Update, Oct. 7: The Women’s Boat reports that “all 13 of the women on the Women’s Boat to Gaza are currently in the process of deportation after being captured by the Israeli Navy and detained in a prison at Ashdod.” A spokesperson says the deportation is going much faster than in prior flotillas. “We… suspect that the reason for the quick release was because of all the negative media attention Israel has been receiving for its illegal interception.”
Original report, Oct. 6:
Israel has begun deporting the all-female crew of sailors who attempted to land in Gaza. The first two women returned to London on Thursday afternoon, a day after Israeli commandos seized the Women’s Boat to Gaza, an activist ship skimming towards the Strip’s maritime borders.
Mina Harbalou and Huda Rahmeh, both journalists with Al Jazeera, arrived at Heathrow airport, greeted with bouquets of flowers. Harbalou was draped in a Palestinian flag.
The remaining 11 passengers and captain of the Zaytouna-Olivia are still in Israeli custody, according to an organizer with Women’s Boat to Gaza, Wendy Goldsmith who spoke to Mondoweiss from Canada.
The whereabouts of these women is not clear, Goldsmith said. She was on stand-by for updates expected when the women call from airports once in their home countries. She said that a diplomatic source who was in contact with the women while they were inside an Israeli prison had related their last known location.
Aljazeera correspondent Mina Harbalou released by Israel &arrived 2 Heathrow ariport
Her mate Camera woman Huda Rahmeh released as well pic.twitter.com/o20XlWsTHg
— #LetFFlotillaSail (@rayyoosheh) October 6, 2016
“Our understanding is that they have been moved from prison to various detention holding facilities in the airport, where they will then be deported,” Goldsmith said. “They don’t actually receive their passports back until they are on the plane. We don’t have any information that they are on the plane heading home.”
Little has been revealed about the actual Israeli interception of the vessel.
“The information I have is that they were apprehended by two Israeli warships and there were another four or five boats around those. And the Zaytouna was boarded by men and women,” she said.
Israel’s military said yesterday in a statement that the takeover was “uneventful” and occurred while the Zaytouna was sailing in international waters.
“All we know is what Israel reported so far, which is that it [the interception of the ship] was not violent, but an illegal apprehending of a boat in international waters is by dentition a violent action,” Goldsmith responded.
The detained passengers have weighed-in in the form of pre-recorded messages prepped for release, in the event of Israel putting an end to their sea journey to Gaza. Notable sailors include Mairead Maguire, the Nobel laureate from Northern Ireland, former U.S. army colonel Ann Wright, and Marama Davidson, a parliamentarian from New Zealand’s Green Party.
“If you’re seeing this, this means the Israeli occupation forces have kidnapped me in international waters and taken me to Israel,” Wright said in her message.
Maguire said: “If you’re listening to this then you will know that myself and all of the women who sailed on the women’s boat to Gaza have been arrested and are in detention in Israel.”
In previous encounters where the Israeli navy stopped ships routed to Gaza, the passengers aboard were later detained inside Israel, some charged with illegal entry and banned from returning.
“We have no clue if there are charges. We know that has been a practice in the past,” Goldsmith said.
The Zaytouna-Olivia departed from Barcelona in late September, on course to arrive in Gaza this week. Organizers state the purpose of the month-long trip was generating attention for Israel’s nine-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. Since Israel placed Gaza under siege in 2007 following the Islamic group Hamas’ takeover, travel in and out has been highly restricted and humanitarian goods and reconstruction materials are limited.
Activists have made a cause out of challenging the blockade by sending at least a dozen convoys, mostly packed with aid, to Gaza’s shores since 2008. Often their treks herald endorsements. The Women’s Boat a salute from musician/activist Roger Waters, who posted on social media this week, “Pink Floyd reunites to stand with the Women of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.”