Israel illegally boards Gaza aid boats

Rally in solidarity with the Gaza aid flotilla, Ramallah. Photo by Ted Walker.

Two civilian boats, the Canadian Tahrir (“Liberation”), and the Irish Saoirse (“Freedom”), carried 27 people from nine countries to try to reach the beleaguered Gaza Strip to challenge Israel’s ongoing criminal blockade of the territory.

On November 4, the two ships were illegally boarded by the Israeli military in international waters. All passengers, including Australian activist Michael Coleman, were detained by Israel.

“Freedom Waves to Gaza” said in a November 2 statement that a Palestinian youth activist from Haifa in northern Israel had joined the renewed international mission to challenge Israel’s unrelenting stranglehold on Gaza via the sea.

The organisers chose not to publicise the effort in advance given Israel’s efforts to block and sabotage Freedom Flotilla II last July.

The boats set sail from Fethiye, Turkey, carrying $30,000 in medical supplies.

Palestinian activists in the West Bank and inside Israel organised solidarity actions with the Freedom Waves mission, including a presence outside the United Nations compound in Ramallah and rallies across West Bank towns.

It was the 11th attempt to break the siege of Gaza via the sea. Five missions arrived safely in Gaza between August and December 2008, but the rest have been violently intercepted by Israel. In May last year, Israel attacked passengers of the Freedom Flotilla in international waters, killing nine civilians and injuring more than 50.

Freedom Waves to Gaza pointed out that the attempt came as Israel carried out air strikes on Gaza.

Below is an abridged November 4 statement on the boarding by Freedom Waves to Gaza.

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Canadian and Irish ships sailing with Freedom Waves to Gaza have been illegally boarded by the Israeli military in international waters a short while  ago.

The Israeli military stated that “Upon arrival of the vessels at the Ashdod port, the activists will be transferred to the custody of the Israel Police and immigration authorities in the Ministry of Interior”.

Freedom Waves to Gaza organisers have been unable to communicate with the ships since soon after the vessels were approached by Israeli warships earlier this afternoon.

The Canadian boat Tahrir (“Liberation”) confirmed that the Israeli navy had contacted them asking for their destination at around 13:00 (Gaza time) to which Ehab Lotayef, an activist on board the ship, replied “The conscience of humanity”.

When the Israelis again demanded to know the destination of the ship Lotayef replied; “The betterment of mankind”.

Huwaida Arraf, spokesperson from Freedom Waves to Gaza, said “It’s clear that 27 civilians on two small boats, carrying only medicine, constituted no security threat to the Israeli state, and that the determination to keep them out is only a furtherance of Israel’s policy of collective punishment, a crime against humanity.

“Despite this Israeli aggression, we will keep coming, wave after wave, by air, sea, and land, to challenge Israel’s illegal policies towards Gaza and all of Palestine. Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free.”

The Israeli military reported that the navy has been ordered by Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to board the ships after “attempts to contact them failed.”

The Israeli military has offered to unload the boats’ supplies at Ashdod, Israel.

Anatolia News Agency, Turkey, has reported that the boats were offered the choice to go to Egypt or  return.

At 13:00 both ships were around 51 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza in international waters.

The Freedom Waves to Gaza initiative is a non-violent, civil society movement to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. Earlier this morning, activists aboard both ships were preparing for possible attack by the Israeli navy by training in nonviolent resistance tactics.