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Israel Assaults Freedom Waves to Gaza Activists

by Stephen Lendman Wednesday, Nov. 09, 2011 at 8:45 AM


Israel Assaults Freedom Waves to Gaza Activists - by Stephen Lendman

A previous article explained the following:

On November 2, two vessels blocked last summer from reaching Gaza sailed again from Fethiye, Turkey.

Canada's Tahrir and Ireland's Soairse (Freedom) comprise the Freedom Waves to Gaza mission. On board were 27 international activists, journalists, and crew.

According to a participating Press TV correspondent, "Israeli warplanes and naval vessels" shadowed them in international waters. "Eight Israeli warships made radio contact," demanding they change course.

They refused. They didn't sail to turn back. They dedicated their mission "to challenge Israel's ongoing criminal blockade."

Israeli ships interdicted them. General Gaby Ahkenazi ordered them seized and impounded. Both vessels were severely damaged, taken to Ashdod, and remain held.

On November 5, Canadian Boat to Gaza headlined, "Freedom Wave riders beaten, denied access to family; organizers demand accountability," saying:

Israel arrested 27 activists on board. Communication with them was lost. They're illegally detained. Contact with family members was denied. Roughed up participants got no medical treatment.

"We have heard indirectly from our governments' ministries of foreign affairs (in Canada and Ireland), but that is simply not good enough. We want to speak with our people directly," said Wendy Goldsmith, Canada Boat to Gaza organizer.

"Why will our governments not demand the delegates be able to speak to their families? We do not trust the Canadian government on this - as they have shown time and again that they are complicit in Israel's violations of international law and gross human rights abuses."

The last communication gotten was a 10:08PM Irish boat text message, saying:

"Kidnapped, being held against our will by Israeli Army in international waters. Boat nearly destroyed. Need government to press for immediate release."

The phone then went dead. Israeli Arab participant, Majd Kayal, aboard the Canadian boat confirmed that Israeli commandos boarded both vessels violently. Video evidence showed water cannons fired at them in rough waters, endangering those on board.

Activists offered no resistance. Professor David Heap aboard the Canadian boat "was particularly badly beaten. Israeli prison authorities are continuing to prevent (his) family from contacting him by phone."

Participants are held at Givon Prison. Providing legal aid, international Solidarity Movement (ISM) co-founder Huwaida Arraf said 20 of the 27 remain in custody.

Through his lawyer, David Heap sent a message saying:

"Although I was tasered during the assault on the Tahrir, and bruised during forcible removal dockside, I am basically OK." He's "slightly limping," he added, explaining that he and fellow activist Michael Coleman, an Australian national, were taken to Givon Prison in handcuffs and leg shackles.

"We are neither criminals nor illegal immigrants, but rather political prisoners of the apartheid state of Israel."

"All political incarceration is unjust, but let me stress that in duration and conditions, our situation pales in comparison to the plight of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners and to the open air prison of Gaza. We must get Tahrir back and hope Freedom Waves continue."

Others on board were also treated violently. Prison guards assaulted John Mallon. Women and men both are at Givon in separate cells.

Israel demanded participants sign voluntary deportation waivers. Most refused. Doing so would lie. They were kidnapped in international waters. Document language claimed they lawlessly entered Israel and won't again try to breach Gaza's siege.

The whereabouts of Press TV's Hassan Ghani is unknown. Most others remain incarcerated.

They'll face judicial proceedings and forcible deportations. Majd Kayyal said Israel stole his money and phone. Personal possessions of others were taken. Activists on previous interdicted missions had their property stolen and not returned.

Gaza-based journalist Omar Ghraeib said:

"The whole of Gaza went to the port to receive the Freedom Waves boats. But we were expecting the outcome and were very concerned. We appreciate every move to break the siege, and we appreciate how these activist endangered themselves for us."

YNet News said Israeli authorities found no weapons or humanitarian aid on board. Participants were unarmed and nonviolent. Cargo aboard both ships included ,000 of vitally needed medicines. Israeli authorities lied about no humanitarian aid found. They stole it to prevent Gazans from getting it.

On November 5, the State Department said US participants may face consequences for challenging Israel's blockade.

On November 7, the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC)  said 21 activists remain imprisoned. Passengers were "unlawfully arrested, and the ships confiscated, along with all the humanitarian aid."

Participants were "hit, pushed, choked and hosed down...." Israeli commandos "stormed" both vessels. They also forced them "to crash into each other by pressuring (them) towards one another in a collision course." As a result, they were severely damaged and nearly sank.

On November 6, Fintan Lane, Ireland's detained MV Saoirse national coordinator communicated the following to the Irish Ship to Gaza team in Dublin:

Israel's interdiction was violent, and "dangerous to human life." Both vessels nearly sank. Participants were abducted and forcibly taken to Israel. IDF commandos wanted both boats abandoned at sea. Activists refused, fearing they'd be sunk.

"All belongings of the passengers and crew were taken from them and they still do not know if and what they will get back."

Fourteen Irish prisoners are at Givon. Irish Ship to Gaza spokesperson Claudia Saba said:

Finton's account "flatly contradicts the Israeli narrative," claiming "every precaution necessary (was taken) to ensure the safety" of those on board. "It is a small miracle that no one was seriously injured during this obviously very violent boarding of the Freedom Waves boats."

Tahrir's captain confirmed Israeli violence, including harsh interrogation procedures he endured. Canadian boat lawyers were denied proper access to their clients. Canada's "land team" said:

"They kicked the lawyers out" after three hours, "and today they have not been responding to any calls (either on the main line or the cell number of one of the prison officials) to coordinate a visit or arrange phone contact with the detainees."

Fact Check on Besieged Gaza and Israeli Interdictions

Under international law, Gaza's blockade is illegal. It's also an act of war, defined as:

• surrounding a nation or objective with hostile forces;

• measures to isolate an enemy;

• encirclement and besieging;

• preventing the passage in or out of supplies, military forces or aid in time of or as an act of war; and

• an act of naval warfare to block access to an enemy's coastline and deny entry to all vessels and aircraft.

Israeli interdictions in international waters also constitute piracy. It violates the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas and 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Under UNCLOS' Article 101, maritime piracy includes "any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation....against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State (and) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating (such) an act."

Under customary maritime law, ships have "innocent passage" rights through all international and coastal area waters, subject to certain restrictions.

UNCLOS defines "innocent passage" as expeditious, continuous passage through waters in ways not "prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security" of a coastal state.

America's Defense Department defines it as:

"The right of all ships to engage in continuous and expeditious surface passage through the territorial sea and archipelagic water of foreign coastal states in a manner not prejudicial to its peace, good order, or security."

In September 2010, an independent UN Human Rights Council (HRC) fact-finding mission held Israel culpable for massacring Mavi Marmara activists in May. It called assaulting them brutal and disproportionate. Based on eye witness testimonies, forensic evidence, video footage, and other photographic material, it:

"concluded that a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation....The preponderance of evidence from impeccable sources is far too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion."

A Final Comment

For decades, Israel repeatedly and willfully violated international law with impunity. Interdicting Freedom Waves to Gaza adds more shame to its record. Except in self-defense, belligerence is lawless, from high-seas piracy to war. Getting away with murder has shelf life limits. Hopefully, Israel's expiration date approaches.

Activists are committed to help. Further flotillas won't stop coming until Gaza's siege ends.

The whole world's watching. Word now spreads fast. Every Israeli move is monitored and reported. Independent web sites, publications, and broadcasters feature it. Everyone soon will know. Pariah states end the same way. Israel's turn is coming. It's just a matter of time.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.


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