Israeli forces intercepted two Gaza-bound boats in international waters on Friday to prevent the boats from breaking the naval blockade of Gaza. The Canadian and Irish boats made up the "Freedom Waves to Gaza" flotilla. Israel detained the 27 activists on board, as well as all of the journalists — including Democracy Now! correspondent Jihan Hafiz. According to flotilla organizers, 21 people remain in Israeli custody, including Hafiz. The flotilla marked the latest failed attempt by international activists to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. We speak to journalist Lina Attalah, who was on the Canadian boat named "Tahrir" in the flotilla and was deported to Egypt yesterday. She is the managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm, English edition, an independent news website. The Israeli navy "cornered our boats from all sides... We were all equally put at gunpoint. Even before they boarded our boat, everyone was put at gunpoint from Israeli ships," Attalah says. "Although we were clearly showing that we are journalists, Jihan Hafiz, for example, who is a Democracy Now! journalist, had her press card out and clear, but she was one of the first people asked to kneel on her knees and to raise her hands." Attalah said some passengers were tasered. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Israeli forces intercepted two Gaza-bound boats in international waters Friday to prevent the boats from breaking the blockade on Gaza. The Canadian and Irish boats made up the Freedom Waves to Gaza flotilla. Israel detained the 27 activists on board, as well as all of the journalists, including Democracy Now! correspondent Jihan Hafiz. Many of the journalists and passengers have been released, but Jihan Hafiz remains in detention. Hafiz was filing daily reports for Democracy Now! on the Freedom Waves to Gaza flotilla.
AMY GOODMAN: The flotilla marked the latest failed attempt by international activists to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. Earlier this year, Greece blocked the departure of several ships from another flotilla heading to the region. In 2010, Israeli forces killed nine Turkish activists, including a U.S. citizen, on an aid boat called the Mavi Marmara, which was part of the first such international flotilla.
Lina Attalah was on the Canadian boat in the Freedom Waves flotilla and was deported to Egypt this weekend. She is the managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm, the English edition, an independent news website. We’re joined right now by Lina from Cairo.
Lina, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you start off by describing what happened on Friday? On Democracy Now! on Friday, we had the last contact with the Canadian ship that you were on, one of the journalists on that ship. What happened at that point, once we lost all contact?
LINA ATTALAH: Hi, Amy.
The afternoon of Friday, we had—we were at around 50 nautical miles away from Gaza, and we weren’t yet intercepted by Israeli ships or the Israeli navy, so our hopes were high, of reaching Gaza. However, it wasn’t too long before we started seeing in the horizon around four warships, Israeli warships, surrounding our boats from afar. And in a matter of half an hour, we lost our communication systems completely. Our communications were completely jammed. And the Israeli presence in the international waters intensified. I personally counted no less than 15 ships, four of which were big warships, and then the rest were smaller Zodiacs and water cannons. And they got closer to us.
They started messaging our boat, asking us to identify what is our destination. When we told them that we were bound to Gaza, they said that they should board our boat to inspect for weapons. At some point, they gave a proposition to board our boat and make sure that there are no weapons, and upon this inspection they would let us go. However, it didn’t take them long to change that proposition completely and to tell us that there was no negotiation and that they should take us to Ashdod by force.
At that point, we couldn’t do much. They got closer. They cornered our boats from all sides. We lost control over the steering process. And we were extremely in danger, in fact, in international waters. And they eventually managed to get on board. They put us on gunpoint, asked us to kneel on our knees and to raise our hands. They also dumped all our electronics in the hold of the boat, and they threw some stuff in the water. And that’s it. We spent two hours until we could reach the Israeli port of Ashdod.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Lina, was your crew able to tell you how far out you were in international waters when the Israeli ships appeared?
LINA ATTALAH: We were between 50 and 45 nautical miles away from Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: And you talked about water cannons. Can you talk about what happened to the activists on board? And then we’ll talk about what happened to the journalists. But how were they treated, and were you able to see?
LINA ATTALAH: When we were intercepted, there wasn’t much differentiation from the Israeli forces between who’s a journalist and who’s an activist. We were all equally put at gunpoint. Even before we were—even before they boarded our boat, everyone was put at gunpoint from Israeli ships. And although we were clearly showing that we are journalists, Jihan Hafiz, for example, who is a Democracy Now! journalist, had her press card out and clear, but she was one of the first people asked to kneel on her knees and to raise her hands. And that was the case with everyone else on the boat, be it an activist or a journalist. That’s when we were boarded in international waters.
Upon arrival to Ashdod, Jihan and myself were the first people to be called out of the boat. And that gave me the wrong impression that there would be maybe a different treatment of journalists as opposed to activists. However, when I learned that Jihan remains in custody until today, I realized that there wasn’t much of a different treatment, in the sense that she wasn’t immediately deported or anything. She remains in custody until now.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And why did they release some earlier and held the bulk of the people they grabbed on the boats?
LINA ATTALAH: One legal aspect of it is that there is a paper that they requested everyone to sign, that the Israeli forces asked everyone to sign, which basically admits—or makes the signatory admit that they entered Israel illegally and that also prevents that person from being able to visit Israel in the next 10 days—10 years or something. People who did not want to sign that paper could not be deported voluntarily and immediately. And, you know, they—because also, by signing that piece of paper, you relinquish your legal rights to seeing a judge. And that’s the situation in which Jihan is right now, as well as another 20 activists who are still in Israeli custody.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Lina Attalah, who’s managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm, English edition. She’s speaking to us from Cairo, where she was just deported to. Lina, this is a quote of Michael Coleman, one of—the Canadian activist’s father, John Coleman, who said that one of the Canadian activists, David Heap, was tasered, the others beaten or roughed up as they refused to leave the ship at Ashdod port. Did you see any of this go down?
LINA ATTALAH: I didn’t see that for myself. As I said before, I was one of the first people, alongside Jihan, to be called out of the boat. However, right before—right before leaving the boat, there was a conversation amongst the activists, whereby they had agreed that they would not leave the boat voluntarily. They would not submit to Israeli requests for them to leave the boat to the port. They agreed that they will practice a form of peaceful resistance whereby they will hold onto the boat as much as they can, and they would have to be forcibly removed out of the boat. And this led to the fact that they were tasered and also dragged outside of the boat. That was an agreement amongst them, and that was also a form of peaceful resistance from them to hold onto their boat and to also resist the—Israel’s forcible deportation to Israeli territories.
AMY GOODMAN: Lina Attalah, finally, you were handed over to Egyptian authorities, as David Heap, the Canadian activist, and the others were taken to jail, as well as other journalists taken to jail?
LINA ATTALAH: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so you went immediately back to Cairo?
LINA ATTALAH: Yeah. I was—
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you suppose you were treated so differently?
LINA ATTALAH: My guess is that there is a political context that lies behind this treatment. You might be aware that there has been growing rifts, diplomatic rifts, between Egypt and Israel throughout the last few months. I think the fact that both sides wanted to minimize a potential crisis over the detention of an Egyptian journalist by Israeli forces was in the interest of minimizing this diplomatic rift. So I’m quite sure there is a political—there is a political aspect that is bigger than me and my condition. It’s not necessarily—it’s not necessarily common. I wouldn’t have expected that, you know, I would be released that fast. In fact, it was quite ironic that the Palestinian passenger on board, Majd Kayal, and myself were the most fearful of what would happen to us in Israeli detention, and yet we were the first to be released. But obviously there are political implications to this move.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the Irish activists on board the Irish ship, some of them former members of the Irish parliament, what has happened to them?
LINA ATTALAH: The Irish ship was, from the beginning of the Israeli interception in Israeli—in international waters, they were staunchly resisting the attempts of Israelis to board their boat. And they did not want to surrender immediately by stopping to sail in the direction of Gaza. And that’s why the treatment of those activists, as I read today in the media reports, have been quite aggressive. I hear that one of the Irish activists who is currently in Israeli detention was forced to take off his shirt, a "Free Palestine" T-shirt, that he was wearing in custody. Some others were also dragged outside of the boat. And also, we don’t have clear information about when they would be released and deported back to their country. So their condition seems to be quite worrying at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: Lina Attalah, I want to thank you for being with us. She’s managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm, English edition, independent news website based in Cairo, where she’s speaking to us from. She was one of the journalists on board the Canadian ship, part of the Freedom Waves flotilla of two ships that were boarded on Friday by the Israeli navy. Again, our correspondent, Jihan Hafiz, is still in detention. We’ve been urgently trying to have her released throughout the weekend. Different reports coming from the Israeli government, at some point saying they were not sure where she was, whether she was being deported or whether she was being detained, but as of this broadcast, the information that we have is that she is in detention, and we are pushing hard to have her released, and an explanation about why they’ve arrested this journalist, based—Jihan Hafiz is an American journalist. Lina, thanks for being with us.