Israel imprisons Palestine solidarity activists

July 19, 2009

"Is it not bizarre as well as obnoxious that the Israelis should abduct all those on that ship into a country that they had no intention of visiting and then deport them from it?", British Labour MP Gerald Kaufman told the House of Commons on July 13.

Soon afterwards, another Labour MP, John McDonnell, called for an independent inquiry into the Israeli navy's detention of a Gaza-bound aid ship on June 30.

Israel has kept a near-total siege on Gaza for the past two years in an attempt to break Palestinian resistance to the occupation. In its June 29 report titled Gaza: 1.5 Million People Trapped in Despair the International Red Cross called for Israel to lift its illegal blockade.

"Restrictions on imports and exports of goods imposed since June 2007 have shut down 96% of industrial operations in Gaza", the Red Cross said. Israel's blockade has caused a "drastic increase in poverty" and thrown Gazans into an "unending cycle of deprivation and despair".

The solidarity aid boat, the Spirit of Humanity, left Cyprus on June 29. It carried 21 passengers and humanitarian aid including children's toys, medicine, olive trees and crayons. It set sail in an attempt to break the siege and bring symbolic aid to the people of Gaza.

The passengers included Irish Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Boat organiser Huwaida Arraf told the July 13 New Straits Times that Israel was willing to break international law to stop the boat reaching its destination.

"I told them [the Israeli navy] we were unarmed civilians who were just bringing humanitarian aid. But they kept following us and when we were about 18 knots from the Port of Gaza, their commandos jumped on board our ferry and forcefully took control of our vessel.

"They took away our cameras and phones and when my husband (documentary maker Adam Shapiro) tried to prevent them, they beat him up."

They were taken from international waters to Israeli territory where they were jailed. Most were imprisoned in Israel for up to six days before being deported. Boat organisers accused the Israeli navy of piracy.

Arraf said: "No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel … Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters."

Former US congressperson Cynthia McKinney said: "We were imprisoned. We were forced to stay in prison. They told us to say that we had violated the laws. We violated no laws."

Arraf told the New Straits Times: "People in Gaza are being made to live in subhuman conditions. Children are dying, and governments are silent. It is important to continue sending boats to Gaza to challenge the criminal blockade enforced by the Israeli military…

"I can't accept the violence of the [Israeli] Occupation. When you see [the brutality and oppression] every day and you get used to it, that would be a tragedy. I try not to be desensitised to what is happening because we cannot give up."

The deportations come as momentum builds in the international campaign in support of Palestine.

An aid convoy, lead by British anti-war MP George Galloway, entered Gaza on July 15.

Galloway is planning a further solidarity convoy that could include Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Press TV said on July 13.

US academic Norman Finkelstein is one of the organisers of a "March on Gaza" planned for January 1, 2010. He told Lebanon's Daily Star he hopes the march will include 5000 people from around the world, including Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Noam Chomsky.

A statement from the March on Gaza organisers says the solidarity activists will "march the Long Mile across Erez checkpoint alongside the people of Gaza in a non-violent demonstration that breaches the illegal blockade".

In another small victory, Britain has revoked five export licences for the sale or arms to Israel in the wake of Israel's brutal December-January war on Gaza, the June 13 Jerusalem Post said. But the British government balked at calling this a partial sanction.

Voices in opposition to Israel's atrocious treatment of the Palestinians are being raised within the Jewish state as well. Israeli ex-soldiers group Breaking the Silence released the new testimonies of 29 soldiers on July 15. They spoke out about the war crimes Israel carried out during its December-January invasion of Gaza.

Mikhael Mankin from Breaking the Silence said: "The testimonies prove that the immoral way the war was carried out was due to the systems in place and not the individual soldier."

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