Monday, June 7, 2010

Israeli Navy Seizes 'Rachel Corrie'

Israeli Navy Seizes 'Rachel Corrie'

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Editor’s Note: Shortly after dawn on Saturday, the Israeli Navy seized the Rachel Corrie in international waters about 35 miles off the coast of Gaza. Unlike the bloody assault on Monday, Israeli forces boarded the Rachel Corrie from sea, not from helicopters, Israeli officials said.

An Israeli spokesperson said there was no resistance from the crew or passengers. The following article was reported and filed before the assault took place:

Much to the dismay of the Israeli government, Rachel Corrie remains determined to protect the rights of Palestinians crowded into the Gaza Strip.

Of course, we're not talking about the young woman who was crushed under an Israeli bulldozer driven by the IDF in 2003, but rather a boat named in her honor, bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

We reached the Rachel Corrie as it was some 85 miles off the coast of Gaza in international waters on Friday. Soon after we made contact with the ship, reports began to surface that the Rachel Corrie was being pursued by three Israeli Naval vessels, and that the ship's radar was jammed.

The Rachel Corrie was the last of the Gaza Freedom Movement to set sail for Gaza. Israeli commandos attacked the other six ships in the flotilla on Monday as activists on board attempted to break the Israeli embargo of goods heading toward Gaza. When a scuffle broke out on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the commandos killed nine passengers and wounded dozens.

Despite Israeli claims that the boats are sponsored by – and filled with – Al Qaeda-connected terrorists, the ship's manifest lists among its passengers a Nobel Peace Laureate, a former assistant secretary of the United Nations, and a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

We got in touch with the Rachel Corrie on a very shaky line as its passengers braced themselves for an attack. According to those on board, they are hoping to reach port without another deadly encounter, but they are prepared for the worst.

We spoke with Derek Graham, a long time anti-occupation activist from Ireland who was himself on another Free Gaza Movement flotilla last year which was violently boarded by Israeli commandos. That vessel was pirated at sea and its contents were seized by Israeli Defense Forces.

At the time we spoke with Graham, the Rachel Corrie was five miles closer to Gaza than the previous flotilla when it was attacked.

Despite the Israeli attack earlier this week, Graham seemed calm and focused on the mission at hand, but tension was rising among the activists.

“People are determined, but at the same time they're starting to get a little bit more anxious,” Graham said. “I have personal experience of these commandos coming on board, because I was arrested last year by these same commandos, and I understand exactly how frightening it is.”

When questioned about the statement by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that these were nothing but terrorists, Graham dismissed the accusations as “absolutely ridiculous.” He explained that if the vessel is attacked by Israeli commandos, the unarmed passengers have no intention of fighting back. “This is a completely peaceful mission... We will not resist in any way, shape or form. We are unarmed. These [commandos] are extremely heavily armed, and we will not resist them.”

Graham said the boats were fully vetted and searched, and the activists welcome all legitimate international inspections of the cargo.

“This ship has been inspected fully by customs and X-rays, which were in Ireland before we left,” Graham said. “Once they finished their inspection, the hatch covers were sealed and the security tags are still on the hatches and have not been touched.”

Graham said they were bringing “things like children's toys, educational materials and reconstruction materials... We also are carrying medical aid.” These are precisely the items that were confiscated by the Israeli military from the flotilla that Graham was on last year.

All the activists on board the Rachel Corrie hope to honor Corrie's legacy to the best of their abilities, and are honored to continue her work, Graham said. Referring to Corrie, Graham said, “She was an amazingly brilliant girl, and we're proud to have the ship named after her.”

In an interview earlier this week, Cindy Corrie, the mother of Rachel Corrie, who is now suing the Israeli government for the bulldozer killing of her daughter, is also very proud that her daughter's name lives on and that her daughter's work has inspired activists to take up the mantle of liberation of the Palestinian people, and to continue her work to break the blockade on Gaza.

“It was very moving to us to hear that [the boat] was being named the Rachel Corrie,” Cindy Corrie said. “We know some of the Irish activists who were involved in making this happen, and we have such respect for their work.”

Meanwhile, there is deep concern among Gaza boat activists that the Israeli violence will continue. Henry Norr, a long-time anti-occupation activist, journalist and flotilla supporter, spoke with one of those detained Monday, 68-year-old Janet Colberne.

“They were still beating people in the airport as the detainees were loading up at Ben-Gurion International Airport,” Colberne said.

Derek Graham ended our interview with a message for President Obama: “Please get in touch with the Israeli government and ask them to lift the siege... and let this aid in. There will never be peace in the Middle East until people are treated equally and with respect.”

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