Three Israeli naval ships seized a vessel bound for Gaza carrying activists and humanitarian aid while still in international waters in the early morning hours Monday, said organizers of the convoy. The Freedom Flotilla III, headed by the Swedish ship the Marianne of Gothenburg, was attempting to break the eight-year siege on the Gaza Strip. The boat and its 18 passengers were being towed to a port in Ashdod. It was expected that the activists will be deported.
“It is disappointing that the Israeli government chose to continue the absolutely fruitless policy of ‘no tolerance,’ meaning it will continue to enforce an inhumane and illegal collective punishment against 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza,” said organizers with the Freedom Flotilla. “Israel’s repeated acts of state piracy in international waters are worrying signs that the occupation and blockade policy extends to the entire eastern Mediterranean.”
“Attempting to breach the naval blockade is illegal under international law,” the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson’s office told me; although the representative could not confirm if those aboard the fishing boat would face charges.
A support team in Greece lost contact with the Marianne at 5 am Monday when it was 100 miles off the coast of Gaza. The last message was that the Israeli Navy was approaching and three other sailing ships in the fleet had turned back for Greece.
A single update on the status of the Marianne was made at 5 am by an IDF spokesperson. The Israeli Navy “visited & searched” the Marianne, commandeering the boat in an “uneventful” take over, tweeted IDF Spokesperson Lt. Peter Lerner.
“We have no reason to believe that Marianne’s capture was ‘uneventful’,” countered the Freedom Flotilla, “because the last time the IDF said something like that, in 2012, the people on board the ‘Estelle’ were badly tasered and beaten with clubs.” And it pointed out that in 2010, nine passengers of the Mavi Marmara were killed by the IDF during a similar operation in international waters.
Employing a campy tone, late last night Netanyahu issued a “welcome to Israel” letter to the aid couriers. “You seem to have gotten lost” he told the activists, recommending they should have gone to Syria or Iran. The statement also claimed that “There is no siege on the Gaza Strip.’”
“Welcome to Israel,
You seem to have gotten lost. Perhaps you meant to sail to a place not far from here – Syria, where Assad’s army is slaughtering its people every day, and is supported by the murderous Iranian regime.
Here in Israel we face a reality in which terrorist organizations like Hamas try to kill innocent civilians. We defend our citizens against these attempts in accordance with international law.
Despite this, Israel transports goods and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip – up to 800 trucks a day. In the past year we enabled the entry of over 1.6 million tons of products, an average of one ton per person in the Gaza Strip. By the way, these supplies are equivalent to 500,000 boats like the one you came in on today…
There is no siege on the Gaza Strip, and you are welcome to transfer any humanitarian supplies for the Gaza Strip through Israel.
Barring the entrance of boats and ships into the Gaza Strip is in accordance with international law, and was even backed by a committee commissioned by the United Nations Secretary General.
If you were truly concerned about human rights, you would not be sailing in support of a terrorist regime which summarily executes citizens in the Gaza Strip, and uses children as human shields…”
Later in the day Netanyahu added that the naval operation was “perfect and precise,” stating, “there is no need” for internationals to deliver supplies through Gaza’s waters because “it is possible to do so via the land crossings, with Israel filtering out – of course – the possibility of transferring weapons through these crossings.”
Since 2007 Israel has blockaded the coastal occupied Palestinian territory, limiting the import and export of goods. As a result the United Nations estimates Gaza will become “unlivable” by 2020 due to the lack of clean water, sanitation, food, and electricity. Before the summer war a year ago, 80% of Palestinians in Gaza required food support provided by the United Nations.
Update from the U.S. The seizing of the boat came up in the State Department briefing yesterday. Reporters were skeptical about the Israeli actions.
QUESTION: Israeli forces intercepted a boat in international waters, named Marianne, heading to Gaza for humanitarian aid. I was wondering if you have any comment on that.
MR [Mark] TONER: Right. You’re talking about the Gaza-bound flotilla?
QUESTION: That’s right.
MR TONER: Right, exactly. We understand, first of all, that the situation resolved peacefully and without incident. It was a compliant boarding, as my former rear admiral informed me before coming out here. Which is good news, frankly; no one was hurt. It was without incident and resolved peacefully. I just would add what we’ve already said last week, which is that we – while we recognize and underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we remain of the view that there are established and legitimate crossings and established channels, rather, for that assistance to be transmitted through.
Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the operation was done in the international waters, a hundred miles away from the Gaza shore? It wasn’t even in Israeli or Palestinian territory.
MR TONER: Sure. I actually don’t know where the – geographically the boarding was done. I just know it was a compliant boarding and it was done without incident.
QUESTION: When you say it was resolved peacefully, what do you mean by that? I mean, are the peace activists released? Because the last thing I heard, they were held captive by the Israelis.
MR TONER: I’d refer you to the Israeli Government. I’m not sure if they’re being detained or not.
QUESTION: I mean, you’re not concerned about their safety? They are just peace activists who tried to break a blockade on Gaza for humanitarian reasons.
MR TONER: Well, again, what we’re happy about or what we’re pleased about is that it was – that the – that it was a compliant boarding that took place, that there were no incidents, there was no violence, and it was resolved peacefully. But as to their status right now I’d refer you to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Is them being held inside, locked down – is it a peaceful solution for you? You consider this peaceful?
MR TONER: Again, I’m not sure what their status is right now or what the – yeah.
QUESTION: And to have to get hurt in order not to be resolved peacefully?
MR TONER: Well, again, this is something – I’d refer you to the Israeli Government for their comment.