Farooq Burney, the Canadian director of Al Fakhoora, a Qatar-based charity for fostering education in Gaza, was among the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish boat boarded by Israeli commandos early Monday morning.
Mr. Burney, 37, was reached in Istanbul by The Globe and Mail's Middle East correspondent, Patrick Martin, just before boarding a flight to Qatar.
Mr. Burney, where were you when the Israelis arrived, and what did you see?
I was on the main deck when the assault began.
Basically, we had just finished the morning prayer, when we saw two Israeli boats approach the ship. It was almost as if they had waited until we finished the prayer.
We knew something was going to happen because the Israelis had radioed our ship's captain about four hours before to ask where we were going and so on.
We were expecting something to happen as a result of that, and certain people stayed up, while others went to sleep.
Did you stay up?
No, I went to sleep, but got up at 3:30. The attack began happening at about 4:10.
The first thing that happened was that someone on the Israeli boats threw gas bombs or something from the boats onto our deck. There was a very loud bang, a huge bang, and a lot of smoke. Some of the women started screaming when they heard the bang.
At that point, some people began spraying the Israelis with water, from fire hoses.
Had they gotten them ready before the attack?
Yes, they got them ready before.
As this was going on, a helicopter approached, and people knew they were going to try to take over the ship. Lots of people then tried to stand around the captain [on the bridge]to stand in their way.
I was not directly under the helicopter, but I could see things quite clearly: First one commando, then another descended.
People rushed the first commando and they overpowered him.
How? Did they use wooden clubs or metal rods or anything?
No, it was just basically hand-to-hand combat. You have to realize there were about 25 or 30 people fighting with this guy, and they overpowered him and disarmed him. Then they threw him onto the deck below.
And they didn't use any weapons at all when they were doing this?
No, none at all.
What happened to the second commando?
They overpowered him too; also just with hand-hand fighting.
Did they throw him off the deck as well?
No, they locked him up in a room.
Then, at that point, a second helicopter came and tried to lower commandos onto the deck. But there were too many people on the deck by this time and they [the commandos]couldn't do it. So it left.
Then, a third helicopter came...
How long after the second helicopter?
About two or three minutes later.
And that's when they opened fire.
Who opened fire?
And then bullets were flying everywhere. There were these sounds crack - crack - crack.\
Multiple or single shots?
At this point, more commandos came on board.
[Reporter's note: The interview was interrupted, while Farooq Burney boarded a flight to Doha. It was resumed a few hours later on Thursday evening.]
You referred to commandos descending from a third helicopter following a lot of shooting. What did the people on deck do?
Everyone was trying to get out of the line of fire.
We knew it was going to get bloody.
Did any of the passengers return fire?
No. Absolutely not.
But what about the guns that had been taken from the first commandos?
A decision was made not to use them. Someone took the cartridges out of them and put the guns away somewhere. They weren't used.
But Israel has said that at least two of its commandos suffered gunshot wounds?
I can't explain that. I don't know how it could have happened.
Did any of the passengers fight back at all against this wave of commandos?
No. Everyone was really afraid by this point. They could see people getting shot. Everyone stopped fighting.
Where were you during all this?
I was up front trying to help a man who had been shot in the chest. A couple of us dragged him inside and tried to help him.
He died a little later.
I'm confused. We've seen videos of passengers beating some of the commandos with what looks like clubs and pipes. Are you saying that never happened?
No, I'm saying I didn't see it. But what I understand is that at some point after the first commandos landed and got beaten up, some people, in the heat of the moment, picked up things that were at hand and used them on the commandos.
You said earlier that one commando was thrown off the top deck and the other locked in a room...
Actually, they both were locked in a room, and there were three of them altogether.
Three of them? Did they all get beaten up?
Yes, and then locked up in a room.
What happened to them when the other commandos started shooting?
One of our group let them out of the room. He figured, maybe it would show that we were cooperating and that they'd stop shooting.
But all three of the commandos just jumped overboard.
What happened when the shooting stopped?
We were all huddling inside, and after about five minutes, someone went on the PA and said that the ship had been taken over and that several people needed medical help.
Who was this speaking, the captain?
No, it was one of our group. He spoke in English. He was trying to get help from the commandos.
They were still outside on the deck.
Then this woman - she's a member of the Knesset [Haneen Zoabi, from the Arab community of Nazareth]- spoke in Hebrew on the PA and asked the commandos for medical help for the wounded.
But they didn't do anything.
You're saying the Israeli forces did nothing to help the wounded?
That's right; for more than an hour, they did nothing. They just pointed their weapons at us, motioning that we should get back from the window.
This woman [Zoabi]went up to the window at one point and started shouting at them in Hebrew. I thought they were going to shoot her, but they just motioned with their guns to get back.
It was about that time that the man I was with died.
Just after that, one of the commandos told that member of the Knesset and another woman to help bring out the wounded, one at a time.
So that's what they did until all of them were taken care of.
What happened to the rest of you?
They told us to leave our stuff and come out one at a time, with our hands on our head.
Then they frisked us and tied our hands behind our backs with those plastic ties.
I had a memory stick and some medication with me. They took the memory stick and left my medication. They left me my wallet too.
And then, they told us to walk up to the upper deck, where we were told to get on our knees and face the wall.
It must have been about 6 a.m. I could see there were three big Israeli boats alongside our ship and a lot of smaller boats.
More and more soldiers were landing at this time and the wounded were being taken away.
How did people in your group feel?
A lot of people were crying. It got really painful to stay for a long time on your knees like that, and, for some people, their hands were tied too tightly.
Some of the Israelis would loosen people's ties if they thought they were too tight.
A lot of people had to go to the bathroom. I thought I was going to pee my pants, but finally a soldier took me off to the washroom.
Did he talk to you?
No. He just motioned at me with his gun.
How long were you left there on your knees?
For about three hours.
Then we were told to go back downstairs. They untied our hands and then tied them up again, but in front of us. And they told us to sit. We stayed like that until about 5 o'clock, when we arrived at the port [Ashdod]Report Typo/Error