On Sunday July 29, a group of masked, armed Israeli soldiers forced their way onto the Norwegian-flagged Al Awda vessel in international waters in violation of law. Participants, including the crew, as well as four journalists, were arrested on the open seas and forced into port at Ashdod.
“They slammed Herman the captain’s head against the wall again and again while threatening to take him to the ship’s belly and finish him off when no one is watching,” Yonatan Shapiro wrote in his scathing account of the event. “A fist in the face of Arne Birge the old mechanic. And the finest tradition: Electric shocks.”
At this point all of the Al Awda participants have been released and deported. Some face criminal charges. The Israeli authorities confiscated all of the medical supplies the boat was transporting to Gaza as well as all of the passengers’ phones, personal belongings, and equipment.
Another violent and unlawful interception will likely to happen within hours. The second boat in this summer’s Freedom Flotilla, the Freedom—sailing under Swedish flags—is at the moment of this writing (11:00 am EST) 56 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, and is likely to be intercepted within hours.
The Freedom is transporting several international activists, independent journalists, and boxes of desperately-needed medical supplies. According to Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel and a key leader in the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, 13,000 Euros worth of sterilized sutures, gauze, and other medical donations was divided between the two boats.
“They are just a drop in the bucket, compared to the need,” she says, “but it is a symbolic act that we acknowledge what difficult times the Gaza medical system is under.”
Living conditions in Gaza have become so dire that on Monday of this week 70 US legislators sent a letter to the Trump administration urging them to “immediately take action to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.”
“In Gaza, they write, “more than 50 percent of the children live beneath the poverty level, living on $1.74 US dollars per day. A report from the UN noted that 95 percent of tap water is not safe to drink, and last year warned that the Gaza Strip could become “unlivable” well before 2020.”
The letter also advocates that the US government “should also push our partners to ease the blockade on the movement of goods, equipment and people in and out of the territory, especially for materials and supplies related to critical projects like medicine, hospital supplies and water treatment.”
Joe Meadors, a survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty who has worked for decades with the USS Liberty Veterans Association was aboard the intercepted Al Awda; he was held in Givon prison, and deported to Texas.
“It is gratifying,” he says, “to see that members of Congress have finally come forward and publicly called for an easing of the inhumane and immoral restrictions imposed on them. Pressure on Congress must continue to ensure both the blockade and the occupation are completely ended.”
As he considers the fact that the Freedom and its passengers are now approaching Gaza’s waters, he says, “The Freedom Flotilla is sailing in international waters where the IOF has no jurisdiction and no authority to stop her. Despite this, the Freedom will be boarded, forcefully commandeered, and made to sail to Ashdod where the crew will be forced to go ashore in a country where they have no intention of traveling to. They will then be deported for trying to illegally enter Israel. This is done to prevent the Freedom from delivering much needed medical supplies to the Palestinians in Gaza. Rest assured, Freedom Flotillas will continue to sail. Humanity demands they do.”