Israeli forces attack ‘mercy ship’, forcibly remove human rights workers

By staff writers
June 30, 2009

Israeli forces have attacked and boarded a boat carrying medicines and aid to Palestinians in Gaza and removed 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, the Free Gaza Movement reported today.

Those forcibly taken from the Free Gaza Movement boat, the Spirit of Humanity, included Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

The ‘mercy ship’ has made a number of voyages to Gaza and on a recent trip took European politicians to the region.

“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip” said Cynthia McKinney, a former US Congresswoman and presidential candidate.

“President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”

According to a report from International Committee of the Red Cross released yesterday, Palestinians living in Gaza are ‘trapped in despair’. Thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed during Israel’s assault in December and January are still without shelter despite pledges of almost $4.5 billion in aid, because Israel refuses to allow cement and other building material into the Gaza Strip.

The report also notes that hospitals are struggling to meet the needs of their patients due to Israel’s disruption of medical supplies.

“The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught. Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone" said fellow passenger Mairead Maguire, winner of a Noble Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.

Just before being kidnapped by Israel, Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator on this voyage, said: “No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies and children’s toys. Our passengers include a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a former US congressperson. Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters.”

Arraf continued: “Israel’s deliberate and premeditated attack on our unarmed boat is a clear violation of international law and we demand our immediate and unconditional release.”

The human rights organisation Jewish Voice for Peace has called on its supporters to write to congressional representatives. JVP says: "Ask them to call the Israeli Embassy and to call the US State Department demanding that the boat and its occupants be released, together with their humanitarian cargo, and that they be allowed to dock in Gaza.

"Ask them what crime is being committed by giving the people in Gaza medicines, toys, and pencils?"

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