Aid ship passengers detained in Israel: "We are not the story"

Nineteen of the 21 passengers on the Spirit aid ship headed to Gaza are still being detained in Israel, after authorities boarded the ship, towing it to Ashdod detention center on June 30. Organizers of the Free Gaza movement that commandeered the Spirit say international condemnation of the Israeli action has actually diverted attention from the situation in Gaza, where Palestinians have endured a criminal 2 year Israeli air, land and sea blockade.
Palestine Gaza spirit of humanity
A picture taken from the January 12 aid mission to the war torn Gaza Strip on the Greek-registered ship The Spirit [of Humanity]. Israeli war ships boarded and detained 21 activists during The Spirit's most recent aid attempt on June 30. © Getty Images

BEIRUT, July 2, 2009 (MENASSAT) —“We are not the story,” said a statement by Free Gaza 21, a group of journalists and human rights workers currently being held in Israeli detention. 

On June 30, Israeli commandos intercepted the Spirit of Humanity aid ship, as part of the Free Gaza movement, on its way to deliver much-needed supplies to the besieged territory, towing it to the Israeli port of Ashdod and arresting the crew.

Although sources confirm the boat was 23 miles away from the Gaza port, in international waters, Israeli forces had threatened to gun down their boat unless they changed direction.

Among those being detained by Israel are Nobel peace prize laureate Mairead Maguire, former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as well as four journalists.

Although people around the world have mobilized to demand the immediate and unconditional release of the detainees, organizers of the Free Gaza movement have been highly critical of the international response, saying that international workers should not be given more attention than Palestinians in Gaza, who face injustice on a daily basis. 

“This Siege is only strengthened when we pay more attention to the injustice done to 21 international solidarity workers than we do to the much greater injustices already being committed against millions of Palestinians," a statement from the group read.

Free Gaza organizers have asked international attention be directed instead to the detention of more than 11,000 Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails, often imprisoned without charges amid allegations by rights groups of torture and isolation.

“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,” Free Gaza said.

“These prisoners come from all walks of life: doctors, journalists, parliamentarians, workers, resistance fighters, homemakers, students and others.”

19 of the 21 passengers were still being held at press time. Huwaida Arraf, one of the delegation leaders, and Lubna Masarwa, both Israeli citizens, were released.

According to Ramzi Kysia of Free Gaza, the passengers have been moved to 3 different detention centers, and all of them are being held together except for 3 Bahraini women who are being held on their own.

“None of the passengers have been harmed, but they are all angry,” Kysia told MENASSAT.

Hamas criticizes international indifference

After capturing the ship, Israel released a statement that they were not arresting the passengers, "only detaining them," the statement said.

A team of lawyers working with Free Gaza 21 has been able to enter the detention centers and meet with the passengers individually.

Jenny Graham, whose husband Derek was the first mate on the ship, told MENASSAT, “I don’t know the difference. The boat and the passengers and crew were kidnapped and taken.”

Graham was supposed to be on the second of the two ships to Gaza, but organizers were forced to limit the number of ships for logistical reasons.
The group, made up of people from 11 different nationalities, is petitioning to be released together and have demanded the return of thousands of dollars of equipment confiscated during their capture.

Israel said they are going through the standard deportation process.
Kysia told MENASSAT that the ship was taken with all of the humanitarian and construction supplies on board. Israel has promised to send the humanitarian supplies to Gaza through the Eretz land crossing, but Kysia expressed skepticism that Israel will actually follow through with the aid relief.

“If you google ‘Israel announces to open Eretz crossing’ you will see that they are constantly announcing that they are going to open the border. But it’s never actually done.”

“Less than 20 percent of what is needed in Gaza is getting in,” Kysia said.

Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip have criticized what it called the international indifference to Israel’s capture of a civilian ship.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told MA’AN news agency, “The abduction of a ship carrying solidarity activists from 22 [sic] countries indicates that Israel is going too far with its criminal acts, and widening its range of aggression.”

Spirit of Humanity is the third humanitarian relief boat that has been stopped by the Israeli army. The Free Gaza Movement has already staged three successful journeys in breaking the Israeli blockade.