Israeli navy kidnaps humanitarian and solidarity workers en route to Gaza. Again.

The sea provides no relief today. I sit on a tattered plastic chair at the seaside, close enough that the waves’ mist brushes my face. But there’s no relishing this water. I’m acutely aware of the sewage and pollution in it, and shudder at the sight of kids diving in headfirst. There’s no other option for them, and perhaps luckily for them they don’t know what diseases they will quite possibly contract. Out of school and with little else but kites to amuse them, the sea is one of the blessings of Gaza.

But it’s not just the kids exposed to these waters the sea today. Families, women in long robes wading knee high, men in t-shirts and pants splashing in… And even from my non-immersed spot on the rocks above, my skin is slowly being saturated with the sewage water sea.

A line of small fishing boats (hassakas) is being pulled out to an uncertain fate, hoping to drop nets and catch what meagre amounts of fish remain within an arbitrary fishing limit severely imposed by an occupying military force. Behind the idyllic sunset and silhouettes of the boats in tow is a grim reality: many of the fishermen will face shooting, shelling, water cannon spray harassment, and even abduction. But with no economy, no work in Gaza, they’ll take that risk.

Earlier today, the last Free Gaza boat en route to this imprisoned Strip was forcibly stopped by up to 6 Israeli naval boats under the threat that if they continued, they’d be arrested…which is what happened in the end: they were kidnapped from international waters, abducted to Israel, and are going to be dealt with in the same illegal manner as abducted Palestinian fishermen [except perhaps these foreign-passport-holders won’t be stripped, blindfolded and beaten] and previously abducted international supporters.

It would be pretty ludicrous, if it weren’t so sad and frustrating. Five months after Israel pummelled Gaza into heaps of rubble and 10s of 1000s of homeless, the choking reality is one of a devastated region where nothing has been re-built, almost no goods allowed in, the economy worse than ever –destroyed by the Israeli-Egyptian-international siege on Gaza –and feelings of strangulation and despondency the highest yet and increasing…

What exact threat did the 21 person boat full of humanitarian workers, journalists, a Nobel peace laureate, a former US congresswoman, and concerned citizens pose? Their cargo: medicine, kids toys, and olive trees.

At 2:13 am this morning I’d gotten a text message saying “big trouble for the boat.” Off and on throughout the early morning and into the afternoon, I received updates on the situation:

-8:17 am: “(Israeli) boats still trailing them (Spirit of Humanity). We expect trouble when they turn towards Gaza about 11am,” a friend texted.

-11:36 am: “(Israeli) warships on both sides of them (Spirit of Humanity).”

-12:02 pm: “10 miles from Palestinian waters. 3 (Israeli) ships surrounding. Given warning to turn around. Spirit is refusing to stop.”

-2:09 pm: “(Israeli) naval boats have moved ahead of Spirit and formed a blockade. They have been told they will be arrested if they try to pass, but they are going to try to pass now.”

-2:26 pm: “5 (Israeli naval) boats around them (Spirit) now.”

-3:23 pm: “(Israeli) soldiers are on the boat!”

The last text message was later confirmed on the Free Gaza website: “IOF later released a statement saying they’ve taken over the boat.”

Free Gaza said:

So far we have not been able to contact any of our people, but we do have a team of attorneys working for their immediate and unconditional release. Please help us. Please contact your local newspapers and TV stations, government officials and embassies. Please call the numbers below and demand that Israel free the 21 innocent people kidnapped today, as well as the over 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently held in Israeli jails. They all need your help.

UPDATE from Free Gaza:

Since their kidnapping, tens-of-thousands of people around the world have mobilized to demand their immediate and unconditional release. The Free Gaza Movement would like to thank everyone who has made a phone call, sent a fax or email, written a letter, or organized a demonstration on behalf of our 21 imprisoned friends.

With respect, it is not enough. We are not the story. Since its founding in 1948 the State of Israel has regularly kidnapped and tortured Palestinians, throwing them into forgotten prisons where they can languish for years. Today, over 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners without benefit of due process, some never even charged – men, women, and children – endure torture and isolation in Israeli jails, outdoor prison camps, and secret black sites. They come from all walks of life: doctors, journalists, parliamentarians, workers, resistance fighters, homemakers, students and others. They are our sisters and brothers.

The 21 passengers aboard the Spirit of Humanity have been illegally incarcerated for their solidarity work with Palestine. 11,000 other members of our common human family are already imprisoned simply for being Palestinian.

The Siege of Palestine is not simply the physical blockade against Gaza. The Siege includes the hundreds of checkpoints throughout the West Bank that separate families and communities and shatter any prospect for a viable Palestinian state. The Siege includes the millions of Palestinians in Diaspora, many of them dumped in squalid refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. The Siege is ever-present throughout all aspects of Palestinian life.

see: Addameer

CONTACT the Israeli Ministry of Justice

tel: 00972 2646 6666 or 00972 2646 6340

fax: 00972 2646 6357

CONTACT the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

tel: 00972 2530 3155 or 00972 2530 3111

fax: 00972 2530 3367

CONTACT Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office at:

tel: 00972 2670 5354 or 00972 5 0620 3264

CONTACT the International Committee of the Red Cross to ask for their assistance in establishing the wellbeing of the kidnapped human rights workers and help in securing their immediate release

Red Cross Israel

tel: 00972 3524 5286

fax: 00972 3527 0370

Red Cross Switzerland:

tel: 0041 22 730 3443

fax: 0041 22 734 8280

Red Cross USA:

tel: 001 212 599 6021

fax: 001 212 599 6009

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