A Turkish photographer friend, Kursat Bayhan, who works for the Turkish newspaper Zaman, was on the Mavi Marmara that was attacked by Israeli commandos last week. Apart from a few photos that he sent just before the attack, all his photographs were taken by the Israeli's.
I spoke with Kursat today, he was still very shaken by the whole experience, and as a photographer and witness on the boat he is extremely upset that his and the work of the other photographers was lost as evidence.
Below is his account of what happened.
Journalist recalls 30 hours in cell number 5202
Today’s Zaman photographer Kürşat Bayhan was among the journalists on the Mavi Marmara ship sailing to Gaza, and was there when Israeli commandos stormed the ship in international waters in a raid that would kill nine peace activists.
Recalling the 30 hours he spent in Beer-Sheva Prison cell No. 5202, Bayhan says that the thing that upsets him most about the incident -- which has since sparked an international outcry over the Israeli military’s flouting of international law and human rights -- is that the Israelis confiscated his photograph-filled memory card. The following is Bayhan’s account of the conflict on the ship and the ensuing detention process.
“This was a journey that seemed normal to everyone at the beginning, that started off smoothly but then caught the eyes of the entire world toward the end. My journey on the humanitarian aid convoy began after I joined the Mavi Marmara in Antalya.
“Despite Israel’s warnings and threats, everything was normal -- until the night everything got complicated. The first announcement of contact came around midnight Sunday. Everyone put on their life jackets. There were people reading the Quran and praying. We performed the morning prayer on the deck of the ship. Fifteen minutes later, we saw zodiac boats approaching. Six zodiacs approached the boat’s rear. Then the commandos threw a hooked ladder onto the ship. At the same time, there were three commanders who were trying to rappel down from a helicopter, but one of them fell. He had a gun and an Uzi.
“A second helicopter approached. Soldiers opened fire from the helicopter using live bullets. We were taking photos the entire time up until that point. While hurrying to the press room, I saw someone on the floor; he had been wounded in the shoulder. Then, while passing by Room Two, there was a woman giving her husband a heart massage while yelling, ‘Please don’t die, please don’t die.’ Then the captain made an announcement, saying: ‘Our ship has been taken over. There are many dead and wounded people. Everyone stay calm and do not show resistance.’
“The commanders started lowering themselves onto the ship. There were around 30 journalists. We started trying to hide our photographs. I placed a small card containing some photographs under my tongue. They took us at 9 a.m. and I waited until 2 a.m. No one, including my friends, knew about this. As a result, I did not speak much during the 17 hours the card was in my mouth. Unfortunately, the doctor at the prison we were taken to confiscated the card during my health check.
“In the press room, we waited for an hour with our hands up in the air. They called us outside one by one. They did a body search. We left our camcorders, cameras and laptops there. They took us to the back part of the ship. We saw many people sitting on their knees with their hands cuffed. There were women waiting in the same way on the top floor. We heard some yelling, but we couldn’t turn around and look to see what was happening. The dead and wounded had been carried to the very top part of the ship.
“We reached the Ashdod port at 6:30 p.m. Everyone, including journalists, was handcuffed and photographed once they got off the boat. Detectors scanned us all the way down to our underwear. When we were taken for a health check, we were forced to sign a document indicating that we had not been assaulted in anyway. Then they put me in a prison vehicle all by myself; then they brought Hakan Albayrak and some other journalists.
“We were taken to Beer-Sheva Prison. They made us line up on the sidewalk. I was shivering. Then they placed us in four-person cells. They woke all the Turks up around 2 a.m. At first they took 10 people. Then they came back for everyone else, and I was left by myself. Then they put us on buses, and we arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport an hour and 45 minutes later. We got on the airplane, confirming that we would not return to Israel for 10 years. Meanwhile, those who requested their luggage and passports were beaten.”
06 June 2010, Sunday
KÜRŞAT BAYHAN İSTANBUL