On Thursday, the Women’s Boat to Gaza was intercepted by the Israeli navy after they had embarked on a journey to attempt to break the blockade on the besieged territory. The 13 female passengers, inclusive of crew and activists, who set sail from the shores of Barcelona in mid-September, 2016, are confirmed to have been detained by Israeli forces within 35 nautical miles of the coast of the Gaza Strip.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition launched two boats, the Zaytouna and the Amal from the shores of Barcelona. While the Zaytouna has thus far successfully embarked on the planned journey, the second boat, Amal, early in its journey experienced engine problems, forcing the crew and activist to return to port.
Since the Zaytouna only has the capacity to accommodate 13 passengers, the 13 passengers scheduled to travel on the Amal were forced to remain on shore in Italy and Barcelona as organizers worked to procure a replacement boat.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat Show, the coordinator for the project in South Africa, Zeenat Adam explains that in anticipation of possible interception by Israeli forces, the organisers began closely monitoring the journey of the Zaytouna once it had reached 100 nautical miles from the Gazan coast.
According to reports, the boat was redirected to the port of Ashdod following the detainment of the crew and activists on board.
Adam says that the organizers lost contact with those on board once the boat reached 50 nautical miles from the shore of the Gaza Strip, but communication was later restored.
“We believe that at approximately 50 nautical miles, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) was already starting to disrupt communication in order to send us a stern message,” Adam stated.
Following restored communication and confirmation of safety from the crew and activists, at approximately 16:00 local time on Wednesday, the organizers lost complete contact with the vessel, which Adam asserts the organizers believe to be the time of interception.
Adam further notes that they believe that a special naval force was established and given the sole responsibility of intercepting the flotilla.
“They were highly trained special forces from the IDF, so they intercepted the boat and climbed on board,” she added.
Given the fact that the women, prior to embarking on the final leg of the journey, received non-violent training, Adam confirms that the women passively resisted the interception by the forces.
In anticipation of the arrival of the Zaytouna, hoards of Palestinians lined the shores of the Gaza strip as Israel began a military bombardment in certain areas of the territory.
“It’s quite ironic that they would do such a brutal act against the Palestinians and then an act of piracy in international waters, hijacking a small boat with 13 women on board,” Adam asserted.
The organizers of the flotilla chose participants from around the world, including politicians, members of the media, cultural artists and activists. They include: Nobel Laureate (1976) and peace activist from Northern Ireland, Mairead Maguire; member of New Zealand Parliament and member of the Green Party, Marama Davidson; professional athlete and coach, whose husband was killed on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, Cigdem Topçuoglu, and Wits academic, Leigh-Ann Naidoo.
Adam confirmed that the organizers have not had access to the women, but have managed to contact all the women’s respective embassies in Ramallah and Tel Aviv and made an appeal for all consular services to be made available to their nationals on board.
“We in South Africa are specifically concerned with Leigh-Ann Naidoo. We have been working closely with her legal team who have been in contact with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation [DIRCO] and joint letters have been written to the presidency, appealing to government to apply pressure on the Israeli government,” Adam confirmed.
Meanwhile, representative for the flotilla’s delegates committee, Shabnam Mayet, confirmed that lawyers are have met with the participants in Giv’on prison, which is located in Ramla, Israel.
She says that it has been communicated that only Spanish participants have been given access to their legal representation and that the two al-Jazeea journalists, Khadija Benguena and Mina Harballou, were released.
“The South African government has not issued a statement, while other countries of participants who were on board have issued statements,” Mayet confirmed.
In a bid to secure the release and return of Naidoo, Adam appeals to the public to place pressure on the South African government, to raise awareness about the capture of the boat and to openly condemn Israel’s act of terrorism in the high-seas.
“This was nowhere near Israeli waters; the boat was captured in international waters. This is in violation of maritime law and international humanitarian law – a continued act of aggression by an occupying force,” Adam continued.
Below is the SOS by South African passenger, Leigh-Ann Naidoo.
A link to all the passengers SOS messages: https://wbg.freedomflotilla.org/sos-video-messages-from-zaytouna