The story of a Czech journalist about the Israeli assault
Ladislav Tsvetkov, June 12, 2010
The cameraman of the Czech TV Jan Linek is one of the four Czechs who were on the flotilla, travelling towards Gaza. What happened there he told the Czech online media www.idnes.cz.
How did you end up on board with the activists?
Jan Linek: We were invited. We thought that we would travel on a UN aid ship and that EU ministers would be on board too.
How did the mission look like generally?
Jan Linek: Initially what happened seemed odd. We arrived at the port on Sunday and by the evening we had no information at all, given that on the next day we were to sail away. Yet in the evening we were told that on the next morning we would meet in the hotel and then we would be told everything.
Did anyone check you for weapons before boarding?
Jan Linek: No. One could have boarded with almost everything he wanted. We were around 40 people on the ship. Aside from us there were also Greeks, Americans and Germans.
Did you expect an assault by the Israeli military?
Jan Linek: I was sleeping in my sleeping bag near the fore-bridge and my camera was beside me. I was waiting to see if something would happen.
How did you know the assault was coming?
Jan Linek: The activists on the ship started training to defend themselves and how to make a human line around the fore-bridge in order to protect the captain. Something odd happened. We had to sign a document that we would not sue the captain. We had to sign also that any risk would be on our account and that we voluntarily accepted that. I was the only one not to sign it.
At what distance was your ship from the Mavi Marmara where at least 10 people died?
Jan Linek: They were 300-400 meters from us so I could shoot part of the assault. Part because at the same moment the Israelis attacked our ship and my attention was diverted to that. So, I only saw small motor boats of the Israeli navy which were sailing toward the ship. There were helicopters as well.
How was your ship seized?
Jan Linek: The Israeli boats were far away and I even thought that they were only trying to scare us. We went to bed and at that moment the boats started towards us. I was shooting them and the Israelis opened fire with paint balls. I went on the opposite side of the ship where I was again fired at. Then they boarded the ship and attacked the fore-bridge. I had a visual contact with the Israeli soldiers and they made me understand that they would not deal with me. They did not bother with journalists. They were only interested in seizing the ship.
How did they treat the rest of the people on board?
Jan Linek: The activists made a human line but it did not hold very long. An American jumped from the deck in the sea and they had to take him out. Everything ended in five minutes.
Were you afraid?
Jan Linek: You are afraid before that. It was obvious that there were journalists on board and the Israelis knew that. They were determined but nothing more.
What happened after you were captured?
Jan Linek: We remained on the ship and had to be seated. There were emotions as well, although the Israelis kept on telling us that they would do nothing to us. They took my camera and told us that they would give it to me on shore. The ship was steered to the shore by an Israeli.
What was on the shore?
Jan Linek: We were told that we would not get our camera back and that we could not take anything from our luggage, not even the clothes. We could only take our passports and medical treatments. We were told that representatives of the embassy were waiting for us. In a big tent on shore we were told that we were arrested and would have to sign a request for deportation.
Did you have another possibility, other from signing?
Jan Linek: Yes, to be jailed. They said that it would be stupid not to sign because otherwise the situation would prolong and we would remain in Israel for a long time and that we would be deported anyway. Then they separated us and the policemen told me that if I signed I would be immediately sent home. They talked to the ambassador too.
What choice did you make?
Jan Linek: I wanted to have information, I signed. Regarding my request for information they laughed and said that I would not be able to use neither telephone, nor meeting the ambassador and locked me up for 20 hours.
Where did they take you to afterwords?
Jan Linek: We were locked in a car with small windows and we were left under the sun, switching off the air-conditioning. In 45 minutes we left. We were not told where we were headed to. I could not see where we were driven to. I could only suggest we were near an airport. We traveled for about an hour and arrived at the Ben Gurion airport. Then we were locked up in the customs office.
How did they treat you?
Jan Linek: We were eight of us and all of the time where we were held there was a lamp switched on and they were waking us up every hour. I had no right to a phone call nor to a contact with the embassy. I never saw my belongings. All the time with us there was the Iraqi who was a captain of our ship. He complained that he wanted to smoke and wanted information. They beat him.
In front of you?
Jan Linek: He was a meter from us. Then he was told to change his trousers to hide the traces from the beating. We could feel that they wanted a revenge. They kept on saying that we were terrorists and criminals. I was called a shitty Russian.
When did you have a chance to call the embassy for the first time?
Jan Linek: In the beginning the French were first to retrieve their citizen and then the Greeks. The captain gave me a very strong relief because beforehand he managed to contact the embassy and was giving us information. Then for the first time I learned that there were 10 dead and 40 wounded during the incident. I thought that no one knew about that. In 1 o'clock pm Ms Sternova came to me from the embassy and told me that I will be flying home in 45 minutes. This gave me a strong relief.
Whom did you call first at home?
Jan Linek: I hoped that the TV would be at the airport. And they were there, my girlfriend too and this was the happiest moment in my life.
What document have you signed in Israel after all?
Jan Linek: According to what I was told I would not be able to visit Israel for 10 years.