Israel is preparing to detain and deport hundreds of foreign activists who are making their way to Gaza by boat in a challenge to Israel's closure of the area. The IDF has set up tents for temporary shelter and plans to divert the boats to the Ashdod port, where buses will wait to take the activists to the airport for deportation.
Israeli officials said Thursday that they hope to avoid the use of force, but are prepared to bring the activists to jail if necessary.
While Gaza Arabs are free to sail the water off Gaza's coast, the Israeli navy holds control between Gaza and international waters. Supported by legal precedents of permitted actions against a hostile government, it has prohibited ships from entering Gaza or leaving as part of the closure imposed following the Hamas takeover of the area, in order to prevent arms shipments. Food and other humanitarian supplies are allowed into Gaza via the Negev.
The activists sailing to Gaza hail from several countries. The boats set sail from Turkey, Greece, Ireland, Cyprus, and Sweden, and the Turkish government has provided support for the mission. Israel has summoned the ambassadors of those countries to explain the Israeli position on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
While the flotilla organizers present themselves as human rights advocates whose sole goal is to assist the people of Gaza, a report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reveals the groups cooperation with radical human rights violators. Senior Islamic extremists, among them Mahmad Tzoalha and Sahar Albirawi, both top Hamas terrorists who today operate in Great Britain, and Hamam Said, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, attended the launching ceremony in Istanbul of a boat participating in the flotilla.
Bolant Yilderim, the chairman of the IHH, a Turkish based pro-Palestinian organization that is spearheading the Gaza flotilla, spoke at the send off rally, saying: “Israel behaves like Hitler did towards the Jews. Hitler built concentration camps in Germany, and today the Zionist entity is building concentration camps in Palestine.”
The rally was also attended by Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel,,
who admitted in an Israeli Court to conferring with foreign agents. His anti-Semitic speeches are based on blood libels: “We are not the ones who eat a meal based on bread and cheese in children’s blood,” he once said. He called the Jews “butchers of pregnant women and babies… Thieves, you are the bacteria of all times… The Creator meant for you to be monkeys and losers… Victory is with the Muslims, from the Nile to the Euphrates.”
Activists say they are bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza. However, government spokesman Mark Regev said the flotilla is actually “a cheap political stunt.” If the activists were truly interested in the welfare of Gaza Arabs, they would have transferred aid via the land crossings, “along with the other 15 thousand tons sent every week,” he said.
Whatever aid is on the boats heading for Gaza will be unloaded in Ashdod and shipped to Gaza by truck along with the other aid sent through Israel, officials said.
Among the Gaza-Bound: Israeli MK
One of the passengers on the flotilla is Hanin Zoabi, an Israeli MK who belongs to the National Democratic Assembly (Balad). MK Zoabi's participation in the event, and her public support for the activists' goals, raised anger among her fellow MKs.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) called on the police to arrest Zoabi when she enters Israel. He also turned to the Knesset's house committee with a request to revoke Zoabi's diplomatic passport. MK Miri Regev (Likud) called to punish Zoabi as well, saying her actions reflected disloyalty to Israel.