2 local activists return from Gaza Strip

June 4, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Two Bay Area activists who were on board the flotilla raided by Israeli soldiers came back home Friday night and they were greeted as conquering heroes.

The activists arrived around 10 p.m., but they left the U.S. May 16 with the hopes of saving a lot of lives in the Gaza strip. However, in the end, things changed very quickly.

It has been a long five days for Janet Kobren and Gene St. Onge. The Bay Area residents are just two of several hundred volunteers who were part of a humanitarian convoy to the Gaza Strip. The ships knowingly approached Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Israeli naval boats sailed alongside the convoy and one by one, soldiers boarded the activists' boats, and from a YouTube video, chaos erupted on deck of the Mavi Marmara.

"The soldiers were grabbed, they were beaten with metal rods, they were stabbed, two of them had their side arms taken from them and they were shot with them," said Akiva Tor, the Israel Consul general.

Kobren and St. Onge weren't on the Mavi Marmara, but on the Sfendoni where they say everyone on board was mistreated by soldiers as well.

"We tried to resist non-violently the Israeli commandos, but they took over the boat and they held us captive," said Janet Kobren from the Free Palestine Movement.

"This is not peacefully. I was kicked in the head," said St. Onge pointing to a bruise on his forehead.

The Israeli government insists they were well within their rights to stop the convoy, even though it was in international waters, because of the threat from Hamas -- the group that governs the Gaza region.

The U.S. calls Hammas a terrorist organization.

"No one has said that what we did was illegal. They can question the wisdom, but we have a right to place a blockade on an area in control of Hammas," said Tor.

In the end, nine volunteers were killed and seven Israeli soldiers were injured.

The U.N. does plan to investigate.


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