"Yala! It's time for action".
MAIREAD MAGUIRE (left)
and (above) CAOIMHE BUTTERLY
TWO defiant Irish women are determined to get to Gaza with a shipload of humanitarian aid, despite the murderous Israeli commando attack on the Free Gaza flotilla which led to ten deaths, and the capture and deportation of other aid volunteers.
The MV Rachel Corrie , named after the US peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, was delayed for a maintenance check in Cyprus when the other vessels were attacked. The team on board discussed what had happened, and decided to carry on with their mission.
The 40-year old boat, bought at auction by the Free Gaza Movement after being impounded a year before in Dundalk, is carrying medical equipment, wheelchairs, school supplies and cement.
On Israeli military radio an unnamed naval lieutenant said they were ready to stop this boat as they had the others. But last night the Rachel Corrie was at sea, heading for Gaza.
Among those on board are the two brave Irish women, of different generations, both of whom have been wounded by Israeli fire before. Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, one of the famous Northern Ireland "peace women", has been to Palestine several times. In April 2007 she was wounded by the Israeli army while taking part with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in one of the regular non-violent demonstrations in the West Bank village of Bil'in against Israel's annexation wall.
"We're not frightened, no, we hope the Israeli government will allow us to go freely in and we know the international community are calling for our safe passage," Mairead Corrigan said, in a telephone call before they left.
With her on board is a younger but equally seasoned aid worker and campaigner, Caoimhe Butterly, who has worked on projects in Zimbabwe and Lebanon as well as Palestine. In 2002 she was shot in the thigh by an Israeli sniper as she tried to shepherd children off the street in embattled Jenin.
Caoimhe recorded this video to be broadcast before they set out:
As she concludes "Yala (Let's Go!) -It is time for action"
Back in Belfast, Mairead's husband Jackie was awaiting news after hearing what happened to the aid flottilla. "What they’ve done is terrible, and unfortunately these awful things come with the territory out there,” he said. “My wife has been in difficult situations before, and I’m sure she’ll be all right".
Niamh Moloughney of the Free Gaza Movement in Ireland said the Israeli attack had made the group more determined. “The whole point of this was to break the siege — they are going to keep going, and they are going in,” she said.“I’ve spoken to one of the people on board and they are very defiant.”
Altogether there are nineteen people on the 1,200 tonne Rachel Corrie, five Irish, six Malaysian, and eight crew of varying nationalities.
Another Irish person on the boat is Denis Halliday, a retired senior UN diplomat who knows about the effect of economic blockade. As co-ordinator of humanitarian work in Iraq in the late 1990s he witnessed the effect of sanctions, later condemning them as '' a totally bankrupt concept'', which if anything had strengthened the country's leadership while seriously hurting and weakening ordinary people.
Halliday was in touch with Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin before he left, and the Irish prime minister Brian Cowen, warned Israel last night that he expected no violence against those on the Rachel Corrie.
"If any harm comes to any of our citizens it will have the most serious consequences," he said, calling on Israel to guarantee the vessel safe passage through the military blockade of Gaza.
There have been angry demonstrations in both Turkey and Greece over the Israeli attack - the vessel on which people were killed was from Turkey, although a Greek boat also reported coming under fire. More demonstrations took place around the world, including US cities with Israeli consulates. In Israel, though government supporters rallied to support their commandos' action, opponents protested against the attack, and against the siege on Gaza.
With Turkish ministers talking of sending their own navy to protect aid ships, the pressure is on British leaders to take a stand. Mairead Corrigan Maguire is a British citizen, once celebrated as a heroine in the papers, though less often given a mention since she became active on Palestine. Tory Foreign Secretary William Hague has "deplored" the deaths caused by Israeli action, and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has urged lifting the Gaza blockade.
Labour Leadership candidate, John McDonnell, has called upon the other Labour leadership contenders to support a joint statement condemning the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla and to call for the immediate lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
John said: “After this brutal act of aggression by Israeli forces I am asking all the Labour leadership candidates to support a joint statement condemning the Israeli attack and calling for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted immediately. At this critical time it is vitally important that the Labour Party is seen to be united in its condemnation of this brutal assault and in supporting the people of Gaza secure the aid and humanitarian assistance they desperately need by ensuring the blockade is lifted.”
The Labour Representation Committee which supports John McDonnell says it will also be taking part in the demonstration on 5th June in London - assemble 1:30pm at 10 Downing Street. The Jewish Socialists' Group says it will also be joining the demonstration, along with peace campaigners, Palestinian solidarity activists and Muslim groups.