Israel accused of piracy as it invades and seizes Rachel Corrie aid ship

By staff writers
June 5, 2010

The Israeli government was accused of piracy today after it invaded and seized the MV Rachel Corrie aid ship heading for blockaded Gaza, arresting the activists on board.

There was no confrontation between invading troops and the humanitarian and human rights workers on the ship, though the soldiers were heavily armed. Those on board, including the Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, have been arrested, goods have been confiscated, and deportations are due to begin after a series of interrogations.

The MV Rachel Corrie was named after an American college student who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer as she protested over house demolitions in Gaza in 2003.

Ten other passengers and 11 crew members on the ship were seized this morning, with the passengers mostly being affiliated with the Free Gaza organisation, a Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement coalition of pro-Palestinian groups and human rights NGOs.

Mary Hughes, a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, told the BBC that she was "outraged" by the latest Israeli aggression.

"They once again went into international water and violently boarded a boat and forced people against their will to go to Israel, when all we wanted was to be left to go to Gaza, which is our goal", she declared.

Ms Hughes said that further aid shipments to Gaza would be organised. "We will continue until we break the siege," she said.

Pressure on Israel increased today, with the US administration saying that the blockade must be "eased" as soon as possible, and an UNWRA spokesperson pointing out that procedures for distinguishing aid from military assistance to Hamas was "simple and available".

The Israeli military said that its members boarded the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie cargo ship by boat, instead of rappelling onto it from helicopters.

The ship was carrying around 1,000 tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

Coriander, goats, chickens and wheel-chairs are among the relief items banned on 'security grounds' by the Israeli government - whose illegal blockade of the Gaza strip has been criticised as 'collective punishment' at the United Nations.

Cement is also prohibited because it is a construction material. But United Nations agency UNRWA pointed out this evening that it has actually already negotiated for cement to be admitted, questioning the Israeli authorities' actions in relation to the Free gaza shipments, say development analysts.

"This is genuine humanitarian need being hijacked by politics, not just a ship full of activists," an NGO spokesperson told Ekklesia.

"If this were Israel or Britain the situation here would be described as a crisis and would not be tolerated," added UNRWA's Christopher Gunner on Channel 4 television news - referring to the 1.5 million people living in enormous hardship in Gaza, and the wholesale destruction of the territory, including 60,000 buildings.

Medical and hospital equipment is especially in short supply, say humanitarian agencies.

Israel has come under fierce international criticism after its troops shot dead nine people during a violent confrontation with those on board the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara in the early hours of Monday 31 May.

The Israeli government says that its commandos were attacked with weapons, including knives, when they invaded the ship, and that they then opened fire in self-defence. But activists on the ship say troops shot at them without provocation.

Autopsies on the Turkish victims have indicated 30 bullets in the bodies of nine dead protesters. Several Gaza activists were shot in the head at close range, it has transpired, indicating that no attempt was made to disable rather than kill the alleged assailants.


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