The Israeli navy intercepted a catamaran carrying humanitarian aid and nine Jewish activists off the coast of Gaza on Tuesday morning, according to the Israel Defense Forces and the mission’s organizers.
The boat was diverted to an Israeli port, according to a post on an official Israeli military blog, headlined, “Provocation Yacht on Its Way to Ashdod Port, Boarded by Israel Navy Without Incident.”
On their Web site, JewishBoattoGaza.org, the mission’s organizers said in a statement:
The Irene, a boat carrying nine passengers and aid for Gaza’s population, has been taken over by the Israeli navy and denied access to Gaza.
The boat is flying a British flag and its passengers include citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel. Two journalists are also on board.
Last contact with the boat’s captain, Glyn Secker, was at 0937 G.M.T., when their path had been cut off by a destroyer. Recent reports from other news sources indicated that the boat has been surrounded and boarded. At this point they were less than 20 miles from Gaza’s shore. Since then all phones went dead.
The occupied Gaza Strip’s territorial waters end 12 nautical miles from shore, but the Israeli blockade is enforced at 20 miles from shore.
Israel’s military posted this annotated video of the boarding of the ship on its YouTube channel:
The Israeli military’s blog added:
The boarding of the yacht was without incident, and no violence of any kind was used by neither the passengers on board nor the Israel naval forces.
Prior to boarding the yacht, the Israeli naval ships transmitted two warnings to its captain, making him aware that they are breaking both Israeli and internatio[n]al law. These warnings were ignored by the captain of the yacht and its passengers, who sailed further into the area under naval blockade.
The IDF regrets that it must divert the Israel Navy’s attention from its regular operational activity defending Israel and its citizens because of acts of provocation such as this.
My colleague Dina Kraft in Tel Aviv has filed an article on the interception of the boat. She writes:
The one American on board was Lillian Rosengarten, 75, a practicing psychotherapist from Cold Spring, N.Y, who fled the Nazis as a child in Frankfurt.
“I was very reluctant to see her go out of my own anxiety but I find myself increasingly impressed with her bravery,” her daughter, Lydia Rosengarten, 46, said in a telephone interview from Cold Spring.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:
IDF chief spokesman Avi Benayahu deplored the fact that, “naval forces and fighters are being diverted from our main mission” to “a surreal assignment” of intercepting a boatload of activists. “Its entire intention was to generate media attention and [stage] a provocation. This matter is especially regrettable as we are talking about a group of Jews and of Israeli citizens, and even someone who has worn an IDF officer’s uniform.”
A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, Yossi Levy, told Israel’s Ynet News that the boat’s attempt to break the naval blocakde of Gaza was “a completely unnecessary media gimmick which should never have been born. This is a trick of hatred and publicity for people who don’t care about the love of Israel and don’t deserve more than a footnote.”
The news site added that an unnamed ministry official said, of the four Israeli activists on the boat, “They poured fuel into the bonfire of hatred against Israel worldwide. We don’t expect Israelis to be patriotic, but they should definitely not act as Hamas followers.”
The official suggested that one of the activists, Yonatan Shapira, a former pilot in Israel’s air force, “has joined the ranks of Hamas.” The official also said the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor on board “has probably not learned anything from the terrible past.”
The project’s @jewishboat2gaza Twitter feed points to this map of what it says was the ship’s last reported position before it was intercepted:
IDF says commandos peacefully intercepted the ‘Irene’, the latest vessel to try to breach an on the Palestinian territory in the wake of Israel’s deadly flotilla raid in May.
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Service and News Agencies , 28 September 2010
See later report: IDF soldiers used excessive force during raid
“IDF naval forces recently boarded the yacht ‘Irene’, and it is currently being led to the Ashdod seaport along with its passengers,” the military said in statement that branded the boat a “provocation yacht”.
IDF chief spokesman Avi Benayahu deplored the fact that “naval forces and fighters are being diverted from our main mission” to “a surreal assignment” of intercepting a boatload of activists.
“Its entire intention was to generate media attention and (stage) a provocation. This matter is especially regrettable as we are talking about a group of Jews and of Israeli citizens, and even someone who has worn an IDF officer’s uniform.”
Before boarding, the navy transmitted two warnings to the boat, which refused to turn back and sailed further into the blockade area, the IDF said.
Shortly before, an Israeli warship had hailed the catamaran carrying Jewish activists toward the blockaded Gaza Strip, according to the group’s website.
An Israeli destroyer was cutting off the boat’s path and another small boat was also approaching, the ‘Jewish Boat to Gaza’ website posted minutes before reports of the interception.
At around 11:00 A.M., a navy boat shadowing the ‘Irene’ made radio contact with the activists, asking: “Where are you going? Where did you come from? What nationalities are on board?” according to the website
The crew replied:
“They came from Farmagusta, the nationalities on board are British, American, German and Israelis, we are going!” the website said.
The Irene is the latest vessel to try to breach the 3-year-old embargo on the Palestinian territory in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-led flotilla in May, which drew international condemnation.
Earlier, Capt. Glynn Secker said he expected the navy to intercept the Irene, which is carrying nine Jewish activists from Israel and other countries.
“We will not obey them, we will not help them,” Secker said. “But we will not confront them physically. We will engage in no violence.”
Israel had asked the vessel, which Secker said was carrying medicines, therapeutic toys, water purifiers and outboard engines, to dock in an Israeli port. Cargo that receives security clearance would be transported to Gaza.
In the end, Secker predicted, the catamaran would be towed to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, as has happened with other blockade-busting ships.
The Israeli foreign ministry has labeled the voyage a politically motivated provocation.
Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed in May when Israeli commandos raided the lead ship in the Turkish-led flotilla. Both sides claimed they acted in self-defense.
The international condemnation triggered by the deaths forced Israel to relax its land blockade of Gaza but the naval blockade remains in force. Israel, with Egypt’s cooperation, imposed the blockade after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007.
The measure was intended to keep out weapons, turn Gazans against their militant Hamas rulers and pressure the group to free a captive Israeli soldier. Those aims were not achieved but the embargo deepened the misery of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
Activists behind the convoy involved in May’s deadly raid have said they will send a new flotilla of at least eight ships to try to break the blockade by the end of this year. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group of pro-Palestinian activist behind the efforts, said no date has been set.
Jewish flotilla participants: IDF soldiers used excessive force during raid
Activists on board Gaza-bound ship ‘Irene’ counter IDF version that the vessel was taken over in a peaceful manner.
Yanir Yagna, 28 September 2010, Latest update 21:56
Israel Defense Forces soldiers used excessive force while taking over a Gaza-bound aid ship populated by Jewish and Israeli activists, flotilla participants said Tuesday, countering the military’s official version claiming that the takeover had been peaceful and uneventful.
Irene Gaza boat – AP – Sept. 26, 2010
A boat with 9 Jewish activists aboard sets sail from Famagusta harbor in the Turkish-occupied north of ethnically divided Cyprus in a bid to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Sept. 26, 2010
Photo by: AP
Earlier Tuesday the IDF reported that Israeli naval commandos peacefully boarded the Jewish aid boat attempting to break a naval blockade on Gaza, saying “IDF naval forces recently boarded the yacht ‘Irene’, and it is currently being led to the Ashdod seaport along with its passengers.”
However, testimonies by passengers who were released from police questioning later in the day seemed to counter the IDF’s claims, with Israeli activist and former Israel Air Force pilot Yonatan Shapira saying that there were “no words to describe what we went through during the takeover.”
Shapira said the activists, who he claimed did not behave in a violent way, were met with extreme IDF brutality, adding that the soldiers “just jumped us, and hit us. I was hit by a taser gun.”
“Some of the soldiers treated us atrociously,” Shapira said, adding that he felt there was a “huge gap between what the IDF spokesman is saying happened and what really happened.
The former IAF pilot said he and his fellow activists were “proud of the flotilla,” saying it was organized “for the sake of a statement – that the siege on Gaza is a crime, that it’s immoral, un-Jewish, and we have a moral obligation to speak out. Anyone who stays silent as this crime is being committed is an accessory to a crime.”
Eli Usharov, A reported for Israel’s Channel 10 affirmed Shapira’s version of the events, telling Haaretz that the takeover was executed with unnecessary brutality.
“They used a taser gun against Yonatan. He screamed and was dragged to the military boat,” Usharov said, adding that both Yonatan and his brother Itamar were handcuffed.
The Channel 10 also said that the activists managed to have a serious heart-to-heart conversation with the troops once they were all placed on board the military vessel, and that “overall the atmosphere was good.”
Reuben Moscowitz, a Holocaust survivor who took part in the flotilla, expressed his disbelief that “Israeli soldiers would treat nine Jews this way. They just hit people.”
“I as a Holocaust survivor cannot live with the fact that the State of Israel is imprisoning an entire people behind fences,” Moscowitz said, adding that “it’s just immoral.”