The ships representing collective conscience of peoples of the world set out in May with prayers and blessings of people with different religions to attract attention of the world public to the three-year long unlawful Israeli embargo on Gaza and to deliver humanitarian aid to inhabitants of Gaza. The single goal of the ships that cleared all international inspections and that were documented to be carrying nothing but humanitarian supplies was to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza inhabitants, who were deprived of even the most basic necessities, and to contribute to the lifting of the embargo.
The flotilla was stopped with an attack in international waters by Israeli commandos on the 31 May morning. All the passengers were forcefully taken to Israel, and cargo and personal property of the passengers were confiscated.
The six-ship humanitarian aid flotilla had more than 700 activists from 36 countries onboard. The participating ships convened in Southern Cyprus on 30 May. The ships set sail for the South at 16:30 the same day and were sailing parallel to the coast by keeping 70-80 miles distance at all times. They were planning to reach 75 miles off Gaza coastline by 10:00 the following morning and dock at Gaza Port during the day.
On 30 May around 22:30, Israel began sending warning and threatening messages to the captain of the Mavi Marmara boat and Israeli warships appeared in the radar for the first time. To each message sent by Israelis the Mavi Marmara captain responded “We are sailing southward in open sea with about 600 passengers and will deliver humanitarian supplies in the flotilla to Gaza.” However, Israel carried on sending warning and threatening messages to the ship sailing in international waters.
The broadcast from the ship to media and world public over Türksat frequencies as well as satellite telephone communication was interrupted by Israel and Israeli boats began following the flotilla from a close distance. Flotilla officials ordered the passengers to wear lifejackets in case of an intervention by approaching Israeli warships.
In all satellite broadcasts made from the ship, flotilla organizers, participants and members of media stated repeatedly that the ships were on a peaceful mission and were only trying to deliver humanitarian aid supplies needed in Gaza.
The warships carried on following the flotilla without intervention until 03:00 a.m. Soon about 30 zodiac boats and four warships began approaching the flotilla, surrounding it from all sides. Israeli submarines emerged to the surfaces and helicopters began flying over the flotilla in circles.
Around 04:30 assault boats carrying masked, armed soldiers approached the boat. Each boat was carrying at least 10 Israeli soldiers. The soldiers started firing at the boat as they were trying to board it. Meanwhile, helicopters began landing soldiers onto the boat. The soldiers who boarded the boat were firing at random. Several of the passengers were shot death by Israeli soldiers from close distance and many were injured.
Realizing that the Israeli soldiers who landed on the upper deck of the boat were firing real bullet, the passengers attempted to protect themselves and defenseless infants, women and elderly people in the lower deck with water bottles, chairs, sticks, etc they found onboard. Three Israeli soldiers were neutralized and their arms were thrown into the sea, while the soldiers injured in the fighting were treated by doctors onboard. The ship managed to broadcast through a satellite frequency that Israel had forgotten to jam and thereby airing the massacre of civilian activists by Israeli soldiers.
The activists raised white flag to make Israeli commandos cease fire as the number of casualties increased. However, the soldiers ignored the plea and carried on firing for a while.
Israeli soldiers were delivered repeated announcements in English and Arabic to cease fire and let the injured activists be taken to hospital. However, the soldiers ignored the announcements and continued to fire on the activists from the windows of the halls they had besieged. A woman among the passengers put her hands up and walked over to the soldiers to tell them to stop firing. With the help from Hebrew speaking lawmaker Haneen Zuabi, the activists managed to talk to the soldiers and asked them to stop the fire, saying the injured Israeli soldiers would be handed over to be taken to hospital. The doctors and a few activists handed over the injured Israeli soldiers. After receiving the injured soldiers, Israeli commandos fired on the activists who handed over the injured and shot one of the doctors in the arm. Some of the injured activists were held in the boat between 5:00 in the morning till 19:00 in the evening despite bleeding. The physicians were not allowed to treat the injured. Some of the injured were particularly mistreated, kicked, hit with rifles; some of the injured were even shot at.
Reinforcements were sent to the boat in assault boats and helicopters. Specially trained K9 dogs were brought to the ship. After a long wait, soldiers directed everybody to the exit door. They were frisked, handcuffed and gathered on the upper deck. Women were made to sit on benches, while men were made to kneel down on the wet, dirty floor. They were not even allowed to meet their basic needs. Giant helicopters flying overhead continued to pour water on the activists throughout the journey. Circulation of wind formed by the helicopters was enough torture. After being subjected to extreme wind and soaked in sea water, the activists were gathered in two halls with no ventilation. Extreme temperature and stuffiness was unbearable. Speaking, moving, standing, looking at the soldiers in the eye were enough reasons to trigger intervention. The intervention came in words and action. The boat moved after a long waiting period. Nobody knew where they were taken to. The arduous journey lasted from 09:00 till 19:00.
Hundreds of Israelis gathered at Ashdod Port hurled swears at the activists as the Mavi Marmara boat reached the port in the evening. All the passengers were disembarked after waiting for hours. They were frisked and handcuffed again before getting off. Each activist was escorted to interrogation area by two police officers. Picture of every activist was taken. The volunteers underwent detailed, inhuman body search before being taken into interrogation tent. Here they were asked to fill in deportation forms prepared by Israeli officials. The humanitarian aid flotilla had come under attack in international waters and the passengers were brought to Ashdod against their wishes. Therefore, the passengers did not sign the deportation documents. Their fingerprint samples and pictures were taken and they underwent health control. Their files were then transferred to Israeli internal security service, Shabak. The secret service particularly focused on certain activists and interrogated them repeatedly.
During the interrogation process Israeli officials told the activists they would be allowed to go to airport for departure if they signed certain documents, otherwise they would have to be held in jail for two months. Most of the activists refused to sign the documents. They were then taken to prison in buses and prison vehicles. The hour-long drive ended around 03:00 at Bersheva Prison.
Nobody could get any news from each other and nobody was allowed to make phone calls. They were put into cells in groups of two and four. The activists were denied permission to get in touch with consulates of their countries.
The activists were made to do all kinds of errands in the cells such as carrying and distributing stuff, cleaning after eating, etc. The prison officials deliberately made noise not to let the activists who had not slept for two nights get a rest. They would hit metal cell doors every two hours to make everybody stand up. Then they would be asked their names and where and why they came.
Starting at 01:00 on 2 June, officials began taking activists out of the prison in groups. This lasted until noon. Some groups reached the airport at 03:00, while some could only get to the airport in the afternoon. The volunteers were packed into transfer vehicles on the way to the airport. Some were made to travel two hours in 2.5 square-meter prison vehicles in groups of six. During passport formalities at the airport all the volunteers were forced to sign deportation documents. Following long talks the activists were allowed to note on the papers that they had been brought to Israel against their wishes. Israeli soldiers repeatedly harassed the activists with words during the wait for passport processing. The soldiers would congratulate each other and receive admiration from their seniors after each fight with the activists.
Those who completed passport formalities were boarded the aircrafts brought from Turkey. But they had to wait for 12 hours for the all activists complete passport formalities. Some of the activists refused to board the planes until IHH President Bülent Yıldırım, journalist Adem Özköse and another two activists came out of interrogation and boarded the plane. Israelis were told the planes would not take off until these persons came. Israeli officials, however, insisted that no one was left behind. The activists were not convinced and refused to board until the activists held in interrogation room were released. Finally, an official removed the remaining four activists from the room and had their passport formalities done. The activists boarded planes along with consulate officials and MPs coming from Turkey. Following last controls the planes took off for Turkey with the dead volunteers and the injured ones, leaving behind only five seriously injured volunteers in Israeli hospitals.
Israeli officials responded to questions regarding personal property of the passengers that they would be sent with another aircraft; however, only empty suitcases, smashed phones, cameras, etc subsequently arrived. Many electronic devices were confiscated by Israeli authorities. This meant a substantial material loss for the flotilla participants. To make matters worse, the activists later found out that their credit cards and cell phones that were confiscated on the boat had been used in Israel, and the computers and phones on the boat had been stolen and sold by Israeli soldiers. Some of the laptop computers belonging to the activists were stolen from the boat and sold in markets by Israeli soldiers.