Several IDF navy boats intercepted, boarded and took control of a boat of pro-Arab activists trying to break Israeli sovereignty over coastal waters Tuesday afternoon. No one was injured, and an IDF spokesman told Israel National News that no shots were fired.
It was the first time the IDF has boarded one of the boats since the pro-Arab “Free Gaza” movement began sending ships to Gaza last August. The previous sailing, earlier this year, ended up with a collision with a navy boat that forced the activists away from Gaza. The activists have accused the navy of purposely ramming their vessel.
Among the 17 passengers on Tuesday's vessel, not including the captain and three-man crew, are former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and three journalists, including two from the Arabic-language Al Jazeera network. Other passengers are from the United States, Denmark. Ireland, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen and Britain. One Israeli, Lubna Masarfwa, also is on board, according to the Free Gaze group that organized the voyage.
As the navy surrounded the activists’ boat, McKinney said by phone from the vessel, "I am extremely angry. We demand that the Israeli government call off their attack dogs.”
The IDF would not confirm or deny a charge by an Irish activist that the navy threatened to open fire if the boat did not turn back to Cyprus, where it departed on Monday. The navy boarded the boat after it passed from international waters into the area that Israel controls and which the activists claim belongs to the Palestinian Authority.
The IDF made contact and told the boat it would not be allowed to approach because of security risks and a blockade which Israel has imposed to prevent terrorists and weapons from arriving, according to the IDF. “Despite warnings, they crossed into coastal waters and as a result of this, a naval force intercepted it and boarded it, with the intention of directing it to Ashdod port in Israel.”
The spokesman said the crew and passengers will be turned over to the appropriate authorities, who probably will order their deportation. He added that any aid on board for Gaza residents will be delivered to Gaza. The IDF action is an apparent attempt to put a stop to the Free Gaza sailings, which started out last year with the Foreign Ministry trying to ignore the first boat and prevent a media circus. However, subsequent ships began to include politicians and Arab journalists, and the government put its foot down when the movement tried to reach Gaza during the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign earlier this year.
Free Gaza spokeswoman Greta Berlin responded, “We are not going to stop coming to Gaza. I honestly believe that Israel does not realize the tide of public opinion has changed.”
She also said that only 21 passengers were on board because other space was used for supplies to Gaza residents.
The National Union of Journalists in Britain said it will file a complaint against Israel. Former Congresswoman McKinney, who was on the boat that was in the collision, called on U.S. President Barack Obama and the international community to "intervene now to prevent this situation from escalating with potentially drastic results to the civilians on board."