Compassion is Contraband!
The Estelle, sailing to Gaza from Sweden, had some 30 people on board including five European MPs and the three Israelis, Elik Elhanan, Reut Mor and Yonathan Shapira. The vessel was carrying an aid cargo including cement, children's books and footballs, as a gesture of friendship to Gaza's children and defiance of Israel's blockade.
Also on board was Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born Swedish citizen and leading member of European Jews for Just Peace. Swedish authorities have asked the Israeli government why Dror was taken away from the other Swedes on board, and expressed concern for his welfare. A musician and former paratrooper, born on kibbutz Yad Hanna, Dror was beaten and robbed by his Israeli captors when taking part in a previous voyage.
The three Israeli citizens joined the Estelle a few days before, coming by spedboat from Greece and evading the Greek Coast Guard. With them came the MPs from Greece, Sweden, Spain and Norway.
In an e-mail message to Adam Keller of the Israeli group Gush Shalom, before the Israeli naval commandos stormed the Estelle, Yonathan Shapiro, a former Israeli air force helicopter pilot, said that in deciding to join this humanitarian aid mission he was continuing what he started in 2003, when he and other pilots signed a letter refusing to take part in offensive operations against the Palestinians.
Shapiro was detianed previously when sailing with a Jewish Peace ship to Gaza in 2010.
The Estelle's passengers were warned in a message from the Government of Israel, passed by the Finnish Foreign Ministry, that they would be taken into custody in Israel and that they might be prosecuted for "illegal entry into Israel." They asked the Finns to relay back their answer – that they had no intention of or interest in trying to enter Israel, and that their sole purpose is to reach the Gaza Strip which is not part of Israel and from whose inhabitants they got an explicit invitation.
The three Israelis appeared in court this morning, charged with violating Disengagement Law, incitement, incitement to rebellion and aiding the enemy; and 'infiltration' (though as a friend in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign remarks, why Israeli passengers would leave Israel to travel to Gaza to then 'infiltrate' Israel via Gaza is rather puzzling! Perhaps the nabt will have to be charged with aiding "infiltrators", since it brought them into Ashdod.
The State's request that the hearing be held behind closed doors for reasons of national security was denied by Judge Orit Hadad. Shapira rejected the IDF's version which said that the vessel was seized without the use of force. "Fifteen warships surrounded our ship to stop some peace activists," Shapira said upon entering the courtroom. "Masked soldiers boarded the ship and took control using taser guns."
Rami Elhanan, Elik's father, said: "Of course they were tasered. Our children are not liars. We saw the burn marks on Elik's hands. Elhanan, a member of the Israeli-Palestinian Forum for Bereaved Families, who lost his daughter Smadar in a suicide bombing that took place on Ben-Yehuda street in Jerusalem 15 years ago, took part in the Gaza flotilla two years ago.
Elhanan also rejected the IDF's report that claimed there was no humanitarian cargo on board the vessel."This claim is untrue ..... There were toys on the ship, medicine; they are just not telling the truth."
An IDF official said: "The IDF operated according to the law and does not intend to confront the claims of those which we view as outlaws."