VANCOUVER - The night before a violent confrontation between Israeli soldiers and activists headed for the blockaded Gaza Strip was a tense and sleepless one, says a Canadian activist who was on board.
Rifat Audeh, one of three Canadians detained during the raid off the Gaza coast, told The Canadian Press that they'd heard reports Israeli forces might try and “attack” the convoy. Nine people died in the confrontation.
The 37-year-old resident of St. Catharines, Ont., said he was near the cabin of the Mavi Marmara early Monday morning when he heard the first shots ring out.
“They started shooting at the ship itself for no reason whatsoever,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday from Amman, Jordan, where he arrived after being released by Israeli authorities. “We're a humanitarian ship, we were unarmed, we're all civilians, we had no weapons onboard.”
The two shared similarly thinning hairlines and a certain pudgy middle-aged smugness. They occasionally smiled and guffawed good naturedly, called each other by their first names and one mentioned that "we go back a long way, don't we?" One almost expected them to reminisce about a long lost golf tournament.
But these chummy cohorts were in fact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Peter Mansbridge, the long time host of CBC's television's flagship nightly news program The National. One was supposed to be interviewing the other, but it played more like an advertorial for the Likud party.
The timing couldn't have been better. As Netanyahu did his best to present himself -- and his country -- as reasonable, civilized and even 'peace-loving' ('Let's meet in a "peace tent",' he said smilingly, of a proposed face-to-face meeting with Abbas, reaching for a kind of earnest boy scout demeanour) and the beleaguered Palestinians as troublesome terrorists or mere Iranian pawns, terrible images of Israeli commandos boarding a Gaza-bound aid convoy and killing some of its apparently unarmed occupants (amongst the group were two Canadians), flashed on television screens worldwide.