ATTEMPTING TO BREAK THE SIEGE OF GAZA AND ENDING UP ABDUCTED AND IMPRISONED IN ISRAEL FOR A WEEK

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 30 Aug 2009

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate and a TRANSCEND Member

The Sequence of Events

After waiting 4 days in Larnaca, Cyprus, to sail to Gaza, permission was given for only one boat, the ‘Spirit of Humanity,’ to sail.  This meant the Free Gaza Boat, and half of the original passengers, including the cargo of cement, would have to be left behind.  Early on Monday June 29, 2009 2l passengers, activists, journalists and crew boarded the boat determined to break the siege of Gaza.  

We carried humanitarian aid, toys, medicine, books, twenty small tool-kits, twenty olive saplings and small bags of cement. In spite of the millions of dollars in aid given by the international community, no cement or reconstruction materials are being allowed into Gaza by Israel.  

This is probably the first time in history that an occupying force has carried out the massacre of an unarmed civilian population and then refused to allow the international community to provide aid and humanitarian workers’ access to help the traumatised people rebuild their lives and infrastructure. Truly a war crime and crime against humanity is being perpetrated (again!) by Israel on the Palestinian people.

Tuesday – June 30, 2009

As our boat was an old ferry and travelled at only 8 knots, it was thought the journey would take 30 hours, but with the abduction it took about 37 hours.

At l a.m. the Israeli navy made contact.  We were 60 miles due west of Haifa. After asking all the usual questions, which Huwaida Arraf answered, and after she told them we were heading for Gaza, they warned us Gaza was a military zone and we were not allowed to enter. If we continued they would take all necessary steps to stop us and the responsibility would be on the captain and the crew.

Next, they jammed our navigation equipment and the captain had to use compass and chart.  They maintained radio contact for a long time with continuous threats including telling us we had 10 minutes to turn around or they would open fire. Then a patrol boat started shining a high beam spotlight into the wheelhouse. None of our personal mobile phones was working, and only one main mobile was working.

6 a.m.: radio communication started with threats to open fire and about an hour later the navigation equipment was back working.  It is to the great credit of the captain and crew that we were still in international waters and had not drifted into Israeli waters.

In the light of dawn we could see military vessels, now 8 large naval vessels, two small high-speed gunboats, four high-speed zodiacs, and one F-16 fighter. They continued to shadow our small boat until about 3 p.m. We were 20 miles from Gaza, still in international waters, when the Zodiacs came swiftly up to our boat, and one of them threw grappling hooks onto our boat and 10 commandoes boarded it. The Israeli commandoes had black masks and were heavily armed, in full commando gear.

Captain Denis was still in the wheelhouse with one of the crew -whom they assaulted.  Four of the men were handcuffed and the leader of the delegation, Huwaida Arraf, handcuffed and taken off to the galley. As we could not see her, I asked to be taken to see she was alright.  We were both made to sit on the floor for many hours in a very dangerous situation as when the boat kept swaying kitchen equipment fell around us, glasses breaking at our feet. Eventually, after our protesting (and because I was very seasick) they allowed us to join the others in the main cabin.

They took the boat to Ashdod, where on arrival we were paraded in front of military cameras and then taken to be searched.  We were arrested for entering Israel without visas. I received medical IV treatment because I was so badly dehydrated, and my right wrist bandaged as it was badly bruised due to a fall on deck, when our navigation equipment was jammed.   Several other passengers received medical attention.   We were detained in Ben Gurion Detention Centre, searched again, and the eight women threw in a cell together.  We later learned that the other two women passengers, Huwaida Arraf and Lubna Masarwa, were released.    

Wednesday – July l, 2009

We each got to meet our legal and consular representatives. I would like to thank Connor Long from the Irish embassy for all his help to myself and my family during this abduction, and also to the attorneys from Gaby Lasky’s office for their advise and help.

Later that morning I was the first to be taken from the cell and the Israelis told me they had a car to take me out and I should identify my luggage and go.  As the Free Gaza group, we had agreed to leave together and only when everyone was released and also our possessions returned. There was expensive photographic equipment the journalists had removed from them, not to mention our Free Gaza boat!

I refused saying we had come as a group and I would leave when everyone else had left, and all the equipment confiscated by the army returned. Our group was especially worried that the five passengers from Bahrain would be held indefinitely, and also with the Al Jazeera cameramen from Yemen, as both their countries had no diplomatic relations with Israel. I was threatened, handcuffed and pushed into an armoured vehicle and taken to Givon, Ramle prison.   On arrival, after processing, I was served with a deportation order, as were all the others when they later arrived at the same prison.

I shared a cell with five foreign nationals whose kindness I shall never forget. Each had an incredible story of suffering and flight from their countries because of violence, poverty and hopelessness, only to arrive in Israel, with no visas, and find themselves awaiting deportation (for which they have to pay themselves) to where they came from. A few will be allowed to stay but for the most they will be returned to Philippines, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, and Russia. They all wanted to stay in Israel, but if forced out, would go to any country that would take them.  Tragically, there are few countries willing to accept political asylum seekers, or economic refugees, and my week in this prison reminded me of how desperate is the plight of those with no country or place to live in peace and security and call home.

Thursday – July 2, 2009

The rest of my Free Gaza friends were in various cells along the block. (I was in cell one – prisoner number 88795) and I was so delighted to meet them again. That day we met with Judge Ruth Greenbergh at a court hearing on our deportation.  We all requested our attorneys present so the proceedings were short, and she said she would meet with us again. (We did not meet the judge again).

Saturday – July 4, 2009

I met Nery Ramati, from Gaby Lasky’s office.  Five women from Free Gaza group. We heard that the Bahrain group were all deported and on their way home. We agreed deportation order not appropriate for us as we did not wish to come to Israel, but had been abducted at gunpoint and taken by force to Israel.  We will appeal this, and some of us might stay in Israel to do so.

Sunday – July 5, 2009/Monday – July 6, 2009

All of us were moved back to Ben Gurion. Our belongings and us taken to the airport to be searched and then back to the detention centre. The next day (Monday) all of the group left to fly home (it was decided not to stay to appeal, but go home and let the lawyers deal with this). We heard that the Al Jazeera cameramen were already on their way home.

Tuesday – July 7, 2009

Derek Graham and I were the last to leave and flew out from Tel Aviv to Dublin that afternoon.

Dublin:  Reception arranged by IPSC, press conference, media, etc.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our families, friends, the Free Gaza Movement, IPSC, Peace People, and all those at home and around the world for their great support during our abduction and kidnapping by the Israeli commandoes and the Israeli government.

Most importantly, I want to thank the people of Gaza.  I am told the children and families had prepared a wonderful reception for us.  Sadly it is they who suffer, cut off from their families and friends in the West Bank, and wider human family.  On top of this, being deprived of the very basics of life necessary for human security and survival.  

I hope that someday soon the Israeli government and people will awaken to the truth, that peace does not come from militarism, occupation, siege and war.  It only comes from talking to one’s enemies and making friends with each other and behaving justly towards all. Today Israel is not acting justly towards the Gazans, the people of Palestine, so it behoves those of us who care to continue sailing to Gaza to break the Siege, to break the SILENCE.

www.freegaza.com

www.peacepeople.com

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Aug 2009.

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