Three days ago, the Freedom Flotilla boat Al Awda, a Norwegian boat, was stopped by the Israeli navy in international waters some 46 miles off the coast of Gaza, three months after it had set sail from Norway.
The crew was arrested, and the boat was diverted towards the Israeli Ashdod port. Of the 20 crew members, the two Israeli citizens (Zohar Chamberlain Regev and Yonatan Shapira) were released shortly after on bail, but the 18 other members have already spent two nights in prison detention. The two international journalists were released.
I had already interviewed leading crew member Zohar Chamberlain-Regev in Copenhagen in late May, when the boat was passing through several Scandinavian and European ports on its way to Gaza to challenge the blockade. This time, German Palestine solidarity activist Christoph Glanz (CG) has interviewed Zohar Chamberlain-Regev (ZCR), following her release on bail, and has kindly provided me with the transcript, from which I cite here:
CG: What happened on July 29? Why is there no footage?
ZCR: On July 29th we were sailing in international waters 46 miles off the shore of Gaza as we were contacted by the Israeli navy. They demanded to know our destination. We replied that we had no business with them as a Norwegian vessel enjoying the right of innocent passage. At about 13:30 we were first surrounded by war ships and then boarded by masked soldiers who took over the control of the boat, after violently removing the human chains around the bridge (including tasering of at least two activists Charlie and Mike in the neck and face) at least 4 people were handcuffed with zip ties that cut blood circulation to their hands. This was followed by beating of the captain and the chief engineer to force them to cooperate so that the boat could keep sailing. Our belongings including our passports were taken away from us and we were taken against our will into the port of Ashdod. This operation (very costly to the Israeli taxpayers) is an act of piracy and the occupation forces do not wish for it to be made public, so one of the first things they do as they come on board is to take away all cameras, phones and all other electronic devices. All transmission is blocked and as far as I know material confiscated is seldom returned. They have no wish that their criminal acts will be seen.
CG: What is the situation like right now? What about yourself and the other activists?
ZCR: All on board Al Awda had to go through a process of recognition on arrival in Ashdod, this included metal detectors, scanning and body search followed by medical examination and interview. The international activists were then handed over to immigration authorities and taken to a detention center called Givon. By now some of them have been deported and some are still having to face an administrative hearing in the process of deportation.
As one of the two Israeli citizens on board I was rushed through the process and then taken into police custody. The accusations against us sounded quite grave, but then we were interrogated and released on bail, which makes one wonder if the idea was not just to intimidate us.
CG: How many boats are still on their way? When are they destined to reach the vicinity of Gaza?
ZCR: Unfortunately both small sailing vessels could not make it through to the last leg. “Freedom” is still on its way to Gaza and hoping to reach its destination during the next few days.
CG: What´s your message to the readers following this story? What can they do?
ZCR: Our efforts are only an excuse to speak about Palestine, about the occupation and the injustice of the blockade on Gaza. What needs to be done is to hold Israel accountable. It is important to point out that maintaining the blockade and the occupation is very costly in both economic and ethical terms for Israel. The civil population may not recognize it but its struggle to make ends meet has much to do with how much of the country’s resources go into oppressing the Palestinians.
It is for the sake of a joint future that will only be possible if human and collective rights are guaranteed to all that we insist in sailing again and again. This action is not directed in any way against people, its aim is to remind all that in order to stay human we need to be in solidarity with others and stand by them as they demand freedom and justice.
To those reading this article I would like to say that their responsibility is to break the media blockade, speak to their families, their friends, their children. Create a public debate that permits criticism of human rights violations wherever they occur. To end the blockade we need to create a mass movement in defense of human rights that will force our governments to act – put actual sanctions on Israel.
Israel is planning to confiscate the flotilla boats. Last month, Israeli Ynet reported:
“A Jerusalem court issues temporary confiscation order for 2 Norwegian ships planning to sail to Gaza; if they are intercepted and towed to an Israeli port, their value will be paid to terror victims families as compensation”.
This move is headed by the Israeli lawfare organization Shurat Hadin, on behalf of two families who lost members to terror attacks during the 1st Intifada, which Hamas had taken responsibility for. One is the Gavish family, four members of which were killed in an attack on Passover 2002. The other was the family of Adam Weinstein, killed in a 2001 Jerusalem terror attack. Shurat HaDin Director Attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner explained the logic:
“Flotilla organizers come over here every year in attempts to breach the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and violate the sovereignty of Israel. Every year they are stopped by the IDF and their ships are towed to the Ashdod Port and they are sent home as if nothing occurred. This time, the ships will be turned over to terror victims and the organizers will learn that there is a price to pay for their provocations, for assisting a terror organization and for systematic violations of international law.”
So now, the humanitarian activists are “assisting a terror organization”, and therefore their property is being confiscated as if it belonged to that “terror organization”. Because the activists seek to “violate the sovereignty of Israel.” Never mind that they sail to Gaza, not Israel, and are being lead against their will into Israel.
Once again, Israel seeks to divert attention from its crimes and from the humanitarian catastrophe that it has inflicted upon Gaza. Anyone protesting this is a terror-supporter.
Violently arresting these people on high seas, in what is arguably an act of piracy, is then conducted “in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”, so as to not harm Israeli PR. It doesn’t always photograph that well.
And so, we are told, move on. There’s no boat. Nothing to watch, folks. Just more terrorists threatening the sovereignty of the Nation State of the Jewish People.