‘they were like hyenas in the dark waiting to pounce’

The Commune spoke to Fintan Lane, an Irish solidarity activist who was part of the recent Gaza aid flotilla attacked by Israeli commandos.

What led you to join the flotilla? Have been involved in activism related to Palestine before?

I’ve been involved in leftist activism for many years and in anti-war activism, in particular, in the past decade. Palestine solidarity work has always been an element of my activism but it’s taken centre-stage since the Israeli massacre in Gaza in 2008-9. I’m a member of the National Committee of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC).

What was your experience of being on board the flotilla?

My experience was simultaneously depressing and uplifting. Depressing because of the deaths of the nine brave activists from Turkey; uplifting because of the sense of determination and collective purpose that preceded and followed those deaths. Indeed, although Israel clearly set out to deter international solidarity by deploying extreme violence against unarmed activists, it is now certain that the attack on the flotilla has strengthened the resolve of those involved and many others are now building for the next flotilla.

Can you describe what you saw and heard when the raid happened?

We were aware of an Israeli naval presence around the flotilla for some hours before the assault occurred but when it happened, it was without warning. The Israeli commandos in their zodiacs were like hyenas in the dark waiting for their moment to pounce – we couldn’t see them but we knew they were out there circling. When the zodiacs moved in at high speed, we spotted them before they reached the back of our boat – Challenger 1 – and our captain put the foot down.

Ours was probably the fastest boat in the flotilla and the wake meant that the zodiacs were unable to come in close to board us. We passed very close to the Mavi Marmara, on its left-hand side, as we attempted to evade our pursuers and I saw the activists on that ship doing their best to fend off the Israeli boats with low-pressure hoses and bags of rubbish – there was a helicopter overhead and we heard what sounded like gunshots.

It was clear that the large ship was under serious attack. We continued past the Turkish ship and broke from the flotilla, holding our course for Gaza. After a while the pursuing Israelis dropped back but a larger gunship was then seen directly ahead, apparently on a collision course with ourselves. To avoid a ramming, our captain slowed down and immediately the zodiacs reappeared and moved in fast to board us.

A stun grenade was thrown towards me as I went to shut the door to the back deck where we’d also built a barricade; nonetheless, I got the door closed and we piled up some furniture, including a heavy table, to slow them down.

We non-violently resisted their boarding party once they were on board but were overwhelmed. I should clarify that the only violence used was that deployed by the Israeli commandos who assaulted many of the 17 people on board including myself. While taking the fly-deck, they tasered an Australian photojournalist.

Elsewhere, they shot one young woman in the face with a plastic bullet and they badly hurt a Palestinian activist while tying and hooding her. I was stomped on at one stage and also had a gun pointed into my face by a very agitated commando who was shouting that he was going to shoot me.

Extreme violence was used. It seems that their objective was to seize the flotilla as quickly as possible by any means they deemed necessary. They also immediately set about stealing all the cameras and phones on the boat.

How were you treated by the Israeli state after the raid?

Not well. We were held at gunpoint until we got to Israel, at which stage we refused to leave the ship, pointing out that we were en route to Gaza and had no interest in entering Israel. We linked arms and refused to move, but were dragged off by the commandos.

I was wrestled off Challenger 1 by four Israeli commandos and handed over to police on the quayside. Inside the processing centre, I refused to recognise their authority and pointed out that we had been kidnapped in international waters and brought to Israel illegally.

I refused to show my passport, so they twisted my arm high behind my back and took it from my pocket. It was a most surreal moment when they told me that I was to be charged with entering Israel illegally.

What do you think the future is for the movement to lift the siege on Gaza? Do you think future convoys will be effective?

I think the attack on the Freedom Flotilla has raised international awareness of the siege of Gaza to unprecedented levels. More and more people want to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Direct action is essential.

The next flotilla is likely to be larger than the last one – it will certainly head for Gaza with an equal determination and we are intent on breaking the Israeli blockade. The ending of the siege of Gaza is a short-term objective, not a medium- or long-term one. It will happen, through a combination of Palestinian resistance and international solidarity. It must happen soon.