Posted by: Lister | August 23, 2008

Liberty and Free Gaza reach Gaza

I blogged earlier about an attempt to break the blockade of Gaza by a group which includes Tony Blair’s sister-in-law.

The boats are there at last. Haaretz has been updating its article throughout the day, so some of the following quotes are no longer available.

The 46 members of the U.S.-based Free Gaza group said in a statement that their boat communications were scrambled, severing most of their connection to the outside world. They also said they were encountering rough seas and had not yet approached the Gaza coast.

Israel has denied interfering in the boats’ communications, and has previously called the mission an unacceptable provocation. It remained unclear what would happen as the boats approach Gaza, although an Israeli attempt to stop them seemed likely.

[…] Another spokesman for the ministry, Aviv Shiron, said Friday that all options are being considered when asked whether Israel intended to use force to turn the boats away.

[…] Godfrey said she expected the vessels to reach Gaza at around 11 a.m. Jerusalem time, but organizers have since lost communication with the boats.

[From the update]

The boats reached the Gaza Strip after a two-day journey at sea early Saturday evening.

[…] Israel decided to permit the Free Gaza boats to sail into the Strip as a one-time measure and announced that similar missions in the future would be examined individually. It was further announced that the boats would be inspected upon their return to ensure they were not carrying wanted militants or weapons.

Greece and Cyprus had already inspected the ships before they set sail.

Earlier Saturday, The Free Gaza activist group accused Israel of sabotaging the mission, saying that Israel had jammed the boats’ electronic communication systems.

“I can’t think of any other reason or any other party with an interest,” said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, the group’s spokeswoman in Israel. She accused Israel of jeopardizing the activists’ safety, and appealed for international assistance.

Israel has denied interfering in the boats’ communications. In the past, however, Israel has described the mission as an unacceptable provocation.

A good question, asked in the comments by Lynn, is “Will they do the same to Egypt over the Rafah crossing?”

That crossing has been closed again since Hamas blew it open earlier in the year.

(Thread at JREF).



  1. Some news articles:

    The story is in the Washington Post:

    Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel said Israel had decided not to stop the boats from landing in Gaza to diminish media attention.

    “We took away the drama,” Mekel said. “They came, they were welcomed, but what will they do tomorrow? They were hoping for a long confrontation with Israel — now they won’t have it.”

    Mekel said that the decision did not set a precedent and that future cases will be examined on their merits. But Halper [head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions] said he believed the Free Gaza movement had in fact broken the siege of Gaza.

    “Now that we’ve come through, what’s the excuse to keep the third boat out or the 10th boat or the 100th? We did break the economic siege of Gaza,” he said.

    Good question.
    What excuse will Israel use to spot the next boat? No weapons on board — it will have been checked at Cyprus.

    Halper said at least one of the boats will sail back to Cyprus in the next few days, adding that activists hope to take with them Palestinian students who have permission to study in U.S. universities but were unable to obtain exit permits from Israel. It is Halper’s first visit to Gaza since the summer of 2000, before the beginning of the second Israeli-Palestinian intifada. It is illegal for Israeli citizens to enter Gaza or the West Bank without permission, and he said he is likely to be arrested when he returns to Israel.

    […] “We recognize that we’re two humble boats, but what we’ve accomplished is to show that average people from around the world can mobilize to create change,” said Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American. “We do not have to stay silent in the face of injustice. Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of hope, and hope is what mobilizes people everywhere.”

    The story is also in the Independent.

    The NYTimes:

    Israel had told the activists to keep their boats away but ultimately decided to allow them to land, apparently to prevent a potentially more damaging public relations drama.

    […] At the seaport, Naama Abu Hamda, 59, said she had come to thank the activists. “We are encouraged by their courage,” she said, “unlike the Arab governments,” who she said had cooperated with the Israeli embargo.

    Khalil Nofal, a Hamas leader who also came to the port, said, “This is a strong message to the cowardly Arab leaders.”

    I look forward to a similar project against Egypt’s closing of the Rafah crossing.

  2. And Haaretz has updated the link given earlier:

    Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday welcomed two boats that sailed from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip in efforts to break the Israeli-imposed blockade on the Palestinian territory, saying that the arrival of the boats signaled the end of the siege.

    […] The arrival of the boats is another “nail in the coffin of the blockade,” Haniyeh said in an interview with the Qatari-based television network Al Jazeera.

    He urged the head of the Arab League Amr Moussa to come to Gaza and called on Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing, which the Egyptians closed in 2007 when Hamas violently seized control over the Gaza Strip.

    The blockade isn’t over. But there must be pressure on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing. They’re being shown up by Americans, Brits and Israelis.

  3. al-Jazeera has covered it. (I assume they’ve done so in Arabic, too).

    Some short interviews with some of the activists.

  4. Jeff Halper has been detained while crossing back into Israel. There is a ban on Israelis visiting the Gaza strip.

    “He is being questioned at the police station in Sderot for entering the Gaza Strip in defiance of a military decree banning Israeli citizens from doing so,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

  5. Jeff Halper has been released. YNet:

    Professor Jeff Halper, the only Israeli citizen to participate in a sea-borne attempt to sail into Gaza on Saturday, was released on Wednesday after being detained by police on Tuesday.

    […] Police originally thought to release Halper conditionally following preliminary questioning, but apparently decided to keep him in lock-up overnight.

    […] Halper is forbidden from nearing Gaza for the next 30 days and the court ordered him to pay collateral to ensure his compliance.

    […] According to information relayed during the meeting, the ‘Free Gaza’ organization that coordinated last weekend’s sail intends to send two more ships from Cyprus to Gaza soon, carrying food.

    The head of the Sderot Police Station said that, despite the Attorney-General’s advisory opinion, it intends to file an indictment against Halper for his actions.

    The ICAHD website.

  6. Haaretz:

    After five days on the Gaza Strip’s coastline, two boats carrying humanitarian aid in efforts to break an Israeli-imposed economic blockade on the Strip set sail for Cyprus on Thursday, carrying seven Palestinians who had been confined to the Strip.

    Israel’s navy made no effort to stop the vessels.

    Flying Palestinian flags, the boats carried dozens of activists away from Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline, following a five-day stay in the Hamas-ruled territory.

    […] The Palestinians on board included a father and his 16-year-old son, who hopes to be fitted with an artificial leg abroad. Protest organizers said the youth lost his leg in an Israeli tank shelling incident.

    The other Palestinian passengers included a mother and her four children who have residency permits in Cyprus, organizers said.

    […] “On Monday, I got Palestinian citizenship,” Halper said. “On Tuesday, I’m already in an Israeli jail.” Israeli officials said Halper’s acceptance of a Palestinian passport did not endanger his Israeli citizenship, but emphasized that he remains bound by Israeli law.

  7. Jeff Halper writes about the whole thing.

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