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Monday, June 24, 2024

‘We would do it again’

Three Norwegians, arrested by Israeli soldiers and police who stormed their aid convoy to Gaza on Monday, returned home on Thursday, exhausted but ready to tell their version of events. They said they’d risk being attacked again, even though they saw people being killed “right in front of our eyes.”

Randi Kjøs (left), said the Israeli soldiers "must have thought we were very dangerous." At right, her colleague Nidal Hejazi, who was tied up for hours. PHOTO: NRK

Randi Kjøs of Hamar said she had joined the convoy to express support for the Palestinians and bring school supplies to children in Gaza. The trip started out well, she said, even though the boat used by the Norwegians broke down and they needed to be transferred to the larger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.

It was among those boarded by Israeli soldiers in international waters in the early pre-dawn hours of Monday. “Suddenly there were heavily armed police and marines all around us, all of them masked,” Kjøs said at a press conference shortly after she and colleagues Espen Goffeng and Nidal Hejazi landed in Oslo.

Espen Goffeng said at Thursday's press conference that "we were roughly treated." PHOTO: NRK

“They took everything from us,” she said, adding that they were tied up and those who protested also had hoods placed over their heads, or were blindfolded. Most of the women were later unbound, she said, but some of the men were left tied up on the open deck in the sun for many hours, with no food or drink.

“I guess they must have thought we were very dangerous,” said the middle-aged mother of three from central Norway, adding that “western-looking” persons on board the convoy were “treated better” than others.

Both Hejazi and Goffeng said the first four Israeli soldiers who were lowered onto the deck of the ship by a “lydløs” (soundless) helicopter started shooting immediately. “They started to fire at us at once, at once,” repeated Hejazi, who is of Palestinian descent himself but grew up in Norway. 

The three Norwegians on board the convoy called it a success, despite their ordeal. PHOTO: NRK

All three are involved with Free Gaza Norge, an organization trying to bring aid to the Palestinians and seeking an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Israeli government has justified its attack on the convoy in international waters by claiming they suspected it was carrying weapons to the Palestinians governed by Hamas in Gaza.

The three Norwegians repeatedly claimed there were “no weapons on the boat,” but both Hejazi and Goffeng confirmed those on board their vessel did put up some resistance. “When you’re suddenly being boarded by all these soldiers like we were, yes, we tried to defend the ship,” said Goffeng. “With our hands,” claimed Hejazi.

It was all over in about “12 or 13 minutes,” Goffeng estimated. Hejazi said the attack began just after there’d been a call to morning prayers, at around 4am, suggesting the Israelis knew many people therefore would be assembled on deck. It began with two boats speeding up from behind the ship, he said, followed by the quiet helicopter suddenly overhead.

Kjøs said those on board the convoy were prepared for some form of effort to obstruct their attempt to break the Israeli blockade, but the scope and deadliness of the Israeli action was “very surprising.” Even though at least nine persons are now confirmed killed by the Israelis, eight from Turkey and one American, they feel the convoy was successful, if only for bringing world attention to the plight of the Palestinians and the methods of the Israelis.

“We think this might bring a ‘sea change,’ so to speak,” Goffeng said. “Our goal was to come into Gaza with our supplies. The attention that resulted makes it a success.”

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