Irish human rights activists remain imprisoned by Israeli authorities after they attempted last week to deliver aid to Palestinians trapped behind an Israeli military blockade.
Their vessel, the MV Saoirse was attacked and boarded by Israeli military in international waters, in contravention of international law. The action involved the use of water cannon and almost caused the vessel to sink, it was reported.
The group travelled last Friday as part of the Freedom Waves, with the Canadian vessel Tahrir, to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.
Seven of the group were due home in Ireland this [Thursday] afternoon, but at the last minute prevented from boarding their flight out of Ben Gurion airport by Israeli armed guards and returned to Givon prison.
Two activists -- Irish Ship to Gaza co-ordinator Fintan Lane and lecturer Zoe Lawlor -- were removed from a later flight and detained at the airport for a second time this evening.
Five are expected home late tonight or early tomorrow. A total of nine are now being detained, with no further news available from Israeli authorities or the 26-County Department of Foreign Affairs about when they will be released.
Fintan Lane spoke briefly on the phone about their continued imprisonment before communication was abruptly cut off. “This is a deliberate and calculated attempt by the Israelis to break our spirit,” he said. “It won’t succeed.”
Lane also reported that the group had been subject to “continuous harassment and repeated, humiliating body searches”. They were shackled and denied sleep, he added.
US journalist Jihan Hafiz, who travelled on the Canadian Tahrir boat, was among those detained by Israel despite her press credentials. She described the Israeli takeover of the boats as follows:
“There were three warships [...] four Zodiacs, four water cannon boats, as well as four regular gunboats. All of the commandos on all of these boats were heavily armed. It looked like they were taking on an army of a foreign country.”
She said two water cannons “started to pour lots of water into the Irish boat, which flooded it, blew their sockets, and cut off all the electricity. And so, at that point, the Irish delegates I spoke to said they told the Israeli army, ‘We’re taking on water. We’re sinking. We’re going to go down at sea if you continue with the water.’”
She said guns were pointed at the heads of the boats’ passengers and they were then “roughed up”, strip-searched, and filmed naked. She also said her and other journalists’ equipment was confiscated to prevent news reports that might contradict the “sanitized” Israeli account of the incident.
Socialist MEP Paul Murphy, former Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews, artist Felim Egan, and Sinn Fein councillors John Hearne and Patrick Fitzgerald were among those still being held this evening.
Members of the United Left Alliance called on the Labour leader and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, to demand their release.
“If any other country acted in this fashion against Irish citizens, the pressure on you to condemn outright such an action would be considerable,” the TDs told the Tanaiste.
“However, different standards seem to apply to Israel in the world of international diplomacy. Frankly, the response of the Government has been disgracefully lacking and you personally must take a large share of the responsibility.”
Sinn Fein spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Padraig MacLochlainn called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to make a statement in parliament on the issue this week, but he refused to do so.
“The time for diplomatic niceties has passed.
“The interception of this humanitarian vessel travelling to Gaza in international waters was an act of piracy by the Israeli naval forces at the orders of the Israeli government.
“The 14 Irish human rights activists were forcibly removed from the MV Saoirse and taken to Israel against their will.
“They have refused to sign the farcical deportation papers, on principle, as they did not enter Israel illegally. They rightly are not going to give legitimacy to Israeli military actions that defy international maritime law”
“However, the families were led to believe that their loved ones would be released yesterday and sent home to Ireland. That has not happened and the families are increasingly concerned. I have contacted An Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore’s office again today and appealed to him to stand up to the Israeli government and demand their immediate release.”
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin also demanded the immediate release of the passengers.
SUPPORT FOR PALESTINE
‘Freedom Waves’ campaign spokeswoman Claudia Saba said that while Irish citizens continued to languish in prison for the crime of coming to their aid, the entire population of Gaza remained in what is the world’s largest open air prison.
“This latest of 11 attempts to break the blockade of Gaza via the sea demonstrates once again that Israel is able to act with impunity when it comes to the welfare of the Palestinian people and anyone trying to help them,” she said.
“It is because of the continuing inaction of governments around the world, including the Irish government, that ordinary people feel compelled to act.”
Republicans in Belfast recently organised a camp at the former Andersonstown barracks site in Belfast in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners who had undertaken hunger strike action against conditions in Israeli jails.
The solidarity activities, organised by eirigi, also included two evening vigils and the distribution of leaflets to raise awareness of the current situation.
Meanwhile, Republican Sinn Fein has praised the United Nations organisation UNESCO for a “heroic” decision to grant Palestine full membership as the nation battles for full UN recognition in the face of massive Israeli lobbying efforts.
“This is seen as a major stepping stone to statehood for the oppressed peoples of Palestine who have suffered for decades under the Israeli regime,” said RSF representative Geraldine Taylor.