against, and it’s my right to be active. This is what — this is what I am for in the Knesset. People didn’t vote for me just to sit down and just to agree with Israeli policies. I have a program. I have a political program. I have a vision of democracy. I am a citizen, and I take my citizenship seriously. I have a vision of equal rights between Arabs and Palestinians and Jews in Israel.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hanin Zoabi, were you physically shoved in the Knesset in that first meeting?

    HANIN ZOABI: Because there were tens of bodyguards around me, no one could touch me. Immediately, the guards inside the Knesset came and surrounded me. A lot of Knesset members approached me, also women, also men. And I think if I was a man, that two Knesset members — one from the Likud, one from Yisrael Beiteinu — wouldn’t reach me, wouldn’t come close to me. But because I am a woman, so also the woman Knesset member participated in this, first of all, [inaudible]. But because the bodyguards of the Knesset surround me and prevent them from approaching me.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did a Knesset house committee vote to revoke some of your privileges as a Knesset member?

    HANIN ZOABI: Yes, yes. My diplomatic passport will be revoked. The Knesset will not cover my legal fees. If my immunity be revoked for the price of criminal prosecution, so the Knesset will not cover these legal fees. And another thing elected to a special permission that I must have from the state when I travel outside, but what — it is unpractical — this is unpractical sanction. But the two practical sanctions is not covering my legal fees if my immunity be revoked for the purpose of criminal prosecution and, as I said, to prevent me from my diplomatic passport.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why did you join the flotilla?

    HANIN ZOABI: Actually, for me, it’s very taken for granted. For me, the right question to address to anyone is why you didn’t join the flotilla. But I joined the flotilla because I am against putting people in a big prison. I am against putting one-million-and-a-half people in an open-air prison without the right to travel outside, without the right of having food, or without the right of preventing the houses that the Israelis destroyed during the attack on Gaza. One hundred sixty-five schools were destroyed by the Israelis. One hundred and five manufacturers were destroyed, and without any opportunity for the Palestinians, because of the siege, to rebuild these houses and schools and manufacturers. So this is about dignity for human beings. This is about dignity of the men and women and children. This is about normal lives. This is about the freedom of people to live. This is about not oppressing people.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hanin Zoabi, more than 500 people have signed a Facebook page calling for your execution. Are you under armed protection now?

    HANIN ZOABI: Yes, I am. Yes, I am. I have two bodyguards who follow me.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid?

    HANIN ZOABI: I cannot say no, and I cannot say yes, because I don’t think about it. I just think about the responsibility I have. When I interview you, for example, I don’t think just about my political responsibility. I don’t think just about my human values that I should be loyal to. I also think about the nine people who have [been] killed. And I feel the responsibility, their responsibility. I feel that they shouldn’t be dead for nothing, that I have their story to tell, and that I have more responsibility than the 600 passengers who were on the ship, because I have the immunity that they wanted to take it from me, because I am a Knesset member, because I am a parliamentarian. And because I have tool and this powerful position, I have more responsibility from all of the 600 passengers who were on the ship. And I am glad — I just believe in this responsibility, and I want to do it without any hesitation.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you sorry that you went on the Gaza flotilla?

    HANIN ZOABI: What do you think? Not at all. Not at all. And if they invite me again, I would do it again. I would participate again.

AMY GOODMAN: Hanin Zoabi is an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Hanin Zoabi is the first woman to be elected to the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party. She was speaking to us from Jerusalem. She was on the Mavi Marmara, the ship that was among those raided by the Israeli commandos. It was on her ship that the majority of the activists that were and that the commandos killed nine of the activists.

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