The "Rachel Corrie" braces for Israeli interception off Gaza
The MV Rachel Corrie
(Source: Wikipedia Commons)
On May 12 a converted merchant ship bearing the name of killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie set sail from Dundalk, Ireland bound for Gaza. On board are eight Malaysians, five Irish citizens and eight crew members. Its cargo: 1,200 tons of humanitarian supplies, including cement, paper, medical equipment, wheelchairs, school supplies, toys, and other materials for the people of Gaza.
Delayed by engine problems, it left Malta on Monday and is expected to reach the coast tomorrow – provided the IDF does not attack it the way it did the rest of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” on Monday. According to activist Derrick Graham, who is sailing along with his wife Jeanie, the passengers of the MV Rachel Corrie “come in peace.” “We don’t plan on resisting,” Graham told Israeli journalists. “In the event that your men are stupid enough to come and arrest us, we will sit down and not resist. It would not be wise for the government of Israel to direct its brutal violence towards us.” Graham, the veteran of several relief missions to Gaza, says that he has never been attacked in the past. “We object to violence,” he said, “which is why before we left we searched the ship to make sure there were no guns or weapons of any kind on board. The crew members were also checked by officials.”
The activists include a group of Malaysians sponsored by former Malaysian prime minister Dato’ Mukhriz bin Tun Dr. Mahathir, along with former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday and 66-year old Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, who was injured in an anti-fence protest in Bil’in in 2008. They have all been trained in non-violent resistance. “We believe in a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and believe it can be solved through negotiations,” Maguire said. When asked about the threat of violence on her current mission, Maguire replied: “If (the soldiers) come on board, I hope and believe it will be in a peaceful manner.”
In a statement issued yesterday, Rachel Corrie’s parents, Cindy and Craig, said that they “are heart-sick and outraged about the brutal attack launched by the Israeli Military on the Free Gaza Movement’s flotilla of boats. (…)We grieve for those who have been killed and pray for the recovery of those who have been injured. We salute them for their sacrifice in solidarity with Gazans suffering under a prolonged and immoral siege, which is itself a despicable and illegal act of collective punishment upon a civilian population.” Along with demands for an investigation and lifting the Gaza blockade, the Corries said: “[T]he U.S. and other governments can and must insist that other boats from the flotilla, including the MV Rachel Corrie, named for our daughter, be permitted to sail through international waters to Gaza unobstructed.”
Will Israel allow this new attempt at humanitarian relief to arrive at its destination without violence? As late as Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli public radio that “We will not let any ships reach Gaza and supply what has become a terrorist base threatening the heart of Israel.” But according to a report in Haaretz this morning, both Israeli and European diplomats have quietly arranged to allow the ship to dock at Ashdod port in Israel, from where the goods would be transported on to Gaza. In a statement issued on Tuesday, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said: “If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.”
Will this compromise hold? We will know within hours. The Rachel Corrie is plodding ahead regardless of the risk. “We are nervous,” passenger Jenny Graham from Ballina, Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph. “We are scared. We are regular people. We don't want to be heroes or martyrs, but we have to keep going. People are anxious but we are not turning back unless we really, really have to.”
In an ironic turn of events that typifies the daily madness of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the Israeli government agreed to deliver at least some of the humanitarian items confiscated from the Turkish ships. In the meantime, Hamas officials told journalists that they would refuse to accept these items until all detainees from the IDF raid had been freed.
Turkish pathologists have confirmed that all nine activists killed during Monday’s raid died from bullets fired at close range. An additional three activists are still missing. But as tragic as the IDF attack on the Turkish fleet was, it appears to have brought movement into the seemingly endless Gaza stalemate. There is a growing international consensus that the blockade is neither ethical nor sustainable. Yesterday, the Egyptian government opened the Rafah border crossing to Gaza. The same day, the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza announced that it had received funding for an additional three ships that will form part of a new relief fleet to be called “Freedom 2”.