Eyewitness tells of Israeli attack on Gaza aid ship; rabbi disputes claims

Eyewitness tells of Israeli attack on Gaza aid ship; rabbi disputes claims

 A human rights activist is on Maui to tell her eyewitness account of a May 31 attack by Israeli forces on a flotilla attempting to break a sea blockade of the Palestinian city of Gaza in the Mideast.

Hearing of the appearances of retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright on the island, a Maui-based rabbi is disputing her claims on behalf of Israel.

Wright, an Oahu resident, said she was among 17 passengers and four crew members aboard the Challenger 1, a 40-foot boat that was part of a group of six boats attempting to get humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

In a phone interview Tuesday, she said Israeli commandoes used Zodiacs to attack and board all six vessels in the flotilla, firing percussion grenades, paint bullets and Tasers to subdue the activists, journalists and crew members.

On one vessel, the Mavi Marmara, nine people were killed and 50 were wounded, she said. Challenger 1 was about 150 yards behind the Mavi Marmara shortly before the attack, but Wright said she did not see people killed, although she heard gunfire.

Wright said she did see one woman shot at close range in the face with a paint bullet.

“I was astounded these commandoes were shooting people with paint bullets, especially in the face,” she said. “You don’t shoot them in the face unless you’re going to kill ’em.”

Luckily, the woman was hit in the bridge of her nose and wasn’t blinded or more seriously injured, Wright said.

“People were hogtied, handcuffed, hooded and taken to the bow of the ship,” she said, adding that Israeli forces quickly confiscated the activists’ cell phones, cameras and computers.

She said the Israeli commandoes were the aggressors in the incident.

“They were the ones firing paint guns, Tasers, paint bullets,” she said. “We had no weapons.”

Rabbi David Glickman, who teaches Israel advocacy through the David Project on Maui, acknowledged that he did not witness the raid but that he had read reports and seen video of the incident.

“Israelis have a right to protect their borders, even their sea borders,” he said, adding that the Gaza blockade was aimed at preventing weapons and explosives from falling into the hands of Hamas terrorists who would attack Israeli citizens.

Glickman said the Israeli Navy first attempted to redirect the flotilla to the Israeli port of Ashdod where the activists could have unloaded humanitarian aid for Gaza residents. There’s no restriction on humanitarian aid coming into Gaza, he said.

Three Israeli soldiers who boarded one of the vessels were attacked and taken below deck as captives, he said. The Israelis did not start the violence, he maintained.

Wright had a speaking engagement before the Democratic Century Club on Tuesday, but a delayed flight to Maui made her late for her appearance.

She also was planning to speak before a group in Hana later in the day and then give a free talk at 7 p.m. today at the University of Hawaii Maui College, in Room 103, an event sponsored by Maui Peace Action, the college’s Peace Club and Koa Books.