June 7, 2010

Mankell says Israelis "went out to commit murder"


Henning Mankell at a press conference in Berlin on Friday

Henning Mankell at a press conference in Berlin on Friday

Discussing his experience aboard the aid convoy to Gaza seized by Israeli commandos last week, Henning Mankell “accused Israel of murder, piracy and kidnapping” in a press conference and in an interview with the Guardian‘s Kate Connolly on Friday.

“I think the Israeli military went out to commit murder,” he tells Connolly. “If they had wanted to stop us they could have attacked our rudder and propeller, instead they preferred to send masked commando soldiers to attack us. This was Israel’s choice to do this.”

At the press conference, he also described the attack itself, according to a report by Tony Paterson in The Independent:

“We could see the commandos landing on the big ship from helicopters, about a kilometre away from where we were. We could hear gunfire but they had cut all radio links so we could not talk to them,” he said. “Then at 4.30 in the morning they came for our vessel.”

In the Guardian story, he describes what happened next:

“We saw these black rubber boats coming with masked commando soldiers … they climbed aboard. They were very aggressive … there was an older man in the crew, he was perhaps a little slow and they shot him in the arm with an electric gun which is very, very painful … they shot another man with rubber bullets.”

The soldiers checked the boat and one soon returned saying they had found weapons, Mankell said.

“I have 24 witnesses to this, he showed me my razor, a one-time use razor, and a box cutter he’d found in the kitchen,” Mankell said. He said all his possessions were taken. “They stole my camera, my telephone … even my socks.”

Once in custody, his captors “had clearly recognised him,” Mankell says in the Independent report. “An intelligence officer was detailed to accompany him, and after appearing in court, where he was accused of ‘illegally entering’ Israel, the judge confided: ‘I know your books and I like them.'”

In the end, Mankell tells the Guardian, the attack “was the most stupid thing they could have done, because look around, Israel has never been so criticised in the world as of today …,” and he is now calling for “the international community to step up its pressure on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza and said he would like to see an investigation into whether Israel could be prosecuted for its alleged attack on the ships, believing it had set out to deliberately kill protesters.” (Nine people were killed in the attack.)

Asked by Connolly if he wasn’t being “naive,” Mankell replies, “If you’re saying was I a ‘useful idiot’, no, I don’t believe I was. We knew from the beginning that probably we would not get our stuff into Gaza but we could anyhow win … We could get the focus on the situation. Which we did, so of course we won.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives