Katherine Sheetz returns to Woods Hole
By: Elise R. Hugus
A part-time resident who was on the Free Gaza flotilla raided by the Israeli military on Monday will return to Woods Hole this evening.
Katherine E. Sheetz, 63, a registered nurse and freelance videographer who divides her time between California, Woods Hole, and humanitarian missions in Gaza and Haiti, was on her fourth voyage with the international coalition Free Gaza, a group dedicated to breaking Israel’s blockade of the isolated Palestinian territory.
At least nine people were killed during the raid on two of the group’s six ships, each carrying hundreds of passengers and thousands of pounds of building, medical, and school supplies. The raid took place in the Mediterranean Sea, about 40 miles off the Gazan coast in international waters.
After spending three days in detention in Israel, Ms. Sheetz and 500 other passengers of various national origins were deported to Turkey, according to her husband, Steven Greaves, of Richmond, California. Ms. Sheetz called from Istanbul early Thursday morning to let her family know she was safe, but that her videography equipment, money, credit cards, cellphone, and other personal items had been kept by the Israeli Defense Force.
Mr. Greaves provided a transcript of their conversation, in which Ms. Sheetz details what she witnessed on board the Challenger 1, the smallest boat in the flotilla.
The dawn attack came just as Muslim observers were saying their morning prayers, she said. “It was just brutal, their attack was so frightening and vicious. They were shooting so much,” she said. “Some of the men on deck at the time tried to defend themselves, tearing off pieces of railing and throwing bolts at them. The reports I’ve seen about knives in passengers’ hands are lies.”
Since news of the raid broke on Monday, Ms. Sheetz’s children, Courtney and Jonathan Sheetz, have made phone calls to the State Department from their home in Woods Hole. They will meet their mother at JFK Airport in New York this afternoon.
Courtney Sheetz, who joined her mother on the group’s first and only successful mission to the Gaza Strip in 2008, said the news of the deadly raid came as a shock on Monday morning.
“I wasn’t even concerned for her safety at that point, because [the boats] were in international waters,” she said, calling for an international investigation into the incident.
With no direct access to Ms. Sheetz while she was in detention, the family relied on online video footage for proof that she was alive.
“Once I saw her in the video walking, it was confirmation enough that she’s okay. I won’t know what to think until I talk to her,” said Courtney Sheetz.
The events of the past week have sparked international debate on Israel’s actions, as well as a larger discussion on the legality of the three-year embargo on Gaza.
In an e-mail to the Enterprise before her ship left Cyprus on May 25, Ms. Sheetz wrote her reasons for joining the trip to Gaza, 10 months after she was deported from Israel for taking part in another Free Gaza voyage.
“I am not for this blockade of 1.5 million people which is, frankly, an act of war. The fact that Israel controls [Gaza’s] land, sea, and air makes them occupiers, so we are demanding free passage as Israel should be held responsible for the well-being of those they occupy,” wrote Ms. Sheetz, who joined several European and Israeli members of parliament on the mission.
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