With files from Electronic Intifada and the Morning Star
Israeli forces arrested 13 female peace campaigners bringing aid to the besieged Gaza Strip on Oct. 5, after hijacking their boat in international waters.
The Israeli navy towed the Dutch-flagged Zaytouna-Oliva into the port of Ashdod after intercepting it about 65 km from the coast of Gaza. The military said the women on board “were transferred to the appropriate authorities for further processing.”
They included Northern Irish 1976 Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire, Malaysian doctor Fauziah Hasan, retired US army colonel Ann Wright and Swedish MEP Malin Bjork.
Israeli officials said 11 of the passengers were being detained for 96 hours and would then be deported. The two other women, both journalists, were deported immediately.
The International Freedom Flotilla Coalition which organised the mercy mission lost contact with the Zaytouna-Oliva on the afternoon of Oct. 5, immediately assuming she had suffered the same fate as earlier attempts to breach the blockade. The vessel sailed from the Spanish port city of Barcelona on September 14.
Following the loss of contact with the vessel 45 MEPs from the Nordic Green Left, Social Democratic and Greens parliamentary groups signed a letter demanding the EU take immediate action to free the passengers and crew.
It noted the boat was seized inside the “military exclusion zone,” imposed “unilaterally and illegally by the Israeli government, in contravention of international law.”
They urged all governments “and people of conscience” to support the right of free passage, ensure the wellbeing of all onboard and “support full freedom of movement for all peoples, in particular the Palestinians of Gaza.”
Nearly two million people have been trapped in the densely populated enclave since 2007, when Israel imposed a blockade in response to the Hamas government’s election victories there. Two brutal Israeli bombing campaigns in 2008-09 and 2014 killed thousands of people, mostly civilians.
Sondos Ferwana, a spokesperson for the activists, told a Turkish news agency that the capture of the boat was “another act of Israeli piracy.”
The group released a pre-recorded video statement made in case the boat was intercepted.
“If you’re listening to this, then you will know that myself and all the women who sailed on the Women’s Boat to Gaza have been arrested and are in detention in Israel,” Maguire says in the video, adding that Israel’s actions are “totally illegal.”
The all-women boat was also meant to acknowledge the role of Palestinian women in the struggle, as they face the effects of occupation and settler-colonialism in specifically gendered ways. Women also carry the bulk of responsibility for the care of traumatized children. According to the United Nations, more than 160,000 children in Gaza are in need of continuous psychological support.
The all-women flotilla also encouraged the participation of women who otherwise could feel uncomfortable in a cramped, confined space with men for days at a time.
Claude Léostic, the president of the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine, and French spokesperson for the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, referred to the violence inflicted on previous flotillas, which are foremost in the minds of the Zaytouna’s passengers.
“We believe it is very possible that the Israelis will try to attack the boat again, because they did every single time we sent a boat to break the siege. They attacked it. Hijacked it. Stole everything on board. Kidnapped people on board. And behaved just like pirates on the high seas,” Léostic told The Electronic Intifada.
“We hope that with women on board they [the Israeli navy] will be deterred from being so violent,” she added. “Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but their image is so important for them. So if they’re seen attacking a women’s boat, ill-treating them, maybe beating them as they did for all the others, their image will be catastrophic. So that could be a deterrent.”
Eight Turkish nationals and a US citizen were killed in May 2010 when Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara boat that was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. A tenth Turkish victim died from his injuries in May 2014.
Last January, four individuals filed a lawsuit against Israel in US federal court over the raid. The plaintiffs, three of them US citizens, were aboard the US-flagged Challenger I when it was intercepted and raided by the Israeli army.
Meanwhile, also on Oct. 5, Israeli forces bombed several areas in the Gaza Strip. Fighter jets hit a training ground reportedly belonging to the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, as well as a naval police headquarters and agricultural land. A Palestinian health ministry spokesperson said there were no injuries.