On November 4, Israeli warships in international waters attacked and boarded the two vessels Tahrir and Saoirse that were trying to deliver medical aid the besieged territory of Gaza.
All 27 activists on board were kidnapped and taken to an Israeli jail. Sydney-based Free Gaza Australia activist Michael Coleman, 36, was deported after being held for almost a week. Arriving back at Sydney Airport on November 11, he was greeted by family and supporters and spoke briefly to waiting journalists. The following is a transcript of his statement.
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I’m ecstatic to be back on home soil and reunited with my family, but I’m well aware that there are millions of Palestinians that are denied the chance to experience this joy and they have waited much longer than I. I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work of the Australian Embassy staff in Tel Aviv — unfortunately that thanks can’t be extended to a ministerial level.
The aims of Freedom Waves were threefold. We wanted to draw attention to the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, which is being forced through an illegal blockade that has been in place since 2007. This blockade has resulted in 80% of the people of Gaza becoming reliant on the UN for basic human needs such as medical care. Even their movement is restricted.
Secondly, we aimed to take some of this much-needed medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately we were unable to do that as we were boarded by the Israeli Occupation Forces, 40 nautical miles out to sea in international waters … We were then kidnapped and taken to Israel, forcibly removed from the boat; several people on the Tahrir were assaulted and shackled. David Heap was even tasered during the boarding.
This is outrageous. We were peaceful activists. They had already searched our boat and found no arms, no weapons, nothing that in the media they claimed we had. Yet they still detained us for no apparent reason.
I’m disappointed that the Minister of Foreign Affairs hasn’t said more about my illegal detention in Israel but I’d also like to move to the third point about Freedom Waves, which is to pressure the Australian government to stop being so apologetic for Israel’s numerous violations of international law and to start to … support human rights being upheld.
Why did I go? To quote Martin Luther King: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Freedom Waves will continue until Gaza, and all Palestine, is free.
At Ashdod … we refused to leave the boat. We were forcibly removed. Many of us are still sporting bruises from that incident. All our electronic equipment was taken. If Israel was acting legally, I don’t why they had to take all our cameras and footage of the event — they were obviously trying to hide something. The UN has come out and said it was an illegal act … But compared with the treatment Palestinians get, it wasn’t too bad.
Still, having my liberty denied for trying to take medicine to sick people baffles me.
We were definitely outside Israeli waters. We were in international waters, it was an act of piracy. If they had been Somali pirates, people would have been using terms like kidnapping, but because they’re a state actor they claim some legitimacy and use the term detention. It was definitely not detention, it was kidnapping. We never intended to go to Israel. We were forcibly taken there and then detained for entering illegally. Again, I’m baffled.
As I left Givon Prison, I told them I’d see them next year.
We need to put a civil case in to get our boat back. The Tahrir has been impounded and from the history of previous flotillas we know it will be a struggle to get the boat back and if we do it won’t be in good shape.
So we need to get the boat back, to repair and to sail to Gaza again. We will continue to sail to Gaza until Palestine and Gaza are free…
I didn’t get to see a judge. I was told I had seen a judge on Wednesday … but we later found out he wasn’t a judge, he was just an immigration officer. There was lots of misinformation.
Initially we were told it would be 72 hours, then we were told the 72 hours didn’t start until a judge had signed a form, then we were told it could be up to 60 days which would have been quite a struggle, but nothing compared to what the Palestinians go through. It’s a privilege to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine … I’ll continue to go back until Palestine is free.