Irish couple praise local heroes onboard ‘Rachel Corrie’ By Najiah Created Friday, July 9th
Prakash  Friday, July 9th, 2010
COURAGEOUS COUPLE: Derek and Jenny joined our volunteers aboard the ‘Rachel Corrie’. —
Not many can lay claim to having stared down the barrel of a gun. But that was what Irish couple, Jenny and Derek Graham, was confronted with when they were aboard the Rachel Corrie when the ship was commandeered by Israeli navy commandos.
The Rachel Corrie was part of the Freedom Flotilla carrying aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza. The flotilla set sailed from Malta on May 20. The couple, married for 10 years, are here with Issa Barhoum, a 46-year-old Palestinian serving with the Malaysian Embassy in Jordan, for Sunday’s international conference, “Breaking the Siege” at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).
Jenny and Derek are, in a sense, “accidental activists”. Their adventures started in 2007 when an advertisement in a newspaper caught Derek’s attention. There was an invitation to sail aboard the flotilla to Gaza to deliver supplies.
“I love sailing and that opportunity coincided with my upcoming three-week vacation. I thought it might be a good experience for me. But what I saw and experienced changed me totally.”
Although Derek, 42, an electrician, had participated in five Free Gaza sea journeys, he said the last one was most terrifying. The trip aboard the Rachel Corrie was Jenny’s first. “It was really scary but I’d do it all over again if given the opportunity,” said Derek.
Although all the activists and crew were adamant about entering Gaza despite the risks, they later became frantic upon hearing that several people aboard the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara were killed by the Israelis.
“We were worried, but still nothing was going to stop us from sending the aid to the Palestinian refugees.
The Malaysian activists, too, were steadfast that they complete the task they set out to do. They were truly brave,” said Derek.
The activists rejected a deal to unload its cargo in Israel and accompany it across the border. The Rachel Corrie was tracked by Israeli ships for two hours prior to the raid and the ship’s communications system was jammed.
That’s when about 35 Israeli commandos came aboard the Rachel Corrie.” Jenny said the Israelis were heavily armed. Though none of the activists or crew were harmed, the Israelis were not very compromising either. “The vessel, with all of us still on board, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod. There, they strip-searched me and started interrogating us numerous times,” she said. “We were asked to sign a testimony in which it was stated we had breached maritime rules by entering Israeli sea without permission. But it was not true as we were still 30 miles away from their perimeter.”
He said they had a lot of respect for the Malaysians onboard. This mission was only possible as the majority of contributors were Malaysians.”
The six Malaysian volunteers were veteran journalist Shamsul Akmar Musa Kamal, lawyer Matthias Chang, Parit parliamentarian Mohd Nizar Zakaria, activist Ahmad Faizal Azumu, and TV3 crew members Halim Mohamed and Mohd Jufri Judin. Derek also called upon all Malaysians to boycott Israeli goods as it was a peaceful way to help in the cause.
The 1,200-tonne cargo ship was acquired through a special fund set up by former Prime Minister and Perdana Global Peace Organisation chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The ship was named after a 23-year-old American human rights worker, killed in 2003 when she was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. Its cargo included hundreds of tonnes of medical equipment and cement, as well as paper from Norwegians for UN-run schools in Gaza.