Friday, June 04, 2010

Henning Mankell's report of what happened on one of the Aid Flotilla's Ships

Henning is the author of the novels about Swedish detective Kurt Wallender.

This is my transcript of a 11:30 interview mp3.

Henning in red. Interviewer in green. English is obviously not Henning's native language... but he expresses himself pretty well...

After the role in Gaza in 2008, 9, it was obvious to everyone that the Gaza province, the Gaza strip, had been transformed into maybe the biggest open prison in the world. And a complete locked society where people were suffering, Palestinians were very much suffering. And, obviously, one had to do something for this. And then people all over the world, I would say, started to think, maybe, since we looked upon this way of blocking the whole Gaza strip as illegal, against the most elementary laws in the world, that maybe we should try to break that blocking of the whole Gaza strip. And the only way to do it is with a convoy of ships. And so the idea was born, and when I heard about it a year ago, I thought this is a good idea. And I told someone who was in the organization committee that if I had the possibility I will be prepared to join on one of the boats. And this was ... specifically I understood that the whole project was based on humanitarian aid, one person, one country to another person and country. We should be completely free from all political organizations, direct political parties. Then immediately I got the question, how on earth are you supposed to guarantee that Hamas will not be aboard this, and I say I can't guarantee anything! But what I can say is, what is the ambition? That's the first thing. And secondly, when it is fire in the house, you must get the water. You don't ask where the water comes from! Just get the hell—get the water! And then you have to discuss if it was the wrong water, you should have taken the water somewhere else. If there would be problems with Hamas, then you have to discuss that later.

Let me just interrupt. So you were on the ship and you were heading towards Gaza—


—and you were quite close to Gaza by that point—

Nope—this is the first very strange thing. At midnight, between Sunday and Monday, we still were very far away. I can't say directly how many sea miles, it was a lot. So I decided this was possible for me to go and rest a little, nothing will happen now. It was late. I think it was actually 3 o'clock in the morning. And I hardly had fallen asleep when I was woken up, and they said, "Hey, they are attacking the big ship!"

We could see her. We could see helicopters and we could hear the shooting. And we asked, what the HELL is going on here? Because this is deep in international water. And what is this shooting about?

Later, I can tell you, I didn't get to know anything about what has happened, until I was deported and on the Lufthansa flight to Europe. Then the stewardess told me 10 people had died. I didn't know anything until then, because naturally the Israelis had cut out all the possibilities to communicate.

Now anyhow, we realized, oh my God, the Israelis has chosen the real real ugly solution—to attack in international water. And we realize that we come to blows (?) sooner or later. Our idea was nonviolent, no fighting back, no nothing.

Exactly 65 minutes later, 5:35, we saw these black rubber boats come with these commando soldiers, you know, the black masks. We went up to the navigation place, and we were standing there, and we said, Don't do anything! And they climbed aboard, and came up, and they were very aggressive, very "Now you calm down and you go quickly! Don't say anything! Come down!"

And there was an older man in the crew, maybe was a little slow, and they shot him with electric gun, which is very very painful. He fell, and he came up, and there was another man who was a little slow, and they shot him with the rubber gun. It was very ugly, really.

They brought us down, we had to sit down, and then they said "Now, we will search the ship!" And they searched the ship. And then, and believe me, I tell you now, I have 24 witnesses to it, there came one of these soldiers and said, "We have found weapons aboard the ship!" And someone said, could we see them, please? "Yes!" Then he held up the razor. You know, this one time razor. And we didn't believe our eyes! Is that what you found? "Yes, and we also found boxcutter, in the kitchen!"

"So, we have now found weapons about the ship, and this is completely legal what we do, and now we will bring you to Israel."

At that time I realized they had done, first of all, an act of piracy. Secondly, now they were doing a kidnapping of people. I really asked myself, what on EARTH are these people doing? This I will never understand as long as I live, because that kind of STUPIDITY I really don't understand. And you see the result of it. They got the WHOLE WORLD against it.

That was the first. Then I can say ...we were forced to sit there on deck for 11 hours. They had some water but no food. Asked if you wanted to go to the toilet and it was rather ugly. Then we were brought to somewhere in Israel, I still don't know where it is.

And they accused ME of— I asked what is the problem with you? What have I done? "Well, you have entered Israel illegally! " Well, I said, you must be crazy! It is you who brought me here!

And they didn't want to discuss this. They said you will be deported. And so after another 13 hours I was deported.

And I will state, no one was beating me or anything.. but of course they knew EXACTLY who I was. There was a specific man on my side to see that nothing happened to me, because they had problems enough, I mean, everything was, you know, the Israelis has made a stupidity out of themselves.

You even encountered one soldier who had read your book, so on the one hand he was telling you what you had done illegally, but—

It was actually not one of the soldiers, it was one of the men who was interviewing me. It was high up. I don't know whether he was a policeman or a judge or something like that. He didn't have any uniform. I asked if he could identify himself, and he just smiled and said,"No, I cannot!"

But he said, "I read your books and I liked them." So I said OK, maybe we could talk about that another time? Maybe we can talk about what you accuse me of? You know. Nothing.

But then we came to a very interesting situation, because he wanted to continue to talk about the books. And then I said, OK, Fine. I'm going to give you my telephone number in Sweden. And you can call me if you ever go to Sweden. I promise to talk with you. But then you do something for me, you let me go now, because this is ridiculous. Because in that sense I'm prepared to talk with anyone. I believe in dialog, but not in this that you are doing here.

And how did he respond?

He took the telephone number! We'll see!

Some people could say there was an element of naiveté about the whole mission, and there was some German politicians who came back and admitted they thought the whole thing was a little naive. Would you agree with that or do you think what has actually been achieved would override that?

I think it's very naive of people to say that this is naive. No,no, there was absolutely no naiveté about this. We had very clear strategy. We had a very very clear plan. We realized very quickly what kind of problems we would face. And we knew from the beginning that probably, maybe we will NOT get our stuff into Gaza. But we could anyhow win, depending on how the Israelis would react. We could get the focus of the situation—Look around! Israel has NEVER been so criticized, in the world, as of today. Of course we won. So I think we were rather much more clever than the Israelis, in the way of handling various scenarios of these things. So, no, I would absolutely not say that we were naive. You'll see.

You're obviously known as the creator of the much-beloved commissar Kurt Wallander. You're 62. You've sold millions of these books. You could now take it easy. You're just retiring Wallander. But instead you put yourself on this ship in a very dangerous situation. What does that say about you? Is it something you feel you have a responsibility to do as a writer, as somebody who has a voice?

This is part of my life. I have followed one ideology since I was 16, 17, 18 years of age. And that is I believe so strongly in solidarity, practical solidarity to change the world, as an instrument to change the world. And I believe in dialog. But it is always, as you know, that it is the action that proves the word. It's never (optical? practical?) And we live in a world where a lot of people are talking a lot. I still remember a man in England, called Tony Blair, who talked enormously a lot, but very little of the workshop. So I believe in workshop. This is a part of my life. This is a part of me as a human being. It is a part of me as an artist. It's a part of who I am. To combine political work with artistical work. I guess I will continue to do that as long as I live.

It's my life, and it's a privilege, and I can't see why the hell I should retire from something that is important to do. I don't know what else I should do. Everything is connected—to the ideas, to understand the world in which I happen to live a short while on this earth, and try to make it maybe a little better.

Mankell later makes the point that the Israelis obviously wanted to provoke a violent incident, or else they could have simply attacked the rudder and towed the ship away, as they have done previously.

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