— Freedom Flotilla (@GazaFFlotilla) June 29, 2015
The Israeli Navy has intercepted the Swedish boat “The Marianne”, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, in International waters at 05:11 AM Gaza time (GMT +3) and forced it to redirect to the nearest Israeli port of Ashdod. The coalition was on its way to Gaza to deliver aid.
In a statement immediately afterward, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition accused the Israeli government of “state piracy in international waters’ as well as maintaining an ‘absolutely fruitless policy of no tolerance’.
At 02:06AM today (Gaza time) the “Marianne” contacted Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) and informed us that three boats of the Israeli navy had surrounded her in international waters, while sailing approximately 100NM from Gaza coast. After that we lost contact with the “Marianne” and at 05:11AM (Gaza time) the IDF announced that they had “visited and searched” Marianne. They had captured the boat and detained all on board “in international waters” as they admitted themselves. The only positive content in the IDF announcement was that they still recognize that there is a naval blockade of Gaza, despite Netanyahu’s government recent denial that one exists.
It is disappointing that the Israeli government chose to continue the absolutely fruitless policy of “no tolerance”, meaning it will continue to enforce an inhumane and illegal collective punishment against 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel's repeated acts of state piracy in international waters are worrying signs that the occupation and blockade policy extends to the entire eastern Mediterranean. We demand that the Israeli government cease and desist the illegal detainment of peaceful civilians traveling in international waters in support of humanitarian aid.
We call on our governments to ensure that all passengers and crew from the “Marianne” are safe, and to strongly protest against the violation of international maritime law by the Israeli state. We call on all civil society organizations to condemn the actions of Israel. People all over the world will continue to respond and react to this injustice, as will we, until the port of Gaza is open and the siege and occupation is ended.
Speaking from one of the boats, Ehab Lotayeh of the ‘Canadian Boat to Gaza’ team confirmed that the Marianne was intercepted:
The Marianne was intercepted by the Israelis a few hours ago and our understanding now is that it is being taken to Ashdod.
Robert Lovelace, former Algonquin chief in Canada, instructed the Freedom Flotilla Coalition's social media team to upload the following video as a call for help in the case of an Israeli intervention. He had previously written an op-ed explaining why he joined the Freedom Flotilla.
The Freedom Flotilla was expected by Gazans who organized events and took to Twitter to welcome the crew members.
— Dr Basem Naim (@basemn63) June 15, 2015
— Said Shoaib | Gaza (@saidshouib) June 27, 2015
An example of such events is the “Gaza Ark Exhibition“, an exhibition of Palestinian products hoped to be exported by the Freedom Flotilla III, which was held between June 6 and 8.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, launched a propaganda campaign aiming at discrediting the flotilla, accusing the Freedom Flotilla of ‘hypocrisy’ and calling the blockade of Gaza ‘legal under international law’. Note that the map of Israel released by the prime minister includes the occupied Palestinian territories, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
This is hypocrisy. pic.twitter.com/8IFvUvlkp6
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) June 29, 2015
The naval blockade is under Intl. law and confirmed by a UN committee. It prevents the smuggling of arms into Gaza. pic.twitter.com/TsCT6CA7kc
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) June 29, 2015
Netanyahu also said that “this flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organisation and ignores all of the horrors in our region.”
The crew members were from 15 different countries including four European Union countries (Sweden, France, Spain and Greece); five MENA countries (Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria); Norway; USA; Canada; Turkey; New Zealand and Russia.
Among the most well-known crew members were former Tunisian president Dr. Moncef Marzuki; Knesset parliamentarian Bassel Ghattas; First Nation Canadian professor and activist Robert Lovelace; EU parliamentarian Ana Miranda; retired U.S. Army colonel and former State Department official Ann Wright; Moroccan member of parliament Abouzaid El Mokrie El Idrissi; Greek member of parliament Odysseas Voudouris; as well as journalists from Al Jazeera, Israel's Channel 2, New Zealand's Maori TV, Euronews Arabic and a number of freelance journalists.
Most of the remaining crew members were doctors. They were divided in four boats named Marianne, Rachel, Vittorio and Juliano named after well-known peace activists Rachel Corrie, Vittorio Arrigoni and Juliano Mer-Khamis (full list).
The Israeli government's comments come just two weeks after the UN report on last summer's war on Gaza, which included a repeated call for the “immediate lifting of the blockade”. On the topic of the blockade, the report reads:
The impact of the hostilities in Gaza cannot be assessed separately from the blockade imposed by Israel. The blockade and the military operation have led to a protection crisis and chronic, widespread and systematic violations of human rights, first and foremost the rights to life and to security, but also to health, housing, education and many others. In accordance with international human rights law, Israel has obligations in relation to these rights and must take concrete steps towards their full realization. In that context, while fully aware of the need for Israel to address its security concerns, the commission believes that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, put in place with the assistance of the United Nations to accelerate efforts to rebuild destroyed houses and infrastructure, is not a substitute for a full and immediate lifting of the blockade.
Global Voices has been documenting the latest updates from the Freedom Flotilla Coalition in a CheckDesk story available here. We are currently contacting crew members of the Flotilla for an upcoming post.