I joined the Mavi Marmara in Istanbul on Friday 21 May as one of between 30 and 40 journalists reporting on the flotilla’s mission to Gaza. I am a journalist for al-Jazeera.
It was at 11pm local time on the evening of the 30th, as we were headed for Gaza, that we first spotted the Israeli military from afar. I asked the organisers what they expected to happen. They told me they had decided to move as far away from the military zone as possible, and as far away from the Israeli army and as deep into international waters, because they wanted to avoid a confrontation.
At 2.30am I sent an email to my news desk to say we shouldn’t expect anything to happen during the coming hours, and I went to bed. At roughly 4am, a huge bang on the window woke me up. I could see swarms of people in small speedboats belonging to the Israeli army close to our boat. The sound was of water grenades and tear gas canisters landing on board. I quickly put on my life jacket, grabbed my satellite phone and ran upstairs. Most of the others chose to stay down.
Because many of the crew were at that time at morning prayers, there had been a quick approach from all sides, just before they had finished praying.
When I got to the top deck I could see there were more than 15 speedboats around us, which had on average about 20 soldiers each. About 12ft above me, maybe 15ft at most, I saw the bottom of a helicopter; the sound was immense.
I pulled out my phone to call the desk. But none of the phones were working. None of the satellite phones were working; they were jammed by the Israelis. They had been working two hours before. I can list you more than 10 journalists whose satellite phones weren’t working.
There was a second helicopter hovering over the ship, trying to lower Israeli soldiers down on a rope. On either side there was tear gas being thrown in from the boats, canisters which they were firing from a sort of gun. One man was shot in the top of the head from the helicopter. He collapsed on the ground. I snatched a microphone from one of the Turkish reporters to say one man had been killed. As I did that another man was shot. Those people died instantly.
Until that point I had not yet seen an Israeli soldier on deck. As far as I am concerned, it’s a lie to say they only started shooting on deck. Only then did I see an Israeli soldier on deck.