The ‘Al-Awda’ boat was carrying dozens of international activists and two Israeli citizens. By Anna Ahronheim – JERUSALEM POST – July 29, 2018 14:58
The Israel Navy intercepted the flotilla boat Al Awda on Sunday after it disobeyed commands to stop sailing toward the Gaza Strip. “The Freedom Flotilla Coalition calls on the Norwegian Government, the national governments of those aboard Al Awda and the Freedom [Flotilla], other national governments, and relevant international organizations to act immediately,” said Torstein Dahle of Ship to Gaza Norway, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.
“The international community must assume its responsibilities and demand that Israeli authorities ensure the safety of those on board, the speedy delivery of our gifts to the Palestinian people in Gaza, an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza, and to stop impeding our legal right of innocent passage to Gaza to deliver our gift of much-needed medical supplies.”
The boat, carrying aid and €13,000 worth of medical supplies, was expected to reach Gaza Sunday evening but, according to activists, the Israel Navy intercepted Al Awda (“The Return”) less than 60 nautical miles from the blockaded coastal enclave.
The former fishing boat was sailing under a Norwegian flag and took off from Italy with 22 activists on board, including Israeli activist Yonatan Shapira who is on his fourth attempt to break the blockade from the sea.
Other activists came from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, UK and the United States.
Shapira was quoted by the Ynet news site as saying, “Our goal is to lift the blockade over Gaza. When a civilian group is fighting against a bigger body like a state, it has to develop creative ideas to succeed, and I’d be happy to hear such ideas from people.”
Another Israeli activist on board the ship was quoted by Ynet as saying the weekly “March of Return” demonstrations along the Gaza border gave the activists “motivation” to join the flotilla.
“There are people in the flotilla’s coalition with ties to the campaign in Gaza, but this flotilla was planned before that and with no connections to the campaign,” Zohar Regev told the news site. Following Al Awda was a Swedish-flagged yacht called Freedom Italy, with 36 activists from 15 different countries, said Zaher Birawi, head of the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza.
Birawi, who is based in London, also heads the “International Coordination Committee for the Great Return March.” He was designated by Israel’s Justice Ministry in 2013 as being a member of a terrorist organization, the Hamas Headquarters in Europe.
The two ships have taken about two months to reach the coast of Gaza, after setting sail from Scandinavia and stopping along the way at several port cities in Europe.
They are part of the wider Freedom Flotilla, which consists of several boats with pro-Palestinian activists aboard who regularly attempt to break the blockade.
Most boats have been stopped by the Israel Navy several dozen miles away from Gaza’s coast and then towed to Ashdod Port, where activists are detained, questioned and then deported from Israel.
In 2008, two boats carrying 40 activists from 14 countries successfully docked in Gaza. According to then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron, authorities knew who the passengers were and what they were bringing in and therefore “had no problem letting them through.”
One of the most high-profile attempts in 2010 turned deadly when Israeli commandos stormed the MV Mavi Marmara flotilla ship attempting to reach Gaza. Ten Turkish activists died in that incident. www.mesop.de