Israel attacks new Freedom Flotilla seeking to aid Gaza

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Two boats have tried to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. Israeli forces stormed one, Al Awda, on July 29 and detained its passengers and crew. Photo: Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

Israeli forces seized a boat on July 29 that was carrying nearly two dozen activists and journalists aiming to break Israel’s maritime blockade on Gaza.

The boat is part of the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC), which describes itself as “a grassroots people-to-people solidarity movement composed of campaigns and initiatives from all over the world working together to end the siege of Gaza”. 

Flotilla organisers said the boat had been “hijacked” by Israel, rejecting Israeli claims that its forces had intercepted and “redirected” their vessel to Israel “without incident”.

The FFC said on July 31: “According to first-hand evidence that we have been given, the Israeli occupation forces violently attacked our Norwegian-flagged boat Al Awda (The Return) as she was in international waters.”

Israeli soldiers beat passengers and used tasers against them, organisers said. New Zealand activist and Unite Union national director Mike Treen was reported to have been repeatedly tasered. Treen said that another flotilla member was tasered in the head.

The Electronic Intifada said one of the passengers assaulted was Dr Swee Chai Ang, a founder of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. Ang was a witness to the 1982 massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugees camps in Beirut during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

Another flotilla participant was Australian New Matilda editor Chris Graham. He said: “Israel’s blocking of the Gaza bound flotilla was obviously a predictable act, but that doesn’t make it any less hostile, nor any less illegal.

“It is a fundamental right of the Palestinian people not to be subjected to collective punishment by the State of Israel.”

The Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned the seizure of the boat. It noted: “The closure of Gaza is considered a collective punishment, illegal under international law.”

Israeli forces have a dark history of violent attacks on flotillas seeking to bring aid to besieged Gaza. The Electronic Intifada wrote: “In the early hours of 31 May 2010, Israeli commandos boarded and seized several boats in international waters as they tried to reach Gaza.

“Israeli forces carried out a particularly violent armed attack on the largest vessel, Mavi Marmara, killing nine persons. A tenth victim died of his injuries in May 2014

“The International Criminal Court prosecutor found that Israeli forces likely committed war crimes when they attacked the Mavi Marmara, but has declined to prosecute the perpetrators.”

As Israel attacked Al Awaa, another boat in the flotilla, Freedom, was heading towards Gaza. Get more information aout teh flotila and follow developments with the boats here.