Seeking Justice for Israeli High Seas Attack, Survivors Turn to US Court

Passengers on the second deck of the Mavi Marmara run as they are surrounded by smoke from tear gas fired from Israeli assault boats. (Photo: Kate Geraghty/Sydney Morning Herald/Getty)

Seeking Justice for Israeli High Seas Attack, Survivors Turn to US Court

'We as an international coalition said we cannot let this stop because the Israelis killed people'

Survivors of Israel's 2010 deadly attack on a humanitarian flotilla are now turning to a U.S. federal court to demand compensation for their wounds and inhumane treatment.

Israel garnered global condemnation five years ago when it attacked a six-ship "freedom flotilla," bearing humanitarian aid, with the aim of breaking Israel's U.S.-backed blockade of Gaza. Israeli commandos violently assaulted the Turkish Mavi Marmara, which was part of the fleet, immediately killing nine people, with one additional person later succumbing to his wounds.

The military assault wounded over 150 people total, according to the suit filed Monday night in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

The four plaintiffs--U.S. nationals David Schermerhorn and Mary Ann Wright, dual American-Israeli citizen Huwaida Arraf, and Belgian Margriet Deknopper--were among those who sustained physical and psychological injuries aboard the U.S. ship Challenger 1, which carried 17 people and was part of the fleet that was attacked.

"The human rights violations committed against us were the illegal boarding of a U.S. flagged vessel in international waters, the assault of civilians on a U.S.-flagged vessel, physical injuries, and psychological and emotional injury," Wright, a retired U.S. army colonel and former diplomat who resigned in opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, told Common Dreams.

"Some of us were assaulted, thrown onto the deck, and our faces smeared into glass blown out by Israeli grenades," Wright continued. "One person had a concussion grenade go off close to his head and is suffering eye injuries six years later. Another woman was fired at by the Israeli army with a paint bullet between her eyes, giving her a concussion."

The suit is being levied under exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which prohibits many lawsuits against foreign governments. "One of the exceptions is when there is damage, physical or emotional, to American citizens--and when a criminal act is committed on U.S. territory," explained Wright. "We are alleging that the Challenger 1 boat is an extension of U.S. territory."

The challenge comes amid fresh announcements that the global Freedom Flotilla plans to sail more ships, including the Women's Boat to Gaza, which seeks "not only to challenge the Israeli blockade but to also show solidarity and bring a message of hope to the Palestinian people, with the support of women, men, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and from women's collectives and events around the world."

International campaigners have made more than a dozen attempts to break the siege on Gaza since Israel's 2010 attack.

"We as an international coalition said we cannot let this stop because the Israelis killed people," said Wright. "What we suffered is minor compared to what Palestinians suffer every day. We have to keep going."

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