The pro-Arab “Free Gaza’ group is once again trying to challenge Israel’s sovereignty over coastal waters with two boats hauling 15 tons of dry cement, several suitcases of crayons and coloring books and 36 passengers. Among them are former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Hedy Epstein, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor.
The activists wrote to the Defense and Foreign Ministries on Wednesday, "This letter serves as a formal notification to you, as the Occupying Power and belligerent force in the Gaza Strip, that on Thursday, June 25, 2009 we are navigating the motor vessel Spirit of Humanity, and the motor vessel Free Gaza from the Port of Larnaca to the port of Gaza City.
“We will be carrying medical supplies in sealed boxes, as well as crayons, coloring books and toys for children, cleared by customs at the Larnaca International Airport and the Port of Larnaca. We will also be carrying 300 bags of cement…. As it will be confirmed that neither we, the cargo, any of the boats' contents, nor the boats themselves constitute any threat to the security of Israel or its armed forces, we do not expect any interference with our voyage by Israel's authorities.”
The Foreign Ministry has not revealed how it will deal with the boats, which are to arrive at the Gaza Coast by Sunday, depending on the winds. It initially ignored the first sailing last August in order to avoid a “media circus” but later changed its policy and ordered the Navy to send patrol boats to divert the vessels.
Israel has limited the transfer of cement, metal and building materials to Gaza because of fears that the de facto Hamas government will use them for weapons and to build bunkers and tunnels used to smuggle weapons in from Egypt.
The last sailing coincided with the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign, and the Navy kept the Free Gaza boat away from the area out of fear of its being caught in the middle of a battle. The boat was damaged in a collision with a Navy patrol ship, and the activists alleged that the Navy purposely rammed their boat. IDF spokesmen explained that the collision occurred when the pro-Arab vessel made a sudden turn.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levi said that the government will decide what to do with the latest sailing “when they near Gaza and when we will know if there is a danger.” He also charged the activists with "helping themselves and not helping Gaza.” Levi commented, “They can help others in the world, but it is popular to blame Israel.”
Former Congresswoman McKinney, who was on the boat that was damaged, said this week that she sent a message to U.S. President Barack Obama about the new voyage, “and all I got back was a Father's Day e-mail.”
Asked if the activists also express concern for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, Free Gaza spokeswoman Greta Berlin told Israel National News, “We are not a political organization. Shalit is a prisoner of war, captured when he invaded someone else's territory. You will note that we don't say anything about the 11,000 Palestinians held in prison either... many of them without trial.”
Shalit was kidnapped in a terrorist attack on an IDF outpost near a crossing located outside of Gaza.