VICTORIA — Friends of a Victoria, B.C., man who was aboard a convoy of ships stormed by Israeli soldiers off the Gaza coast Monday were anxiously waiting to hear from him.
Kevin Neish, 53, had joined pro-Palestinian activists aboard the ship Challenger II, one of six vessels on an aid mission to carry humanitarian relief to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
“We have had no word from Kevin, we don’t know if he is all right, if he is in detention. We don’t know when he’s coming back and I’m very, very concerned about him,” his friend Zoe Blunt told The Canadian Press.
There were some media reports citing Blunt in saying Neish had been located and was safe and sound, but she told The Canadian Press those reports were premature.
“There have been no reports about casualties on the boat the Challenger, which was the boat we think Kevin was on, although people may have been moving around between the boats,” she said.
She said Neish, a retired marine engineer who had worked in Victoria’s dock yards, joined the Free Gaza Movement and was intending to repair a well in a Palestinian community in Gaza but also had other duties aboard the ship.
“He had been assigned to protect a group of journalists,” said Blunt.
“He was being trained to passively occupy a hallway just long enough to slow the soldiers down so the journalists could get their images and stories uploaded in the event of a raid on the ship.”
At least 10 people, most of them Turkish, were killed in the Monday morning raid and dozens more wounded after the Israeli forces boarded the vessels.
There has been international condemnation of the Israeli action.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa and was to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper but officials said he would cut short the rest of his visit and a planned trip to Washington in order to return home Monday.
Blunt said she last had personal contact with Neish, who she described as a good friend, on May 27. In a web post dated May 30, the father of one said he was getting ready for the impending mission.
“At this late date I think it’s fairly safe to let you know I’ve been tasked with defending a crew of journalists on the top deck of our cruiser,” he wrote.
“Since the Israeli military always tries to seize the media first to destroy evidence, my job is to non-violently get in the way of the Israeli commandos in a narrow passageway for about 30 seconds so the journalists can upload their reports.
“It should be interesting, to say the least.”
Blunt said Neish was driven to act against the injustices of the world by a near-death experience after he was shot by a neighbour in an attack Blunt described as random and unprovoked. She declined to provide further details, calling it a personal matter.
“He’s had some transformative experiences,” she said. “He’s witnessed a great deal of brutality against innocent civilians in his life, here at home and abroad.
“I think it reached a point where he could just no longer turn away and let it happen.”
Blunt, who said she’d already received hate mail for speaking out on Neish’s behalf, planned to appear at a rally planned in Victoria Monday to protest the action by the Israeli army. Similar protests were planned for Vancouver and several other Canadian cities.