Four Israeli warships intercepted a flotilla Tuesday that tried to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. More than a dozen unarmed people were on board, including injured protesters and cancer patients seeking medical treatment abroad. The protest coincided with the eighth anniversary of Israel’s attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara flotilla, which killed nine activists while the boat was sailing in international waters. We speak with Gaza activist Ramadan al-Hayek and Zohar Chamberlain Regev, an Israeli citizen who is on board the Freedom Flotilla ship Al Awda (The Return), which just arrived in the port of Amsterdam. The flotilla set sail April 30 from the Norwegian port of Bergen and plans to arrive in Gaza in July.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Gaza, where a tentative ceasefire appears to have taken hold after Hamas said it had agreed to a truce with Israel. The fighting followed a recent wave of nonviolent protests near Israel’s militarized border with Gaza, in which Israeli snipers killed 116 Palestinians and injured thousands of others. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of declaring a formal ceasefire.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Those responsible for the escalation, inspired by Iran, are the Hamas regime, the Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations. I am not detailing our plans, because I do not want the enemy to know what lies in store for him. But one thing is clear to him: When they test us, they pay immediately. And if they continue to test us, they will pay far more.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This comes as four Israeli warships intercepted a flotilla that tried to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. More than a dozen unarmed people were on board, including injured protesters and cancer patients seeking medical treatment abroad. The protest came as Israel is constructing a fortified maritime barrier. This is Mohammed Abu Eidah, one of the flotilla participants.
MOHAMMED ABU EIDAH: [translated] We demand to break the blockade. I hope to seek medical treatment in other Arabic countries because of my injury. The attempt to sail today aims to help us break the blockade.
AMY GOODMAN: The flotilla’s attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade coincided with the eighth anniversary of Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which killed nine activists while the boat was sailing in international waters, one of them an American citizen, 18-year-old Furkan Dogan. A 10th person died after four years in a coma.
For more, we are joined by two guests. We go to Gaza, where Ramadan al-Hayek is with us. [He is a human rights activist in Gaza]. And in Amsterdam, we’re joined by Zohar Chamberlain Regev, an Israeli citizen who’s on board the Freedom Flotilla ship Al Awda, The Return, which has just arrived in the port of Amsterdam. The flotilla set sail April 30th from the Norwegian port of Bergen and plans to arrive in Gaza in July. Regev has lived in Spain for the last 14 years and has participated in the coordination of the Spanish component of the Freedom Flotilla since 2012. She’s also the owner of the Women’s Boat to Gaza, which was seized in 2016, is still the object of court proceedings in Israel.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go first to Ramadan in Gaza. Talk about what happened to your ship and who was on it. How many people were there? And what’s taken place over these last few days?
RAMADAN AL-HAYEK: Well, first of all, the idea came from the severe pain and suffering of a 12-year Israeli blockade on Gaza Strip, in which 2 million of the Palestinian people’s lives were devastated. We are talking about more than 45 percent of unemployment rate, one of the highest rates in the world, and more than 45 percent of shortages in medical treatment and medical equipment here in Gaza, in the hospitals of Gaza, and as well as more than 150,000 Palestinian students who have been graduated and now without job or work.
And at the same time, on the eighth anniversary of attacking Mavi Marmara, which was sailing towards Gaza to break the siege, the passengers—there were about 17 passengers on board on the boat, which is called Freedom boat. These passengers include patient people, cancers, and injured people, and also students who want to convey their message for the free world that we need to live as others in this world, and we want to—we want our basic human rights, as others and as the international conventions and international humanitarian laws stated that.
Secondly, after 14 nautical miles, the Freedom Flotilla boat was surrounded by four Israeli warships, and they shot on this boat, the Freedom Flotilla, and then they dragged them to Ashdod seaport. At 3:20, we lost contact with them. And then, at 11 p.m., before, two days ago, at night, the Israeli forces released 14 out of 17 passengers. And after three hours, the Israeli side also released another two people. One of them is injured. And now 16 out of 17 are released now, except one man, is called Soheil al-Amoudi. He’s one of the crewmen. And now we are making calls and contacts with the Red Cross and other international organizations to support and to protect this man, Mr. Soheil al-Amoudi.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ramadan, have you been in touch with these passengers who have been released?
RAMADAN AL-HAYEK: Yes, I have been in touch with them, and I met them twice. And I felt and I saw a strong determination by them, all of them. And they told me, especially personally, that “We will continue, and we want another boat to go outside to the world in order to build our future, for access for medical treatment and access for education. This is our right. We need—we will struggle for life.”
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Zohar Chamberlain Regev, the Israeli citizen on board the Freedom Flotilla ship called Al Awda, which means The Return. You have just arrived in the port of Amsterdam. Talk about this ship and what you’re planning to do with it and why you, as an Israeli citizen, are aboard.
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: Thank you very much for having me. And I would like to speak about Al Awda, The Return. It’s a boat that, as you said, left Norway about a month ago, and we’ve just arrived in Amsterdam. We’re stopping in many ports on the way, as does the rest of the flotilla, the boats, coming from Sweden. And our plan is to make the voyage just as important as actually reaching Gaza. Of course, we go with a message of solidarity and hope, and we’re really humbled by the efforts of the Palestinians in Gaza to show the world that all they want is just to live a normal life, to be able to move about freely like most citizens of the world. And ours are just small efforts, but we try to amplify their voices through our action. So, our boats will sail. There will be two vessels sailing the Atlantic route, and two smaller vessels, sailing vessels, will be going the canal route of Europe. Then we will join together in the Mediterranean and continue to Gaza from there.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zohar, can you explain—
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: As an Israeli, I feel like I have a double obligation to participate in this, because it’s my own people who are inflicting this suffering on the Palestinians of Gaza. And what we try to convey is a message that we only try to protect human rights and make Israel comply with international law. We are not there to threaten or to provoke. We just think that it’s time the international community held Israel accountable for what it’s doing.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zohar, can you explain why the ship is called The Return, Al Awda?
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: Yes, of course. We have planned this mission for quite some time, actually since before the Women’s Boat to Gaza mission. We’ve said that in 2018 we will try to make a more visible mission. We knew, of course, that it was going to be the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. And we try, through our mission—it’s called Right to a Just Future for Palestine—we try to focus on both the youth in Gaza—there are many young people in Gaza, and, as we see, they are willing to actually risk their lives just to be visible. They say, “We would rather die by sniper shot and still, you know, do this in front of world’s eyes.” And, actually, their March of Return has made Gaza a news item right now. And we wanted to, you know, combine our efforts with that and to put the Gaza situation in the context of the occupation and dispossession of Palestinians from their native lands, that goes back 70 years and even more.
AMY GOODMAN: Zohar Chamberlain Regev, you’re an Israeli citizen. You’re also an amputee. And I was wondering if you can talk about how that affects the way you see this situation. Again, the last six weeks of the nonviolent Palestinian protests have seen over 115 Palestinians killed, over 12,000 wounded. You have many amputees. Can you discuss this?
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: Well, again, I must say, my experience, I was injured in a car accident. And, of course, I was taken to a hospital straightaway, given, you know, the blood I needed. I was taken care of. And now, when I hear about Israeli snipers shooting people in the knee, with all sorts of strange ammunition that nobody recognizes, and that it’s just destroying their limbs, and then that Israeli authorities or Israeli court refuse to let them come through Israel to get treatment, and they—you know, they amputate them because they cannot take care of them in Gaza, I think this is heartbreaking. I think this is really, really terrible.
AMY GOODMAN: And what message do you—
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: And, of course, my experience is that, but, you know, it just gives me a glimpse into what that would be.
AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: You know, I’ve just heard in another part of your program that he was speaking about Hamas and being led by Iran. And we just want to look at the Palestinians in Gaza as human beings, and what—it’s something very basic in Judaism: You should not do to others what you don’t want done to yourself. So I think this is just very, very basic. Comply with international law, respect human rights, and this will be the best guarantee for the security of the people in Israel, as well as Palestinians. I think it’s just commonsense.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ramadan, can you talk about what you expect to happen next? What are you advocating for now?
RAMADAN AL-HAYEK: Well, actually, we are talking about a coastal enclave, which is Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli siege from more than 12 years ago. It’s like—and Israel is an occupying power, although it’s already disengaged from Gaza in 2005, leaving it. And Israel still controls the air and land and sea of Gaza Strip. So, in the coming days, there might be another ships toward the free world in order to convey the Palestinian people’s message in Gaza Strip and the Palestinian cause, because this is a justice cause and that we are talking about a siege that is becoming more worse than before. For example, 2018 is the most worst year in the past 12 years, and it’s becoming on the verge of collapse on all of the sections here. And all aspects of life in Gaza Strip is becoming more dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean to you, Ramadan, that—
RAMADAN AL-HAYEK: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —an Israeli citizen, that people like Zohar are on, are part of this flotilla?
RAMADAN AL-HAYEK: Well, actually, the international law and international conventions support humans regardless of their religion and [race]. So, Zohar, the Israeli citizen here, is coming to Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian people in Gaza are waiting with warm feelings for her and the other free people who will come here to support and to respect the human rights, as her and as other free people on their boat, which is called The Return, or Al Awda, boat. And we, as Palestinians, respect, and we want also from the international community to make pressure on the Israeli side to deal with the Palestinians as human rights—as human beings and to respect and obey the international obligations.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ramadan, today is the anniversary of the attack on the Mavi Marmara. How much, do you think, has changed in Israel since then, or in the Gaza Strip?
RAMADAN AL-HAYEK: Well, it’s the eighth anniversary of Mavi Marmara. And, unfortunately, nine of the Turkish activists were killed by the Israeli Navy forces. And today, the Palestinian people, especially the Freedom Flotilla, or Freedom boat, which was sailed before, two days ago, they want to confirm for the world that we will continue the duty of this Mavi Marmara and other boats, and the duty of free people who can’t come to Gaza Strip. The people here in Gaza Strip are going to do a peaceful event, and what they can do—and they will do their best to face the obstacles and challenges that have been imposed by the Israeli side. So, they want the international community to make also, another time, pressure on Israel to respect human rights and international conventions.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to end with a 2010 interview that we did on Democracy Now! with filmmaker and activist Iara Lee, one of the few Americans on the Mavi Marmara ship that came from Turkey. She shared with us footage of the attack that she was able to save. Ten people ultimately died on that ship—nine Turkish, one young American citizen. This was footage she was able to save, after soldiers confiscated her equipment.
AMY GOODMAN: When you show the video of the helicopters above—and we’re showing that now—we see that there is—and we can hear, below, the sound of an explosion. What was happening there?
IARA LEE: I can’t give you all the technical information about what is rubber bullet sound, what is, you know, live ammunition. But, obviously, they came with live ammunition. And minutes afterwards, we had the megaphone in our rooms, in every room on the ship, saying, “Stay quiet and calm. They’re using live ammunition. There is no way we can resist. They are taking over the ship. Just stay calm and don’t resist at all.” You know? The other boats, they used rubber bullets and tear gas; they didn’t kill people. But in our ship, they came to kill.
AMY GOODMAN: And, in fact, nine people were killed; another one would die after that—one of them a young American citizen. That was Iara Lee who was speaking, sharing her video footage. Eight years ago, the Mavi Marmara was attacked by the Israeli military. Now we’re talking about this latest flotilla and ending with Zohar Chamberlain Regev, who just came into the port of Amsterdam from Norway, an Israeli-Jewish citizen on board the Freedom Flotilla. Al Awda is the name of your ship, The Return. The name of the march for the last six weeks, the peaceful challenge to the Israeli military in Gaza, was also the March of Return. Can you talk about the people who are on your ship, how many people are on that ship and who people represent, where they come from, Zohar?
ZOHAR CHAMBERLAIN REGEV: Yes. We come from many different countries. We are Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists. We have people from different nationalities. We try to keep the diversity. So, right now, coming into Amsterdam, there was a Palestinian on board, who’s actually media, two American citizens. We have crew that are Swedish and Norwegian. We have people from Malaysia. Myself, an Israeli, but living in Spain. So we have this language diversity on the boat, as well. And there will be many more people coming on and getting off at the different ports, because we just want to give this impression: We’re regular people. We just want to, you know, do our little bit to make this world a better place. And we believe that respecting human rights and stopping the violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in Gaza is what we need to do.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Zohar Chamberlain Regev, Israeli Jewish citizen on board the Freedom Flotilla in the port of Amsterdam, and, speaking to us from Gaza, Ramadan al-Hayek, one of the organizers of the Gaza flotilla. The Gaza flotilla, trying to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, left the port filled with people needing medical assistance, as well as students and crew, intercepted by Israeli naval forces. We’ll continue to follow that flotilla.
But when we come back, we go to Edmonton, to Alberta. The Canadian government has taken over the Trans Mountain pipeline, the Kinder Morgan pipeline. We’ll speak with an indigenous activist about what this means. Stay with us.