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2011-07-21

After Thwarting Flotilla, Israeli Navy Seizes Lone Gaza-Bound Ship that Eluded Greek Authorities

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Earlier this week, three Israeli missile ships and seven commando boats intercepted a French ship attempting to reach the Gaza Strip. The ship, Dignité-Al Karama, was the sole representative of the original 10-strong international aid flotilla hoping to break the blockade on Gaza and express support for Palestinians living under occupation. At least 150 soldiers were sent to sea early Tuesday morning to prevent the 10 civilian activists, the three crew members and the three journalists on the flotilla from reaching Gaza’s port. Fifteen passengers were arrested, prevented from seeing their lawyers, and sent for deportation. We speak with Ha’aretz correspondent Amira Hass, one of the few journalists who was aboard the ship. Hass is also the one of the only Israeli journalists to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Israel, where three missile ships and seven commando boats intercepted a "freedom flotilla" trying to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip earlier this week. The French boat, Dignité-Al Karama was the sole representative of the original 10-strong flotilla hoping to break the blockade on Gaza and express support for Palestinians living under occupation. At least 150 soldiers were sent to sea early Tuesday morning to prevent the 10 civilian activists, the three crew members and three journalists on the flotilla from reaching Gaza’s port.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli defense spokesman, Captain Barak Raz, said the boat had been boarded peacefully and was towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

CAPT. BARAK RAZ: After boarding the boat, which we did in a very professional manner, we ensured the safety of everybody on board. Everything appeared to be OK. They were given food and water. And right now the boat is being led toward the port of Ashdod.

AMY GOODMAN: After the boat was intercepted, 15 passengers were arrested and prevented from seeing their lawyers. Mahmoud Abu Daf, who heads the End of the Siege Committee, condemned the boat’s seizure and subsequent arrests.

MAHMOUD ABU DAF: [translated] We condemn the occupation’s act of seizing the Dignity ship and forcing it to go to the Ashdod port. We consider this a political and military piracy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by one of the only journalists who was aboard the ship. Amira Hass is with Ha’aretz. She’s the correspondent for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She’s the only one of the Israeli journalists to have spent years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.

Amira, welcome to Democracy Now! Describe what happened on the Dignité, on the boat.

AMIRA HASS: Good morning.

Some 60 miles away from Gaza, we got the signal from an Israeli warship asking where we were heading to. One of the—one on board said, "To Gaza." Then they said, "It’s illegal. It’s not allowed." The person—it’s Professor Vangelis Pissias, the Greek—tried to explain that this is a mission of peace and solidarity. There are no arms, no cargo, just wishing to reach Gaza. And they were replied again by, "No, this is not legal, or not allowed." Immediately then, all communication was jammed. We could not call anymore. We could not get calls anymore. The internet did not work.

And soon after, we saw four commando boats, very quick, very fast boats, approaching us. Masked men were aiming their rifles at us. They were, of course, in uniforms, IDF uniforms. They were aiming all sorts of guns that I don’t even know how to name them. There were two cannon—two of them had—each of them had a cannon, a water cannon. Then, three more were added to the four. They distanced a bit, then returned.

At around 2:00, they approached, started to use the water cannon, and shouted something. One of on board, Dror Feiler, who is an Israeli, shouted back in Hebrew. Another activist, Claude Léostic of France, said, "This is—we are on the way to Gaza. This is international water. You have no right to impound us." And yet, they managed to enter on board.

It was not violent as the former flotillas or the boats that were in past years, when they attacked people physically. But the very act, of course, is violent, the very act of—imagine 10 vessels, three warships and seven gunboats, attacking this small bucket. We looked like a bucket rocking in the sea. This was very violent. But physically, we were spared what—the fate that was the one of the Mavi Marmara.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira, can you explain how it was that the—

AMIRA HASS: Yeah?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how it was that this boat, the only one of the 10 of this flotilla—

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —made it out of Greek waters, when all the others, like the U.S.-flagged _Audacity of Hope, which we covered with reporters on board, were not able to make it out? How did they escape the Greek authorities, who were congratulated by the Israeli authorities for keeping the others?

AMIRA HASS: Because their port of origin was Corse, a French port in Corse, the island of Corse. And so, the Greek authorities could not use all their bureaucratic tricks which they used on the other boats in order to prevent them from leaving.

AMY GOODMAN: This was Corsica?

AMIRA HASS: Still, they were trying. Still, the—they left—on the 25th of June, they left Corse. Then they stayed in the high sea for almost—for more than a week. Then they’re waiting for all the other boats. Then they waited near Crete. Then they entered one of the ports of Crete. Then they managed to get some—also with difficulty, some permits by the Greek coastal guard. The only reason is that it did not originate from Greece. All the rest were subject to very harsh Greek tricks, of course by order of the Israeli government. There is no doubt about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the purpose, what the people on board the bucket, as you described it, the boat, that did get taken in to Ashdod—what their purpose was in challenging the blockade?

AMIRA HASS: The purpose was, of course, to accomplish the mission, even though it was already in Lilliputian measures—to complete the mission or to show the determination of people, not only of those 10 who were on board, of 10 activists, but of the entire group. And as—I have spent about a month with the activists, because at the beginning I was together with the Tahrir, I was staying with the people on Tahrir, the Canadian boat, which had some other delegations. And I’ve learned not only about these 10, but about the majority of the participants, that—in this flotilla, in this very flotilla, that they were really—really are motivated by, I would say, very clear emancipatory values and ideals and personal history of each person, not only in the Palestinian issue, in the Palestinian focalism in freedom, but in different issues that concern equality and rights and freedom. Many on the Canadian boat are involved in the fight for rights of First Nations. There are feminists, of course. There are people who are involved in—people from Australia who are involved in their struggles there against mistreatment and exploitation of refugees. So this was a very clear message of the whole flotilla. This emancipatory message was very clear for me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Amira—

AMIRA HASS: But at a certain moment, when the—yes?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amira, if you can, I would like you to stay on as we bring in another guest.

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