Before my statement I feel compelled to clear up a misunderstanding about my role in the Road to Hope Convoy. I am not an organizer nor an original leader of the convoy. I became a leader shortly after joining the convoy on October 23rd (three weeks after it departed London). This became necessary due to the convoy reaching significant levels of internal crisis. Whatever people may believe, I did not want nor ask for this position, nonetheless I accepted it and have done my best to help keep this convoy together and to ensure its success. Having taken this role as late as I did I fully realised that it was impossible to undo past mistakes, so moving forward I have done my best to see the convoy reach Gaza, with or without me.
The incident(s)/mistakes – Members of the convoy previous to travel were told that land access to Gaza through Egypt was approved by the Egyptian government and thus would be open to us, it was with this understanding that I joined the convoy. It came as a shock to all of us when R2H was compelled to find a ship to transport our vehicles and aid from Libya to El Arish Port in Egypt due to the Egyptian governments refusal to allow us land access to Gaza. In this circumstance I became a leader and R2H began an unexpected and hurried process of finding a ship. This was made more stressful because the Egyptian’s further stated that with the coming Eid holidays they would not receive our ship and aid if it left Libya after November 15th. With tremendous thanks to the people of Libya in Tubruq, they came to our aid big time and raised the needed money. They did so by calling on wealthy Libyans who are supportive of Palestine and our mission, their role was/is simply beautiful.
On November 8th or so a ship (Strofades IV) was found through the following shipping agent/agency;
El reedy Shipping Agency
Abdel Azim Elreedy
Str.39, villa No. 1,Ras el barr – Damietta – Egypt
Initially the amount of $50,000 was agreed for the charter, then it became $55,000, then $75,000, soon after that it became $82,500. At each point we reluctantly paid the increased amount. For me this was a bitter pill as I was in favour of confronting the land blockade and resented the money being used for a ship when it would be best used going directly to the people of Palestine. But this convoy was set up by those who did not want the “confrontation” of facing the Egyptian land blockade head on. So we looked for a ship and during this period I did something very difficult for me, I kept my mouth shut and did my best to support a softly, softly approach.
Regardless, on Wednesday the 10th of November the first payment of $55,000 ($5,000 more than the originally agreed amount) was transferred to the shipping agent and the convoy began moving the approximately 100 miles from Tubruk to Derna where the Strofades IV was docked. Myself and Dr. Saeb Shaath went to the ship as an advance party to make sure things were sorted. When we arrived at the port we were warmly received by the port police. But we also began hearing rumblings from them that the ship was wanting to leave the port. Having just paid $55,000 and knowing this was the only ship available, we were of course stressed. We provided evidence of payment to charter the ship to the port police and they made clear that they would not let the ship leave without us.
Upon arriving at the ship we began a discussion with the owner, he was not happy at all because he wanted $75,000 not $55,000. We listened to him and ultimately had another $20,000 transferred immediately to the agent, making a total of $75,000. When the agent forwarded a copy of the contract for the payment the owner became irritated once again, this time because he saw that the $75,000 payment included a 3.25% commission for the agent and other smaller fees. After more listening we agreed to pay an additional $7,500 to cover the fees and commission, we now reached an agreed payment of $82,500; up from the original $50,000. All of this is verifiable with existing documents and will be part of legal proceedings in which Road to Hope will seek damages and hopefully come back stronger and bigger, with a more powerful convoy.
It seemed at this point that our problems were solved, the convoy had by this time arrived and was on the docks ready to embark the ship. The owner had even said that all of the convoy members, not just thirty originally agreed, would be able to travel on this ship to El Arish. But then we had our next problem, the owner now said he did not trust the agent and that he wanted to see the money in his account, no less than $75,000. Again we listened, again we agreed to his demand, this demand being that we would wait until morning so he could see the money in his account. “Show me the money”, that was his only apparent concern. It was in this time that the police (without my/our knowledge) began to wave our vehicles onto the ship. I was in the officers cabin, some distance from the aft ramp where vehicles embark. This is where everything went from bad to worse and I cannot state strongly enough, convoy members simply followed the orders of the police when they began to embark; this has been corroborated by the Libyan police, including the chief of the port.
When the owner saw the first two vehicles embarking he began the meltdown and craziness that led to our kidnapping. First he ordered the vehicles off the ship and ordered the captain to begin pulling the ship away from the dock, which he did with the lines attached. The stress put on the dock lines was immense and two of the lines snapped, seriously putting peoples lives at risk. In this craziness we managed to get one of our two vehicles off the ship, but before the other one could be removed the owner ordered the lifting of the aft ramp of the ship too which the vehicle was parked. Video shows him doing this. At this point myself and Kieran Turner were standing at the back of the ship and when the owner ordered the ramp up, instinctively some of the convoy members boarded the ship. They did so of their own volition, they were not asked or ordered to do so, and I agree 100% with what they did. Youtube videos show this clearly, as does the testimony of the Libyan police. Keep in mind we knew of the rumblings of the owner wanting to leave, we all knew the payments had been made, and we also had one vehicle on the ship along with two leaders (including myself) onboard; it was only natural to at least retain our property and get our payment back if indeed this ship was not available to us.
In this period the owner and captain completely lost the plot and began running amuck. By this time there were seven Libyan police onboard the ship, including the chief of the port. He ordered the captain and owner to remain in port and cease the dangerous behavior. To argue as the owner and captain have done that we were threatening to overrun the ship and sail it to Gaza is laughable. Again the videos clearly show us at the back of the ship around our vehicle with no attempt whatsoever to take over the ship. We also know that the captain received direct communications from other Libyan authorities to not leave the port. To support this fact, when the captain requested the pilot boat to lead him from the port, none was provided. The important point here is that the captain was under direct orders not to leave the port.
While snapping the dock lines and moving away from the dock all of the convoy members and police onboard remained on or around the aft ramp of the ship. From what I saw more than one of the police did urge the owner and captain to cease and desist their dangerous behavior. But there was no reasoning with either of them and as video footage proves, the captain rammed the docks on both port and starboard sides of the ship, as well as the stern. He also rammed the jetty on the starboard side. He nearly rammed another ship and forced the crew to hurriedly start their engines and leave the port. This is not debatable, video evidence and overwhelming eyewitness testimony verifies these truths beyond any reasonable doubt.
For our part all we did was watch and film in awe as this madness played out in front of our eyes. I repeat, there was never any attempt whatsoever to take over the ship or divert it to Gaza, this is a bald faced lie with absolutely no evidence to support it.
Eventually the captain made his move and left the port. We had absolutely no idea where he was going and we had no way of controlling him other than by force. We chose not to do this although I feel strongly that we would have had every moral right to retain our property, return to Libya and ultimately our convoy and mission. It is ludicrous to even argue with someone who was not there about the circumstances to which we were taken against our will away from the port. Those who claim we were freely onboard the ship that was departing for a destination unknown, without our passports, separated from our convoy without even a change of underwear or a toothbrush or a bed are either aligned with the kidnappers, or dupes who simply were not there. Everyone who was there, barring the kidnappers, including police and convoy members and other independent witnesses will say what the video evidence proves, the captain and owner are nut cases who endangered people and kidnapped members of a humanitarian aid convoy.
verb (used with object), -napped or -naped, -nap·ping or -nap·ing.
to steal, carry off, or abduct by force or fraud, esp. for use as a hostage or to extract ransom.
–verb (used with object)
1. to carry off or lead away (a person) illegally and in secret or by force, esp. to kidnap.
The fraud in this whole affair is the claim that we tried to overrun the ship, that is the excuse for the kidnapping and once again there is no evidence to support this slanderous lie. As the ship was leaving the port and heading further out to sea, with our mobile signals fading (our only connection to the outside world) we realized the potential danger of our circumstance. Looking back it is impossible to say that these lunatics were not on the payroll of the Zionists. We had no idea where the captain was heading, we were in a hostile environment with a crazy captain and owner and as a captain myself I knew there was a very good chance that there was a stash of weapons onboard. In these circumstances we had a legitimate reason to be concerned for our safety. Two of us had been aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked and ten people were murdered, so these fresh memories could not be ignored.
I have been told of some criticisms for our using the word “kidnap” to describe our situation, frankly I would expect this from the prostitutes posing as journalists in the mainstream media. But the ignorance, pettiness and egotism of those who claim to be allies of Palestine who have made it their business to condemn the victims of kidnapping for using this word is disgraceful. These people are the clowns that form the circus sideshow that is all too often western activism. They are the tyrants best friend and they remind me of what an honour it was to serve with the Turks and others on the Mavi Marmara on an action devoid of this crap. God how I pray to work with people like the Turks, and my Hawaiian brothers and sisters once again. I ask myself, are we westerners even capable of truly altruistic, disciplined mass direct actions without the circus that follows us? I really cannot say but our track record is embarrassing.
Getting back to the facts, let me be clear, at no point was there any talk or even thought of taking over the ship until we found ourselves abducted at sea, even then we quickly decided against this when the police said they were under orders not to do so. If they would have said otherwise I would have been committed to doing what was needed short of lethal force, to extract ourselves from abduction. Fact; we never at any point threatened the owner, captain or crew with anything. The accusations lodged against us such as being “terrorists” or trying to take over the ship are patently false and intended to cover the fact that the captain and owner acted recklessly, dangerously, criminally and fled Libya as criminals despite direct orders not to do so; once again, this is not opinion, it is supported by all of the convoy members, the Libyan police and the video evidence shot on both land and on the ship. The Greek owner of the ship fled TO Greece for the obvious favour he felt he would receive. He fled FROM Libya because he would have undoubtedly spent significant time in jail and quite possibly lost his ship.
Treatment onboard – while we were at sea for two days we had almost no fresh water, instead we only had access to ship tap water, which we did not trust. In these two days we had one meal, we slept on the floor without covers in a 20ft. x 10ft. room. As a vegetarian I did not eat but once in the four days from the point of abduction. On the positive side I shed about 15lbs. Conditions were uncomfortable and strained, but at no point did we, or the kidnappers, threaten violence or brandish any weapons. Nonetheless, that possibility hung over us at all times, especially having been witnesses to the crazed and irrational behavior of the owner and captain.
Understanding the potential danger and feeling ourselves getting further and further away from our convoy, roughly 14 hours into our abduction we managed to commandeer a handheld VHF radio and use this to make distress calls for immediate rescue. This message was received by the OOCL Oakland and apparently relayed to a “NATO warship” that said it would come to our aid… but it never did. The OOCL Oakland was able to track our heading, speed and location and relayed all of this to the useless warship. As we still had no idea of our destination we again had reason to doubt our safety, all we knew for sure was that the owner and captain were capable of anything.
The second day of the abduction we began to hear that we were heading to Greece but we did not know where. Having made a distress call for a NATO warship that never showed up, we were happy to see the Greek warships and commandos off the coast of Greece. When the commandos approached the stern of the ship in their Zodiac they signaled for us to lay out the ladder in order for them to board. We went amidship to see the captain ordering the crew not to pay out the ladder. I actually filmed the captain shouting this. Our convoy members then proceeded to lay out the ladder on the other side of the ship and the captain yelled furiously for the crew to stop us. We had arguments for at least five minutes but eventually we had our way and the ladder was laid out. All of this is caught on video.
When the commandos boarded we were cooperative and we were processed without incident. Little did we know that because the captain listed us as “terrorists” we would not be released for another two days. Eventually the “terrorist” charge was seen for what it was and dropped altogether, but not before it was spread by the captain and/or owner and reported by some media. Spitefully it seems, the owner then charged us with criminal damage for one brother having used a black marker to write “The captain is crazy” on a whiteboard; we easily removed this graffiti… it was written on a whiteboard for Christ’s sake.
Given the type of treatment we received and the fact that we were kidnapped and now one vehicle down, still not knowing whether we would get our $82,500 back, with hundreds of miles separating us from our convoy, without our passports, change of clothes, toothbrushes and more, a bit of graffiti that was easily removed shows our behavior to be admirably restrained and mature. Our use of the words kidnap and abduct would be easily understood by anyone in our circumstances. We never asked to go anywhere but Egypt, we paid a large amount of money for that purpose, instead we were taken against our will to a place unknown and all the while being called “terrorists”.
As for the issue of sending text alerts to Facebook and attracting media attention, speaking for myself I did so truthfully and with the intent of making sure we did not lose the tens of thousands of dollars that had been paid. The thrust of my messages was intended to offer us protection and to highlight the insanity of what people endure simply for attempting to help the people of Palestine. We should not have had to hire a ship, but we did. We should not be made to endure kidnapping, but we did. This is what helping the people of Palestine is like, extremely difficult and potentially dangerous. This is not true only for this convoy, it is true for virtually every convoy and ship crossings to Gaza. This must change, in our own way we sought to contribute to the acceleration of that change.
Given the powerful interests invested in keeping the Palestinians in a constant state of misery and violence, given that everyday people are fed up with corrupt governments and their complicity in the ongoing crimes against Palestinians, I know that we, those involved in direct action, are the biggest fear for the managers of the Zionist project. Thus we cannot discount the possibility of collusion between Zionist agents and the owner of the ship, it is distinctly possible. At the same time we cannot at this point prove this to be the case. What is for sure is that we have been charged and released for petty crimes that will ultimately be dropped, whereas the captain and owner have been charged with kidnapping and soon to be other charges and our charges will follow that.
I write this statement now as an attempt to provide people with verifiable facts so that the conjecture can end and understanding developed. I also write this in the interest of moving forward, refocusing on our mission and completing our long journey to Gaza as soon as possible. As it stands, the ten of us who were kidnapped have yet to be able to return to Libya as the government there has held our passports, thanks for that! It looks like there is a new ship that should be taking the convoy to El Arish very soon, pray for us, meditate for us, send us all the positive energy possible so that we can be reunited and successfully reaching Gaza in the coming days.
1. Footage from ship – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71AARnihrsQ
2. Footage from dock – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3DTfmiUHIo&feature=related
3. News story – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFtdiXdFYsU&feature=related
4. News story – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icZ80A5yntA&feature=related
5. News story – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdN15oCcLLg