Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who did you say rules the waves?

GLYN SECKER is due back in London shortly. Glyn was the captain of the Irene, a boat flying the Red Ensign that was stopped almost 20 miles off the Gaza coast yesterday, as it tried to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged population.

"An Israeli destroyer is cutting off their path," said a message relayed here. "Another small boat is also approaching. Several small boats and a frigate are stationary aboat a mile away from Irene.

"The army hailed them and said they can not go to Gaza, which is restricted and Irene’s passengers will be legally liable, especially the Israelis. The frigate then moved closer while the small boat is now crossing their path too – it has machine guns front and back of it.

"The frigate is blocking their path and some of the smaller boats are now trailing them. I've been asked to let you know about the latest phone conversation with the boat - at 09.07 British time.

"They have been shadowed for about 4-5 miles now by what is apparently a warship.They have been hailed and asked by their shadowers who they are, what nationalities are on board and where they are going. They have answered the questions, saying they are bound for Gaza".

Soon after this the Irene was boarded by Israeli naval commandoe, and all phones went dead. It was forced to go to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the captured crew and passengers may have caught a glimpse of the Israeli peace campaigners demonstrating in their support, before they were whisked off to separate cells.

The activists held signs with the captions: "Medicines – A Security Risk?", "Let Gaza Live," The blockade and the construction of settlements destroy us all," "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies." Later the demonstrators moved to outside the Ashdod Police headquarters.

Israeli attorney Smadar Ben Natan, representing the passengers, asked to see her clients immediately. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel asked for permission to send an independent doctor to visit the passengers immediately, after hearing from organizers that at least one passenger had serious chronic health problems and was in need of medical care.

There had been no mystery over who was on board the Irene, where it was going, or what it was carrying. The intended voyage had been announced months before, with only the port of departure kept confidential for security reasons.

Irene was the Greek goddess of peace, and this boat with a peace mission was named in honour of Irene Bruegel, the founder of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, who died two years ago in London.

The passengers and crew, announced on Sunday when the boat left Famagusta, were:

Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom – Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor.

Rami Elhanan, from Israel, lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict.

Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany.

Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace.

Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat’s captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians Executive Commitee.

Dr. Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008.

Itamar Shapira, from Israel, Yonatan’s brother, and a member of the boat’s crew.


Eli Osherov, Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News.

Vish Vishvanath, Freelance photographer and reporter.

"The boat's cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children's toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza's fishing communities and prosthetic limbs," read a statement from European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP), the activist network that co-ordinated the voyage. "We stand in the proud Jewish tradition of justice, of championing the rights of the downtrodden, of implacable opposition to prejudice and racism."

The 10-metre catamaran was tiny in comparison with the six-ship May 31 aid convoy that contained 10,000 tonnes of aid and over 700 activists. An EJJP spokesprson acknowledged it was "only a drop in the ocean" of what Gaza's people needed, but it was intended as a peace gesture.

Yousef Rizka, a Hamas official, said: "The government has received Jewish activists heading to Gaza before. The government positively views all attempts to break the siege on Gaza". Dr.Eyyad el Seraj, the president of the Gaza Mental Health Programme, had been due to take delivery of the aid.

There had been reports that Israel was easing the blockade of Gaza after the international outcry over the Mave Marmara. Gush Shalom, which supported the demonstration in Ashdod, said the Irene was exposing the truth about this, and also showing Israel the truth, that it was losing support not only from the world in general but also from Jewish people whose interests it claimed to represent.

The Jewish peace boat voyagers had made clear before they set out that they would offer no violent resistance to the Israeli forces if intercepted, although they would not cooperate with them either. Official Israeli statements said there had been no violence, and that they had not needed to use any force.

But former Israeli military helicopter pilot Yonatan Shapira said the soldiers "just jumped us, and hit us. I was hit with a taser gun." Israeli TV reporter Eli Osherov confirmed what Shapira said.

"Some of the soldiers treated us atrociously," Shapira said, adding that he felt there was a "huge gap between what the IDF spokesman is saying happened and what really happened."

The former IDF pilot said he and his fellow activists were "proud of the mission," saying it was organized "for the sake of a statement – that the siege on Gaza is a crime, that it's immoral, un-Jewish, and we have a moral obligation to speak out. Anyone who stays silent as this crime is being committed is an accessory to a crime."

Among those who seem to have been keeping silent here are the BBC television news team. I waited in vain this week for a mention of the Irene's voyage, and news of what had happened to those on board. You might have thought the seizure of a vessel flying a British flag was news.

Even if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is resisting calls from Jews for Justice and others that it should have a word with the Israelis over this. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu is expected to visit London in November.

Admittedly the big news in Britain was the election of Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader, and for two days running the Beeb has had a man outside the Labour Party conference in Manchester - this morning joined by its political editor - to tell us about the excited speculation as to what defeated brother David Miliband, the former and now the shadow Foreign Secretary, might do. Yeah, I couldn't sleep last night worrying about it, and everybody was talking about nothing else this morning in the launderette.

Still, they might have mentioned that the Milibands' mother Marion Kozak, widow of Ralph Miliband who really was a socialist, is a supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, one of the groups that sponsored the Irene's voyage. She is also a Labour Party member. But she made it clear before the Labour Party held its election that she was not going to support either of her sons.

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At 8:13 PM, Blogger joe90 kane said...

The British Government knows well in advance that British citizens' and now even a British-flagged vessel, are going to be attacked in neutral international waters in the East Mediterranean and yet is quite happy to do nothing to prevent such acts of piracy and international terrorism.

With British military bases in nearby southern Cypres, it's good to know the British military is always on hand and willing to protect the interests of Britian and British people abraod by basically acting as spectators.

Excellent blog post as usual RP.


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