Filmmaker Captured in Gaza Flotilla
Political Activist Takes Sides in Act of Provocation
BY CAROL SCHMIDT
Scott Hamann, who has been documenting social causes since he was a 2004 graduate of the Montana State University School of Film and Photography, found himself in the middle of one of the world's most controversial social issues this summer when he was detained and deported as part of a flotilla hoping to get by the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Hamann, who is now back at his home in Portland, Maine after the five-day ordeal, said he knew when he signed on as a photographer in the Gaza flotilla that he might be detained as part of what he termed a humanitarian protest.
"What I didn't expect was the use of deadly force," said Hamann, who said he was captured by Israeli commandos, arrested and then deported from Israel for his participation in the most recent controversy between Israelis and the Palestin-ians living in Gaza. Hamann was detained Memorial Day weekend by Israeli commandos who boarded seven ships participating in the Freedom Flotilla.
None of the 17 people on Hamann's boat, the Challenger I Free Gaza boat that travels under an American flag, were seriously injured, he said. However, several people were killed on the boat next to Hamann's, the Mavi Marmara from Turkey. In all, nine participants in the flotilla were killed and several more injured, according to news reports.
Hamann said he was hired as one of several videographers to document the flotilla as it attempted to get by an Israeli blockade and take supplies to people in Gaza, a part of Palestine that is largely bordered by Israel.
Hamann said the blockade is causing "a deep humanitarian crisis in Gaza." He said the Israelis are using the blockade as a collective form of punishment against people of Gaza because the Palestinians elected Hamas as government there.
Hamann said members of the flotilla were certain they would be stopped by Israel. In fact, he had notified the U.S. Embassy before he left that he might be stopped and "asked them to do their part to call for my release if I was detained," Hamann said.
"We were absolutely sure there would be a confrontation," Hamann said. "But, we expected they (Israelis) would just tell us to turn around."
However, Hamann claims that instead of telling the boats to turn around, the Israelis stormed the ships in international waters before dawn at the time Muslims on the ship would be praying.
Hamann claims the commandos took his ship by force, tying people up and firing stun grenades, one of which bounced off Hamann's foot and exploded behind him. They also fired paintballs at the passengers, he said.
"I also didn’t anticipate that they would confiscate all of our personal belongings and equipment, including my personal camera and editing equipment that I use to run my business," Hamann said.
Hamann said he was shooting both stills and video from a still camera at the time of the boarding and his equipment taken. While he didn't have time to upload them to the satellite for transmission before he was captured, he did manage to smuggle out a small photo card in the waistband of his boxers and eventually was able to smuggle the photos out of Israel after he was deported.
"I went into the wheelhouse below deck and hid below the deck and swapped out [the camera's digital card]," he said.
Hamann said he and other protestors were taken to Israel's Be'er Sheva prison for 48 hours. Eventually all protestors, including Hamann, were deported and taken to Turkey. "I can't go to Israel for 10 years," Hamann said. He was eventually flown back to the U.S. Since returning, Hamann's photos have been used on witnessgaza.com and freegaza.org.
Hamann said the experience was unnerving, but in some ways accomplished what the protestors set out to do. The world is now more aware of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Involvement in controversial international human rights issues is not new to Hamann, whose senior thesis film at MSU was about life in post-apartheid shanty towns in South Africa. Hamann won a contest sponsored by the United Nations for that film and a trip to the Sundance Film Festival.
Dennis Aig, a professor in MSU's School of Film and Photography, calls Hamann "a unique alum–while others have done social activist film work, he has been the most dedicated to it."
Hamann said MSU and its good documentary emphasis in its film school was the reason he traveled from his native Nashua, N.H. to study at MSU. He said that training, particularly the classes with Aig, served him will on the flotilla incident.
"Dennis’s classes gave me the documentary tools I needed," Hamann said. "Not just the technical skills, but the (skills) necessary to understand the broader ramifications of this single event.
Hamann explained that documentary filmmakers require more than just good storytelling skills, but the ability to pay attention to the news and place events in a larger context.
Hamann said the next goal of his Harbor Light Films is to raise funds to make a documentary in Gaza that will highlight what he sees as the human rights crisis while facilitating positive political and social change.
MSU News Service
Editor’s Note: Seeking a two-state solution to hostilities between Palestinians and Israel under the Oslo Accords , Israel withdrew from Gaza by 2005, having occupied it after winning the Six Day War with Egypt in 1967.
Following the death of the PLO’s Yasser Arafat a new era began in Palestinian-Israeli-relations. Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of Gaza’s Palestinian National Authority in free, democratic elections. Abbas vowed to put an end to terror and negotiate peace based on Israeli withdrawal from all the lands of the West Bank and Gaza, a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, and the return of the Palestinian refugees.
Hamas, though, which denies Israel’s right to exist and refuses peace talks, won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006. This was eventually expanded into a unity government that included Fatah.
In 2007, following anarchy in Gaza, Hamas militants stormed government buildings and military posts, driving Fatah out of Gaza. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas dissolved his unity government and announced he would form another government in the West Bank, where Fatah militants arrested Hamas officials and militants, the result being separate Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza and a fractured Palestinian state without central authority.
Israel restricts Palestinians living in Gaza due to its own security concerns. Most border crossings between Gaza and Israel are closed, as is the border with Egypt. A safe passage for Gazans to the West Bank was supposed to have been implemented under the Oslo accords but never happened. Israel favors a rail link, Palestinians a road.
Following its takeover, Hamas began using Gaza as a base from which to launch rocket attacks into Israel, which it is committed to destroying. The Israeli blockade of Gaza takes place in this context.