"Jews for Justice" set sail to challenge Gaza blockade
On board the "Irene"
Relief convoys to Gaza have become a familiar sight in the Mediterranean lately, but the latest entry has an unusual twist: This time it isn’t Turks or European and American Christians on board, but a team of nine exclusively Jewish activists from Israel, Germany, the USA, and Britain.
The thirty-three foot long British-flagged ship “Irene” left Cyprus today with nine activists and a cargo of toys, medicines, outboard motors, musical instruments, prosthetic limbs, and books and is expected to reach Gaza in the next day or two. According to Richard Kuter from the British group “Jews for Justice for Palestinians,” the passengers intend to “show that not all Jews support Israeli policies towards Palestinians.” As another blockade-runner, eighty-two year-old Reuven Moshkovitz, put it, “It is a sacred duty for me as a Holocaust survivor to protest against the persecution, oppression and imprisonment of so many people, including over 800,000 children in Gaza.”
What are their chances of getting through when so many have failed, and particularly after a Turkish convoy was attacked with the loss of nine lives on May 31 of this year? Israeli air force officer Yonatan Shapira says: “I believe that the navy won't want us to pass, but on the other hand, there has never before been a Jewish aid ship, manned by determined people including a Holocaust survivor, trying to reach Gaza. This may prevent them from shooting at us, like they did in the Turkish flotilla.”
Israeli "refusnik" Yonatan Shapira
Shapira, who lost most of his family to the Nazis in Poland, gained notoriety in May of this year by spraying the words “Free all the ghettos” and “Free Gaza and Palestine” on the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto. At the time he told the press: “The policy of controlling other peoples' lives and land is being implemented today in Palestine and is being carried out by the State of Israel. We have a responsibility to liberate all the ghettos and end the occupation.” In 2003 he and twenty-six other Israeli signed a letter stating their refusal to fly what they regarded as illegal missions over the West Bank.
In advance of the Gaza action, Shapira told reporters: “Let them remember the history of our people, and those who followed orders and later said ‘we were only following orders.’ We do not pose any kind of security threat to Israel’s citizens. We intend to continue forward with our crew and our cargo to the port in Gaza, where we are expected.”
A repeat of the May tragedy is highly unlikely this time around. The activists have assured the Israeli authorities of their non-violent intent and say they will divert to the port of Ashdod if ordered to do so.
Update: The voyage of the "Irene" ended on September 28 at 11:30 a.m. local time when the ship was intercepted by Israeli naval vessels. When boarded by naval commandos, the crew offered no resistance and are allowing the ship to be towed to Ashdod.
This latest attempt to break the Gaza blockade will not be the last one. The "Freedom Flotilla Coalition," the organizers of the May "Gaza Freedom Flotilla," have announced they will be dispatching an additional eight ships sometime before the end of 2010.