Israel continues to delay return of activists to Ireland

Seven Irish human rights activists due home in Ireland from Israel this afternoon were prevented from boarding their flight out of Ben Gurion airport this morning by Israeli armed guards. The activists had been detained by Israeli authorities after their ship, the MV Saoirse, which was sailing with the Freedom Waves flotilla, was intercepted by Israeli soldiers on 4 November as it sought to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The MV Saoirse was in international waters when it was boarded by members of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

The crew were “taken against their will to the Israeli port of Ashdod,” according to Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, who was aboard. They were subsequently imprisoned in Givon prison, where, according to Murphy, “They had all their belongings taken from them, [were] denied their right to a phone call and have been the victims of a coordinated campaign of sleep deprivation.”

The seven remaining Irish activists of the fourteen who were detained are due to fly home tomorrow.

The activists were ready to board their 7:40 am flight to London this morning when they were prevented from doing so at the last minute by Israeli security forces and returned to Givon prison. All seven are now being detained indefinitely, according to the Irish Ship to Gaza (ISTG) campaign group, with no further news available from Israeli authorities or the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs about when they will be released.

An ISTG shore team coordinator spoke briefly on the phone with ISTG National Coordinator Fintan Lane, who said: “This is a deliberate and calculated attempt by the Israelis to break our spirit. It won’t succeed.”

Lane also reported that the seven had been subject to “continuous harassment and repeated, humiliating body searches” and were shackled and “denied sleep”.

Laurence Davis, Irish Ship to Gaza spokesperson, commented: “We are outraged by this latest attempt by the Israeli authorities to break the morale of the human rights activists, their families and their supporters, all of whom had been looking forward to the homecoming this afternoon in Dublin. This is yet another example of the cruelty and arrogance that the Palestinians face every day.”

Criticising Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore’s handling of the situation, Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins said in the Dáil this morning:

“The staff of the Irish embassy [in Israel] have worked hard. They’ve done their jobs. But you have not. As the Foreign Minister of this State you have not acted as you should in internationally condemning this action.

The least you could do is to stand up for what you’ve said over the past thirty years you’ve stood for: the rights of the Palestinian people.”

A clearly riled Gilmore responded:

“This government has made very clear our views in relation to what is happening in Palestine and what is happening in Gaza. And I have worked every…my officials have worked, and are continuing to work every single day to have the fourteen people released and returned home here as quickly as possible.”

The Irish Ship to Gaza group also called for a refocusing of concern away from the plight of the detained activists and onto the plight of the people of Gaza, saying:

Irish Ship to Gaza appeals to the media to refocus attention on the reason why those who were detained undertook this journey in the first place: namely, to show solidarity with the ordinary people of Gaza who have lost their basic freedoms as a result of a blockade imposed by the military forces of Israel, and to take action that would contribute to the end of that blockade.

Freedom Waves was never intended to focus attention on the 27 people aboard the MV Saoirse and the Tahrir, but on the 1.6 million people of Gaza – half of whom are children under the age of 16 – who continue to suffer collective punishment at the hands of the Israeli military. While 14 Irish citizens were languishing in prison in Israel for the “crime” of coming to their aid, the population of Gaza continues to languish in what is, in effect, the world’s largest open air prison.

This latest of eleven 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. It is because of the continuing inaction of governments around the world, including the Irish government, that ordinary people feel compelled to act.