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Challenger I Passengers: Israeli Commandos Shot First

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Alex Harrison, a British activist who participated in the Freedom Flotilla, was on the neighboring Challenger 1 when the Israeli army overtook the Mavi Marmara, leaving nine activists dead and dozens injured.

The Israeli army has released edited video footage showing soldiers being beaten by passengers on the Mavi Marmara. The army's footage depicts soldiers dropping down from helicopters into a crowd armed with sticks and chairs. Many Israelis have likened this scene to a "lynch." The Jewish Israeli public also firmly believes that its soldiers were lured into a "trap."

But the army's footage does not include the crucial moments prior to the soldiers' boarding that would allow viewers to determine if the activists were behaving in self-defense as Israel overtook its ship in international waters.

An eyewitness to the takeover, Harrison tells Maan what she saw in the moments before the Israeli army boarded the Mavi Marmara.

"I was on the Challenger 1, on the upper deck," Harrison says. "We were very close to the Marmara. We actually thought [the Israeli navy] was coming for us first."

Soldiers first attempted to board the Marmara using two speedboats, according to Harrison. Each contained about a dozen armed commandos. Activists resisted the takeover using a water hose.

A helicopter had been flying around the flotilla for several hours already, Harrison recalls. As it drew closer, the Marmara was hit with sound bombs and bullets. Harrison is unsure as to whether the ammunition was live or rubber-coated.

"The firing came from the helicopter," she says. "[It] began before the soldiers hit the deck."

Harrison adds that some of the soldiers were shooting as they descended from the helicopter.

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American activist and chair of the Free Gaza Movement, was also on the Challenger 1.

"In the lead up, through the night, we had someone on watch at the top of the boat the whole time. When we got the word that vessels were approaching, we put our life vests on and went outside," Arraf says.

"At the time of the attack, we were side by side [with the Marmara]," she continues. "We were to the left of the Marmara, very close to it."

"I was able to see the beginning of the attack on the Marmara. I heard some explosions, sound bombs," Arraf says. "Then there was a helicopter overhead."

Arraf says shooting began before the soldiers were on the boat. Like Harrison, she is unsure as to whether the ammunition was live or rubber-coated bullets.

"They attacked first in international waters and they opened fire on what they knew was an unarmed ship," Arraf says. "The people who did fight back were justified in defending themselves against an illegal raid."

Both Harrison and Arraf emphasize that while there were no deaths aboard the Challenger 1, the Israeli takeover of their boat was violent also.

"We put our hands out and we told them 'This is an American vessel, we are unarmed,'" Arraf recalls. Israeli soldiers threw sound bombs and used tasers on the activists before they boarded. Once they were on, they "beat their way through" the crowd that was trying to delay a takeover using their bodies.

"We locked the door of the boat to the main body of the boat," Arraf says. "They beat people out of the way and used their boots to kick through the glass [door]."

In hopes of defending the captain of the boat, who was on the upper deck, Arraf scrambled up a ladder. "Soldiers grabbed me, pulled me down, and bashed my head into the deck." A soldier "pressed my head onto the deck," she says, using his boot.

Arraf was "dragged to the front of the boat and pinned down... They put a sack over my head," she says. At that time, her phone was confiscated. Soldiers had already seized her camera, as well.

Harrison says activists on the Challenger 1 were "resisting with their bodies."

Harrison says that she was "grabbed, pushed to the ground, thrown down the stairs, and pushed into the salon. There, she was "made to sit on the floor, which was covered in broken glass."

"They just showed no humanity at all," she adds.

But both women remain determined to break the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

"Israel should be under no illusion that the violence they have used will be a deterrence," Arraf says. "More people are contacting us and talking about getting involved."

Harrison simply remarks, "I'll be on the next boat."