By Eileen Fleming
3 July, 2009
Gaza/USA- On June 30, 2009 around 3:30 PM, 23 miles off the coast of Gaza, Israeli Naval Forces attacked and boarded the Free Gaza Movement boat, the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY and abducted 21 human rights workers representing 11 countries.
Noble laureate Mairead Maguire was on board for her second time as was former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney who just prior to her kidnapping remarked,
“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”
The Palestinians living in Gaza are “trapped in despair” [June 29, 2009 International Committee of the Red Cross report] directly attributed to having to pay the price for voting for Hamas in 2006 after they rightly lost all hope in the corrupt Fatah to end the Israeli occupation.
From December 27 to January 18th, Israel's war on Gaza killed more than 1,400 Palestinians ~ over 900 were civilians ~ and destroyed over 4,000 homes and buildings which displaced over 50,000 human persons who had already been tied to the whipping post of three years of economic blockade.
Despite pledges of almost $4.5 billion in aid, Israel refuses to allow items into Gaza, including building material and medical supplies.
Mairead Maguire, who won the Noble Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland said, “The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught of "Cast Lead”.
Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator said, "It is crucial that we continue sending boats to Gaza to challenge Israel's criminal closure on the Strip. Gaza does not need our charity but needs us to stand up against the forces that continue to deliberately deny an entire people their human rights.
"International donors pledged over $4 billion to rebuild Gaza, and yet none of them are doing anything about the fact that Israel is not allowing any building supplies into Gaza, not to mention thousands of other items such as anesthetic, oxygen and cancer treatments, chlorine to treat the water supply, even paper, books, toys for children as well as tea and coffee.
"Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone. No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children’s toys.
"Our passengers include a Nobel peace prize laureate and a former U.S. congressperson. Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters. Israel’s deliberate and premeditated attack on our unarmed boat is a clear violation of international law and we demand our immediate and unconditional release.”
Until Israel ends the siege and opens the borders the tunnel economy will continue to serve to import and export and palms are greased on all sides while the innocent people pay the highest price.
All along the border of Rafah, lies a city of tents covering the tunnels, many have generators and one even transported a lion that woke up too soon, I was informed by CODE PINK activists who had reached Gaza through Egypt in May-June 2009, but I was stuck at Erez for the second time.
My first time was on November 18, 2008, when Mairead Maguire and forty seven international ecumenical Christians and other people of faith rolled out of bed before 5 AM to travel from Jerusalem to the Erez Crossing in the Gaza Strip.
We went to stand up as a united people of conscience in NONVIOLENT Solidarity with the people of Gaza and in support of all the NGO’s that have been denied access into the Gaza Strip for over two weeks.
We went in love and for love of all of God’s children;
Be they the oppressed or the oppressors
Those imprisoned by walls and those who erect them,
and their deniers,
Those whose fears rule
their hearts and the heartbroken,
apathy,and power blind them
to their culpability,
responsibilities and obligations.
We went with hope to arouse
the consciences of the leaders
of the world to seek peace
Some media turned out for the NGO meeting we attended in the parking lot at Erez Crossing ~ NOT USA media needless to say. (Or Canada's)
Israel and the USA both signed the Geneva Convention.
That makes them BOTH legally, morally and ethically RESPONSIBLE for the 1.5 million open air prisoners of Gaza. 60% are children under the age of 16 years old.
In the afternoon, of that same day, Israeli forces kidnapped at gunpoint nonviolent internationals connected with ISM who were on board a Gaza fishing boat in international waters.
ISM is a Palestinian-led movement that resists the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in creative and nonviolent ways.
ISM was founded by a few committed thoughtful people in August, 2001 and supports and strengthens the Palestinian popular resistance by providing international presence and a voice that cannot be silenced.
Donna and Darlene Wallach ~ two brave American Jewish women
ISM volunteer, Darlene Wallach of California arrived in Gaza aboard a FREE GAZA Movement boat but while on a Gaza fishing boat she was kidnapped at gunpoint by Israeli forces and then deported to New York City on Thanksgiving Day, 2008.
Darlene arrived without money, passport, cell phone, warm winter clothes and without a way of contacting her family and friends in California, London, or Cyprus.
I spoke with Darlene a few days after her arrival at the home of the parents of an International Solidarity Movement/ISM activist who met her at JFK Airport and took her in.
Darlene said, "It began around ten in the morning on the 18th. I was with 15 fishermen and Andrew and Vittorio; all on three typical wooden Palestinian fishing boats. The usual response from the Israeli Naval Forces who illegally invade Gaza water zones, is to shoot machine guns, canons, grenades.
They do a lot of damage to the boats with targeted high pressure water canons. Those water canons have cracked peoples ribs and one of the nonviolent activists was nearly washed over board from the force. The Palestinian fishing boats have sustained a lot of damage from the high pressured water fired from the water canon.
The Israeli navy has also used some kind of "dirty water". We still don't know what the Israeli Forces are mixing in that water, but it smells like putrid sewage and they wear protective clothing ~ masks, gloves and what ever else, to keep themselves protected from the liquid they shoot at the fishing boats, the catch in the nets and at the Palestinian fishermen and internationals who are in Gaza territorial waters.
"On that Tuesday morning, the Israeli Forces had three gunboats that were joined by five Zodiacs. Zodiacs are inflatable, high-speed maneuverable water craft. The Zodiacs came right up to each wooden fishing boat one at a time.
I saw them board the boat Andrew was on ~ he raised his arms above his head and they put a life vest on him and put him on the Zodiac. Then more Israeli Forces boarded that boat and began putting the Palestinian fishermen on another Zodiac. Usually the Israeli Forces do not board the fishing boats. They order the fishermen to strip and then swim over to the Israeli boat. This time was different.
"When I saw the Zodiacs, I tried to text on my cell phone but there was no network. By some miracle, I received a phone call and told the person what was happening. A little later the captain, Adham, handed me his phone as Fida, the ISM-Gaza Strip Palestinian coordinator called to talk with me, she could not get through on my phone. If I had not received that first phone call I don't know how our friends in Gaza would have known what happened to us.
"After they finished with the boat Andrew was on, a Zodiac came and Israeli Forces boarded the boat I was on. One of the Israelis said in English "you are in Israel."
"We were in Gaza waters and I did not want to go to Israel, but the Israeli Forces kidnapped me at gunpoint and forced me to Israel against my will. We were told in English to raise our hands.
"I said, 'I want to stay with my friends. I want to stay on the boat.' The three notebooks I had with me were confiscated. At gunpoint I was forced off the Palestinian boat, onto the Israeli Zodiac and then onto the Israeli gunboat.
"I saw the Palestinian fishermen, blindfolded and handcuffed, taken from the boat Andrew was on. I said I wanted to stay with my friends on the deck. I was then forced below to the second level and I finally saw Andrew again. He was handcuffed and sitting at a table in a galley-kitchen area. We started to talk and were ordered to shut up. The Israeli Forces separated us and later they brought Vittorio in.
"Vittorio looked awful! I was very concerned about him, but didn't learn until much later that he had been tasered while holding onto a metal structure on the roof of the fishing boat. He ended up in the cold water and I am assuming he was suffering from hypothermia; he was barefoot, and shivering!
"When we arrived in Ashdod and as I was being taken off the Israeli gunboat I saw the Palestinian fishermen, blindfolded and handcuffed sitting on the deck. I yelled, in Arabic, that they were my dear friends and I will see them again.
"I was questioned by many Israelis and my response was that I was not talking to anyone or answering any questions without my attorney present.
"All of my belongings ~ cell phones, cameras, keys to my apartment, everything was confiscated and while in Israeli custody, I was taken to Ben Gurion Airport for an audience with the Minister of the Interior.
"I told him-and every other inquisitor that I wasn't answering any questions without my attorney. His response was, 'We are done!'
"I do not know what charges were filed against me. I was held in the women's compound in the men's prison at Ramle that held people with visa violations. So I'm assuming I was there for being in Israel without a visa ~ pretty ridiculous given I was forced to go to Israel at gunpoint against my will.
"Israel deported me against my will back to America. I wanted to go to London or Cypress, but my requests were ignored. My belongings were not returned to me ~ my cell phone, my three notebooks, my keys to the apartment!
"Usually Israel will hold Gaza fishing men and their boats for weeks or months at a time. This time the men were released the following day and their boat a week later. The Israeli Forces damaged a motor on one and stole all the GPS units. On this trip 15 men who usually remain at sea for two days at a time, were denied their catch and that resulted in denying hundreds of children some protein!
"Hundreds of people were impacted just from this one illegal action by Israeli Forces. The families and everyone connected with the three Palestinian fishing boats were without their source of food and income for ten days ~ longer for the damaged boat.
"The thing that pulls me back to Gaza is the people. The Palestinians have touched my heart and I will continue to work in solidarity with them and I will return to Gaza. It is because of the people of Gaza. It is their spirit, courage, resilience, kindness, warmth, hospitality, love and resistance to the occupation that pulls me back."
Please send a note to your member of Congress, President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton demanding the immediate release of The Spirit of Humanity's 21 crew members and an end to the siege of Gaza by clicking:
Eileen Fleming, A Feature Correspondent for The Palestine Telegraph and Arabisto.com
Founder of http://www.wearewideawake.org
Producer "30 Minutes With Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu"