Jewish boat - Reuters - Sept 28, 2010
Israeli soldiers boarding a Gaza-bound yacht on September 28, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Activists on board the Jewish aid boat that was intercepted yesterday on its way to Gaza told Haaretz they were assaulted violently by the Israel Navy commandos who intercepted the vessel. According to an earlier statement issued by the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, "The boarding occured without incident and no violence of any kind was used by either the passengers onboard or the Israel naval forces."

"I have no words to describe what we went through in the takeover," said Yonathan Shapira, a conscientious objector and former Israel Air Force pilot who was on board the Irene. "They just pounced on us and beat us up. I myself was injured by a Taser."

Shapira said that while the activists were not violent, "some of the soldiers treated us horrifically. There are tremendous differences between what the IDF spokesman is saying and what actually took place." Shapira said the army spokesman was trying to spin the events in order to send out a positive message.

Israel Channel 10 television reporter Eli Osherov, who was on the ship, also told Haaretz that the naval commandos used excessive force against the activists.

"They used an electroshock weapon on Yonathan, who was dragged, screaming, onto the naval boat. He and his brother Itamar were handcuffed," Osherov said, adding that after the activists were taken to the navy vessel they held long conversations with the soldiers, trying to explain their stance, and that by then the atmosphere was "pleasant enough."

Reuven Moskowitz, a Holocaust survivor who was on the Irene, said he "couldn't believe Israeli soldiers would behave like that to nine Jews. They just beat people up. I, as a Holocaust survivor, can't live with the feeling that the State of Israel is putting an entire nation behind fences. It's just immoral. What happened to me in the Holocaust keeps me awake every night, and I hope we won't do the same to our neighbors. I do compare what I went through in the Holocaust to what Palestinian children under the siege are going through," Moskowitz said.

The navy said yesterday the captain of the Irene ignored two warnings from its ships notifying him that he was in danger of breaking both Israeli and international law before entering the area of the naval blockade.

Vessel towedto Ashdod

After the interception the navy towed the yacht to the port of Ashdod. Its passengers were taken to shore and questioned at a local police station. The Israeli citizens among them were released later yesterday, while the foreign nationals were transferred to the authority of the Oz immigration policing unit in preparation for deportation.

"It is an unfortunate fact that the Israel Navy has to be distracted from preventing terror and weapons-smuggling to Israel's enemies to deal with this kind of provocation," the army said in a statement.

A military source told Haaretz yesterday that the IDF sought to keep the Irene from reaching Gaza not only in order to maintain the blockade, but also out of concern for the Israeli citizens on board. Other sources in the Israeli military were dismissive of the small amounts of aid carried by the yacht.

The IDF said it will inspect the ship's aid cargo and transfer it to the Gaza Strip overland.