June 7, 2010

CBC Interview with Kevin Neish

Kevin Neish, one of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla activists kidnapped by Israeli troops on May 31, was interviewed by Mark Forsythe on CBC's radio show B.C. Almanac, on Thursday, June 3. The following is a transcript by People's Voice editor Kimball Cariou.

CBC: Three Canadians seized in an Israeli raid are now on their way home. They were in that Flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip on Monday when they had a confrontation with Israeli commandos. Nine people were killed. Kevin Neish was one of those Canadians on board. We reached him earlier in Istanbul, Turkey, where he is staying before he returns to Canada. I began by asking him how he is feeling.

Kevin Neish: Well, I feel a lot safer.

CBC: What happened and when did you realise that Israeli commandos were coming aboard the ship that you were on?

Neish: There's two stairwells going between the two decks at either end of the ship. I was in the forward stairwell. Actually I did see the fighting. The Israelis were sticking guns in the first deck doorway and firing into the hallway.

CBC: The Israelis have released video that they say shows people on board hitting the commandos with sticks and throwing commandos overboard. Did you see that?

Neish: I was in the middle of it. I was walking in the blood. I was stepping over dead bodies. They brought a lot of people in, dead and alive, of the Arabs and the two Israelis. The Israelis were not hurt. I watched them go down the stairs. I followed them to make sure they weren't hurt, as far as I could.

CBC: Kevin, to your knowledge, how many people were killed on board that vessel that you were on.

Neish: All the deaths that they talk about happened on our vessel. On all the other ships there was no fighting, as far as I understand. They simply took over, there were not enough crew to do anything. On my ship, I saw two dead for sure when they took over the bridge and the captain announced, "stop fighting, the bridge has been taken over." The lower deck lobby area, when I went down at the end it was covered with bodies. They were all writhing, people were jumping on chests trying to keep them alive. There was blood everywhere, bodies everywhere. I had blood on my pants.

CBC: There are allegations that IHH, the group behind putting this flotilla together, is an extremist group that has ties to Hamas and al-Qaeda. Are you aware of that in any way? What do you know about that?

Neish: I don't know anything about that. What I saw was a ship full of humanitarian workers, a ship full of aid, a ship full of women. There was a whole deck of women. Old men. They had the patriarch, an 89 year old man, he was arrested and beat up. What I know is that I was threated by the Israelis a number of times. When I was chained up they wouldn't let me go to the bathroom for 15 hours. You had to beg to go to the bathroom. It was quite disgusting and filthy.

CBC: This is when you were in custody with the Israelis?

Neish: They had me tied up with plastic handcuffs for about 25 hours on the ship. I was one of the last ones to be released off the ship. That's why the embassy thought I was dead, because I was one of the last released. Then I was jailed in Beersheba for a couple of days as well.

CBC: Do you have any worries at all that you were co-opted by a group that had ulterior motives?

Neish: No. No, no, no. (Laughs). No, I can say again, no. No question in my mind. If they wanted to defend that ship they would have brought weapons on board. What happened immediately before the Israelis attacked, the crew and the aid workers were running around the ship finding things to defend themselves with. They didn't bring anything with them. When I came on board they searched my bag. I had a pocket knife in my bag. They threw it away because they wouldn't allow any weapons on board in anybody's baggage. Immediately before, when it was obvious the Israelis were going to attack, I could hear grinders going. They were grinding the chains off the fencing around the ship so they had something to use. If they were planning on attacking the Israelis with weapons, they would have brought weapons with them.

CBC: Kevin, after this horrifying experience for you, would you do this again?

Neish: I have been invited back, and they say they are going back. They wanted people like me to be there to witness it and vouch for what happened. They seemed to be pleased with my actions. They have invited me back. They say they are going to go in a few weeks, I just heard. I wouldn't do that. I need a bit of time to rest and get things straightened out.

I can tell you that I was treated very poorly by the Israelis. Like I say, I was 15 hours without being allowed to go to the washroom, and 24 hours without really being allowed to stand. I had guns put in my face, I had a revolver put right into my face. I had people aim guns at me steady. Any time I tried to rise up and stretch, I had a gun on me. I had a dog snapping at me. You try and sit in one spot for 25 hours, with your hands trussed in front of you, and if you ask for the bathroom too many times, a soldier would walk over, take the tie wrap and yank on it and cinch it up so tight, the back of my right hand is still numb.

The whole night in the prison, both nights, they'd walk around every two hours and yell in the doors, "who's in here, what country?" And we'd all say, "well, I'm Canadian," and upstairs the guys saying "Turkey." I thought this was strange, why are they doing this all night, every two hours? Turned out every cell block had the same thing happening. They would walk around with lights on, yell into the room, saying "tell me, which countries are you from?" This kept us awake all night. That was after two nights of no sleep, with the fighting and everything else. It was calculated, it was cruel, and it was demeaning.

CBC: When will you be returning to British Columbia?

Neish: I'm coming back on the 5th. I will be in Toronto at 3:30 on the 5th, flying Turkish Airlines, which is flying me home. The government of Turkey is flying the foreigners wherever they want in the world.

As far as being co-opted by anybody, I'm not an idiot. I've done this all my life. I've been in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and Palestine earlier. Nobody co-opts me. I'm not co-opted. If anybody says I'm co-opted, come and tell me to my face. I wasn't born yesterday.

CBC: Thank you very much for your description of what you experienced. and we wish you a safe journey home. Thanks so much.

Neish: Thank you very much then, Mark.

CBC: Kevin Neish is a Canadian from Victoria. He was on board the Flotilla bound for Gaza. A rally and vigil for those killed on the Flotilla will be held at Centennial Square in Victoria on Saturday at 11 in the morning. Stay tuned for latest developments on this story.

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