Sailing the Mediterranean Sea on a sunny day – Freedom Flotilla now minus two ships

For those who understand Turkish, there is what is labelled a live video stream (with archived video as well, in a sophisticated programming mix) from the IHH website, broadcasting what appears to be the large Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara, here. Even Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson of colorful phrasing, Yigal Palmori, is dubbed into Turkish, as he complains about people “who try to force their way into Gaza”, has been featured.

The website here hasn’t updated its position map for six hours, so there’s no way to tell where the Flotilla is right now. It also has a lot of useless Youtube videos.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel has informed its members that there is an FPA pool … on one of the naval boats. We have been told that they may be at sea for up to 4 (four) days. Material will be flown from the boat directly to the censor’s office and then distributed censores [sic – I think this should read “censored”], not edited! … We are still hoping for open coverage at Ashdod port…”

Meanwhile, Israeli military action in Gaza has been escalating in recent days.

At 4:20 pm Jerusalem time, the live video feed from IHH indicates an encounter with another ship — which seems to be sailing low in the water, like a tanker or a cargo ship. Actually it does not seem to be marked or flying a flag. There are voices(mostly male) chanting on the Turkish ship, and some cries of Allahu Akbar. A small red speedboat takes off from the Turkish ship, headed for the other ship. An Al-Jazeera correspondent says he is on board the Marmara, and they have reached the rendez-vous point where all the ships in the Freedom Flotilla are to meet, about 20 miles off the coast of Cyprus. He says that one, then two, of the boats have mechanical problems and that the passengers of one ship have already joined those on the Marmara. The whole flotilla will move together toward Gaza waters tonight, then wait until light before moving toward their destination, the Al-Jazeera correspondent reported.

UPDATE: There seems to be a 24-hour delay. Organizers have announced that there may be a delay, and say they do not intend to sail at night, so departure from meeting point will be on Saturday morning at the earliest…

A Cypriot official indicated that one of the American ships, Challenger One [Correction – it was probably Challenger Two], developed mechanical problems that could not be repaired, and that it went to a Cypriot port, where it will remain.

This makes the Freedom Flotilla now minus two ships.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reported that “Cyprus banned any ship from sailing to Gaza from its shores after the flotilla organizers ignored a government appeal not to involve the island. Acting government spokesman Titos Christofides did not specify what the organizers had done to trigger the ban. He condemned the 3-year blockade and expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, but said the appeal was made to protect the island’s ‘vital interests’. The Cypriot news agency quoted Ministry of Communications and Works official Vasilis Demetriades as saying that the decision had been made in accordance with international law. The Palestinian Authority, he said, had bever demanded that assistance be sent to the Palestinian population in such a form … Another official told the Cyprus Mail, ‘Gaza has been declared a closed port by Israel. Imagine what would happen if we allowed these ships to use Cyprus as a staging point for Gaza? There are closed ports in Cyprus too … How could we continue to use this argument when we ourselves facilitate travel to a closed port in another country?’ ”
This was reported here.

An American passenger from the Challenger One, David Schemerhorn (sp?) told Al-Jazeera that he believed that Israel would back down on its threats to intercept the Flotilla, just as it did for the first few Free Gaza expeditions in 2008. He called the widely-publicized Israeli preparations, including the nice white detention tents set up to receive the Flotilla passengers, nohing but “political theater”.


An email from the Freedom Flotilla/Witness Gaza says that “Israel has grossly abused its authority as an occupying power, not only neglecting to provide for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population, but instituting policies designed to collectively punish the Palestinians of Gaza. From fuel and electricity cuts that hinder the proper functioning of hospitals, to the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid delivery through Israeli-controlled borders, Israel’s policies towards the Gaza Strip have turned Gaza into a man-made humanitarian disaster. The dire situation that currently exists in Gaza is therefore a result of deliberate policies by Israel designed to punish the people of Gaza. In order to address the calamitous conditions imposed upon the people, one must work to change the policies causing the crisis. The United Nations has referred to Israel’s near hermetic closure of Gaza as ‘collective punishment’, strictly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All nations signatory to the Convention have an obligation to ensure respect for its provisions. Given the continuing and sustained failure of the international community to enforce its own laws and protect the people of Gaza, we strongly believe that we all, as citizens of the world, have a moral obligation to directly intervene in acts of nonviolent civil resistance to uphold international principles. Israeli threats and intimidation will not deter us. We will sail to Gaza again and again and again, until this siege is forever ended and the Palestinian people have free access to the world”.

Haaretz has reported that “An IDF spokesman said that the army is prepared to carry out the instructions of the executive branch in preventing the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ from reaching the Gaza Strip. He said the flotilla was a provocation in the guise of a humanitarian act, that there is no shortage of food in Gaza, and that the border was open to any organization or state to transfer goods … IDF sources said they were concerned that terrorists may try to use the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ to enter the Strip or smuggle in weapons. In Ashdod Port, a large tent has been set up complete with air-conditioning, intended to receive flotilla participants. After the navy leads the vessels to the port, the activists are expected to be taken into the tent where they will undergo a procedure similar to that undergone by sailors entering any port. The process will include security checks, after which each participant will speak with a representative of the Interior Ministry who will propose that the activist sign an undertaking to keep away from Israel. If the participant agrees, he or she will be flown back to their country of origin at Israel’s expense. If they refuse the offer, they will be arrested. They will then undergo medical checks and an Magen David Adom ambulance team will be on hand in case any require hospital treatment. Then they will undergo further medical checks by the Israel Prison Services. From here they will be taken to a detention center in Beersheba. Thousands of IDF and government ministry representatives will take part in the operation. Certain distinct groups such as diplomats will be accompanied by representatives of the Foreign Ministry. Food and beverages will be supplied throughout the process. Authorities are also preparing for the possibility of provocative behavior, which will be handled by Prison Services staff. The process is expected to take just a few hours before mission members are transferred to the airport or detention center”. This can be read in full here.

YNet added that “The Israel Defense Forces said they would block access to the live footage as the ships near the shores of Gaza, meaning a takeover of the ships will be done secretly”. This is included in a report posted here.

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