Germans on Gaza ship deny Israeli commandos provoked
Visibly shaken German activists who were on an aid ship bound for Gaza rejected on Tuesday Israeli claims that commandos were provoked by violence by those on board, saying it was a peaceful convoy.
A German doctor on the ship, Matthias Jochheim, who had bloodstains on his trousers from people he treated, said that he had personally seen four dead people and that he expected the total death toll to be 15.
Three leftist German politicians, plus a representative of the Palestinian community in Germany who was also on the Mavi Marmara when it was raided on Monday, said that there were around 18 or 19 people killed.
Israeli officials blamed activists on the vessel for the confrontation, saying they had attacked soldiers as they boarded with clubs and knives. The Israeli military said that nine passengers were killed in the ensuing fight.
"The Israeli government justifies the raid because they were attacked. This is absolutely not the case," former MP Norman Paech, 72, wrapped in a blue blanket, told reporters after being deported back to Berlin.
"This was not an act of self-defence," he added.
"Personally I saw two and a half wooden batons that were used ... There was really nothing else. We never saw any knives," he said.
"This was an attack in international waters on a peaceful mission ... This was a clear act of piracy," he added.
"We had not prepared in any way to fight. We didn't even consider it," he added. "No violence, no resistance -- because we knew very well that we would have absolutely no chance against soldiers like this.
"We wanted to show that we were peaceful."
Paech, a former MP from the far-left Die Linke party who has been to Gaza several times, said that he took photographic evidence but that his camera had been confiscated.
His comments were backed up by Inge Hoeger, 59, and Annette Groth, 56, two current Die Linke MPs who were also on board the convoy when it was raided, albeit on a lower deck.
"We felt like we were in a war, like we were being kidnapped," Hoeger said.
"We wanted to bring aid to Gaza. Nobody had a weapon."
The attack was "in contravention of international law ... It was an act of piracy," she said.
Jochheim, the doctor, told the same news conference in Berlin that there were "at least" 50 people badly injured.
"Personally I saw four dead ... The soldiers used live ammunition, not rubber bullets or something," he said.
"I heard from an Iranian colleague that there was a fifth person dead. And then I heard from a reliable source that there were 15 killed in total... mostly from gunshot wounds."
The Mavi Marmara was one of six ships carrying some 10,000 tonnes of supplies to Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007 when the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory.
But Israel's ambassador to Germany, Yoram Ben-Zeev, criticised the German MPs for being part of a convoy that he said aimed to break through a blockade meant to keep weapons from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
"An operation backed by Hamas, which wants to destroy the Jewish state, is not going to help the peace process," Ben-Zeev told the Tagesspiegel daily.
"Where were these politicians from Die Linke and other Germans when Hamas was firing hundreds of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip?"
© 2010 AFP