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Israel defiant as Gaza activists return home

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 06 June 2010

"I was terrified they were going to shoot me any minute," one activist, who returned safely from the aid ship where Israeli forces killed nine other activists, told Channel 4 News reporter Jane Dodge, as Israel rejects an international inquiry and our International Editor Lindsey Hilsum goes behind the blockade to see what life is like for trapped Gazans. 

Twenty-seven British activists who were on board the Mavi Marmara aid ship trying to bust the Israeli blockade and deliver aid to the Gaza Strip returned home to the UK today.

Their attempt ended in tragedy and controversy on Monday when Israeli soldiers boarded their ship and killed nine Turkish activists.

One of the activists on board the ship, Osama Qashoo, a founding member of the Free Gaza movement along with Tony Blair's sister in law Lauren Booth, spoke to Channel 4 News about the events on board.  

"It was nothing but self defence," he said, responding to Israeli claims that the protestors attacked them when they attempted to board the boat.

"The soldiers were pouring live ammunition from the helicopters, from other sources, from the sea. And we were on board like civilians with nothing," he said. "I had six laser shots on my body, I could see them, and I was terrified that they were going to shoot any minute."

Israel denies that there were any shots fired from the helicopter, and says that the activists attacked them.  

And while the blockade continues - which it looks set to do as Israel today rejected any idea of an international commission to study Monday's incident - Qashoo said he will be just one of many who continue to try to help the Gazans.

"What we've done is a fraction of what we should do, all of us together," he said. Another aid flotilla is planned for September.

Israel defiant  

Israel's ambassador to the United States has said that Israel will reject the idea of an international commission to study Monday's incident, when Israeli forces killed nine Turkish activists on an aid ship.

Ambassador Michael Oren said: "We are rejecting an international commission. We are discussing with the Obama administration a way in which our inquiry will take place."

The United Nations Security Council has called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" investigation, and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon yesterday spoke to the Prime Ministers of Turkey and Israel on options for moving forward.

Yesterday Israeli forces diverted another aid ship, the MV Rachel Corrie - this time without incident.

Behind the blockade

Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum went behind the blockade in Gaza to see how its citizens are coping as international condemnation is heaped on Israel's tactic.

"After three years of the Israeli blockade, a growing number of Gazans can't survive without the quarterly food ration distributed by the United Nations," she said.

"Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Well, these people aren't starving. But the UN says that 80% here are now dependent on food aid. And in the last year, the number who live in abject poverty has tripled." 

Unemployment has also risen dramatically. Cement is banned, and this stops construction, with the hundreds of jobs associated.

"Kids in Gaza play with whatever they can find," she said. But a warren of smuggling tunnels means that the Gazan rich can get what they want - if they can pay for it.

One tunnel owner, Abu Omra, said: "I don't call it smuggling. I call it work."

As such, Gaza's economy has become a criminal economy, Hilsum said.

"There are no ships on the horizon, no deliveries. The flotilla and the MV Rachel Corries failed to come into port at Gaza. 

"But the Palestinians will see their mission as a success if under international pressure, Israel relaxes the blockade," she said.   

Somewhere in Gaza, someone may once have tried to fashion a missile from a chicken hatchery, a goat, a bunch of coriander and a fishing rod stuck together with jam - Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum on Israel's aid blockade of the Gaza Strip.

I say this because Israel does not allow these items across its Kerem Shalom border post into the Gaza Strip, in the interests of protecting its citizens from attack by Hamas. The ostensible aim of the blockade - brought into focus by this week’s interception of aid ships - is to undermine the Hamas government and stop it from firing rockets into Israel, but nothing I saw in Gaza over the past few days suggested it was working.

For more from Lindsey Hilsum

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