By Stephen Lendman
Crew of the Estelle, October 19, 2012. (Photo: ShiptoGazaSE/Facebook)
On October 20, masked Israeli commandos lawlessly interdicted Ship to Gaza Estelle in international waters. It was over 30 nautical miles from Gaza’s coast when intercepted.
Netanyahu praised their criminality. He accused on board activists of trying to “delegitimize Israel.” He also claimed “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
He’s a world class thug. He exceeds the worst of Ariel Sharon and previous hardline leaders. He’s an embarrassment to democratic governance. He deplores peace and international law inviolability.
Gaza’s blockade is illegal. Collective punishment is prohibited. Fourth Geneva’s Article 33 states:
“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
June 14 marked the blockade’s fifth anniversary. Around 1.7 million people face slow-motion genocide. Over half of them are children. Gazans are isolated.
Free movement is denied. Imports and exports of goods are restricted. Essential food, fuel, medical supplies and construction materials are affected.
Virtually all essentials are in short supply. Redeveloping Gaza is prevented. Unemployment and poverty are severe. Without aid, survival is at issue. With it, humanitarian crisis conditions exist.
Estelle’s cargo was humanitarian. It’s mission was to breach Israel’s illegal blockade. It succeeded in attracting world attention. Rogue state Israel again made headlines. Scoundrel media coverage was scant. Reports downplayed and/or misreported what happened.
An unnamed participant on board said Estelle had “come under attack”. Victoria Strand, Stockholm-based Ship to Gaza spokeswoman, told AFP:
“The Estelle is now under attack. I have just had a message from them by phone. Some time ago, they said that they had military ships following them.”
Attorney Gaby Lasky told AFP:
Israeli commandos “used shocker devices to the extent of what we call ‘electro torture’ on some of the activists.”
As expected, Israeli army spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich lied saying, “No force was used when taking over the ship.”
Every time Israel intercepts a humanitarian mission to Gaza, force is used. In May 2010, it included murdering nine Mavi Marmara activists, brutally beating dozens of others, and imprisoning them for days.
Estelle was lawlessly seized. It was forcibly taken to Israel’s port, Ashdod. The fate of those on board is unknown. On October 22, Press TV interviewed Canadian Boat to Gaza activist David Heap.
In 2011, he experienced Israeli brutality firsthand. He was brutally beaten, arrested, detained, and prevented from contacting his family by phone for days. He was imprisoned for six days. Perhaps Estelle activists are being treated the same way.
He said the “last information we have was when they were being boarded. From that point, all our communications were cut off.”
“As always – as was our experience last year – when the Israeli military makes these moves, they always cut off communications so that the world is unable to witness what they’re doing.”
“This was our experience last year. I was on The Tahrir sailing. We were stopped at 45 nautical miles, and we had lost communications at that point as well.”
“We are very concerned about all of our friends and shipmates on board.”
“There was a Canadian parliamentarian on board as well as parliamentarians from several European countries and volunteers from many countries as well and we are very concerned about all of them particularly because we don’t have news of what has become of them.”
Parliamentarians included Spain’s Ricardo Sixto Iglesias, Sweden’s Sven Britton, Norway’s Aksel Hagen, Greece’s Dimitris Kodelas, and former Canadian lawmaker, Jim Manley. He’s now in his late 70s.
Heap added that stopping Estelle won’t discourage future missions. “(O)ur coalition continues to sail….Our destination remains the same, of course, for the conscience of humanity.”
Estelle activists are “prepared for anything that might happen.” Nonviolence orientation is part of the training all mission members get. They’re told what to expect and how to react. “(W)e have only concerns about the irresponsible and unaccountable actions of the Israeli military.”
Like other mission participants, Heap is a political activist. He’s also Professor of French Studies at Western Ontario University.
On October 17, Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire messaged Jim Manley as follows:
“Dear Jim Manley,
I have just read your message from the boat as you sail with all your brave companions towards Gaza.
Please extend to all these brave people our best wishes for their safety as they carry their love and our love and solidarity to the people of Gaza.
We pray for you all – you are in our thoughts and thank you for your actions of solidarity with the people of Gaza.
mairead maguire – nobel peace laureate – ireland and the peace people
be not afraid – be brave….
The last Ship to Gaza Estelle communication headlined “Dror Feiler accused of ‘aiding the enemy knowingly,’ ” saying:
Feiler was on board Estelle. He’s a former Israeli citizen. Commandos separated him from other participants. Israeli authorities want him held accountable.
He was born and raised in Israel. Protesting Israel’s lawless occupation, he left about 40 years ago. He renounced his Israeli citizenship. He’s been a Swedish citizen for many years.
At first, he was treated like a foreign national. Authorities then changed their mind. Lasky said, “He was shackled and handcuffed and brought to the Ashdod police station.” From there, he was taken to court and criminally charged. No further information is available.
Lasky represented him previously. He wanted to visit his elderly Israeli mother. He was denied. Authorities claimed he wasn’t Israeli.
Three Israeli citizens on board Estelle may be prosecuted. They include former IDF pilot Yonatan Shapira, Reut Mor and Elazar Elhanan. Police charged them with incitement to rebellion, knowingly assisting the enemy, and violating a lawful order.
Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court rejected the first two charges. They were detained pending a hearing on the latter one.
Feiler, other Swedish participants, and most others on board refused to sign confessions saying they entered Israel illegally. Commandos kidnapped them. They were forcibly brought to Ashdod.
On Sunday, Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court remanded them to police custody. They were detained for trying to breach Gaza’s siege. They were lawlessly charged with “violating a lawful order.”
Nine others signed confessions under pressure. They did so to end their ordeal. They waived their right to appeal. They were deported. They’re heading home.
Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) spokeswoman, Sabine Haddad, said participants are detained. Within a few days, they’ll appear in Beersheba District Court. Those not criminally charged will be deported.
A previous article said Estelle’s cargo includes two olive trees, 41 tons of cement, wheel chairs, walkers, crutches, midwifery stethoscopes, children’s books, toys, 300 footballs, musical instruments, theatrical equipment (including lighting), a VHF ship-to-shore radio, and an anchor for its sister project – Gaza’s Ark.
It’s intended to be a Ship from Gaza. Activists are building it to help break Israel’s export blockade.
Thirty doves were also on board. They symbolize peace. Activists planned to release them on arrival in Gaza. They never got a chance.
Israel army spokesperson Avital Leibovich lied about the ship’s cargo. “There was no humanitarian equipment on board, excepting maybe the wheelchairs,” she said. “All the talk about humanitarian aid is a lie and a provocation.”
Doing the right thing can be hazardous. On June 30, 2009, Israeli commandos intercepted the Free Gaza Movement’s Spirit of Humanity in international waters. Its humanitarian cargo was seized. So were 21 activists on board.
They included Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire and former Congresswoman/Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. They were threatened and forcibly taken to Ashdod. They were held incommunicado under horrific conditions.
Ramle Prison is cockroach-infested. Many inside had no beds. They were forced to sleep on a cement floor. Overcrowding made things painfully uncomfortable for everyone.
Armed soldiers guarded them. Their personal possessions were confiscated. After several days, they were taken to Ashdod’s central bus station with no money or belongings. They were left there on their own. They were treated like criminals for doing the right thing.
McKinney was prisoner number 88794 at Ramle Prison. It’s known as one of Israel’s harshest. It’s a former British police station. It’s a stinking hellhole. McKinney described her ordeal, saying:
“This is Cynthia McKinney and I’m speaking from an Israeli prison cellblock in Ramle. (I am one of) the Free Gaza 21, human rights activists currently imprisoned for trying to take medical supplies to Gaza, building supplies – and even crayons for children, I had a suitcase full of crayons for children.”
“While we were on our way to Gaza the Israelis threatened to fire on our boat, but we did not turn around. The Israelis high-jacked and arrested us because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza.”
“We have been detained, and we want the people of the world to see how we have been treated just because we wanted to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.”
Everyone had tiny spaces, she added. Some in isolation had no sunlight. She described a series of dungeons six feet long, three feet wide, and six feet high.
Conditions were dark, filthy, and unbearable to be in. For greater harshness, those inside were stripped naked, beaten, unable to shower, given a thin coverall, and allowed toilet privileges once a day only.
Authorities tried to get McKinney and other activists to admit criminality. They refused and were brutalized. Ramle conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
McKinney said it’s “incredibly black: populated mostly by Ethiopians who also had a dream.” They traveled to Israel for it. Instead, they were denied and imprisoned.
McKinney and 14 others were held in a 7 x 7 meter cell under summer heat conditions. Twice daily they were searched. What they endured, she said, paled to how Palestinians are treated.
Activist Ramzi Kysia with her said:
“We’ll be back again and again….The Israeli regime should be careful, because we’re coming. We won’t stop until this blockade is broken forever and Gaza residents have access to the rest of the world.”
Their liberation struggle continues. Activists like McKinney, Estelle participants, and others part of Gaza humanitarian missions won’t quit until they’re free.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War“
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening. http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.