FIVE IRISH citizens who were deported from Israel yesterday morning after their ship was taken over by Israeli defence forces have called on the Irish people to boycott Israeli goods until the blockade of Gaza is ended.
They have also called on the Government to put pressure on the EU to suspend the Euro-Med trade agreement with Israel. They have asked for the return of their boat, the MV Rachel Corrie , and for the humanitarian aid aboard all of the flotilla vessels, “rotting in the harbour” at Ashdod, to be sent to the people of Gaza.
Former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, Nobel laureate Maireád Maguire, first mate Derek Graham and his wife Jenny, from Mayo, and Dundalk film-maker Fiona Thompson were on the MV Rachel Corrie when it was seized in international waters by Israeli forces on Saturday.
They were attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. The ship was the last remaining vessel of the Gaza Freedom flotilla, a 40-nation effort to break through Israel’s illegal blockade.
Nine people were killed last week on one of the vessels, the Mavi Marmara, when it was forcibly taken by Israeli soldiers.
Yesterday, the five paid tribute to the crew on their vessel and said they did not blame the Israeli soldiers for what had happened.
The MV Rachel Corrie left Dundalk in May after being bought at auction with €300,000 raised by humanitarian activists from Malaysia. It stopped at Malta where it took on most of its 11 passengers and began its voyage to Gaza. As it neared its destination it was shadowed by Israeli vessels. A “jamming boat” pulled in close to them at 5.30am on Saturday blocking its signals and navigation equipment. Mr Graham said the Israelis then made radio contact.
He told them the ship was in international waters and they had broken no laws. He asked that if the Israelis were going to board, could they let him know so the passengers could be prepared.
Some 35 miles off the coast, they stopped their engines and waited for half an hour while the Israelis decided what to do. The passengers and crew moved to the centre of the ship. Then the Israelis pulled their zodiacs alongside and began to board. Immediately Mr Graham set off distress signals, which cannot be blocked, so it could not be claimed they had strayed into Israeli waters.
“I was ordered to stay on board the bridge,” he said. “You have to realise the guy from the Mavi Marmara was basically executed by the Israelis; one clean shot to the head, that was it. So I am standing there on the bridge by myself with no protection, so at that stage you start to get worried.”
He said they shouted at him to get face down on the floor. They cable-tied his hands and made him kneel at the back of the ship for three-quarters of an hour before eventually letting him join the crew. When they landed at Ashdod they were taken to a detention centre. Everything was taken from them; their luggage, phones, laptops and cameras.
They were asked to sign papers saying they had entered Israel illegally, but they refused to do so.
When they asked when their electronic equipment would be returned the response was a laugh and the comment “with your boat”, Mr Graham said.
They did get their luggage back and Ms Thompson confirmed that though all of her camera equipment was seized, she did manage to hold on to some footage, though she declined to explain how she hid it during searches.
Mr Halliday praised the support they had received from home. “To be there on that ship and see the arrogance and the scandal of them . . . it was grossly unacceptable,” he said. It is not just the Irish Government which must complain, the EU must also complain and “Obama must put his foot down”. Ms Maguire said it was sad to see the rest of the humanitarian flotilla with its aid from around the world still aboard “rotting in Ashdod harbour”. They would treble their efforts to return to Gaza, she said, and they would not be silenced or stopped.
Meanwhile, another Irish citizen caught up in Israel’s raid on the flotilla last Monday is due to arrive at Dublin airport later today. Libyan-born Al Mahdi Alharati was hospitalised in Turkey following his transfer from Israel. He was treated for injuries as well as an underlying medical condition.