No news about Jewish boat to Gaza on Monday morning (0830 am)

There is no news yet, at 0830 on Monday morning, about the progress of the Jewish Boat to Gaza — the Irene, which left Cyprus yesterday afternoon with some 10 passengers and crew on board, apparently all Jewish, with a number of Israeli citizens and one Israeli TV journalist.

There is nothing in the English-language Israeli media, either — in fact, it looks like a news blackout…

UPDATE: No news by 1400, either — 24 hours after the Irene left Cyprus, sailing towards Gaza, a 24- to 30- hour trip. It continues to look like a news blackout…

UPDATE TWO: It’s just after 1615, and there’s still no news, except for a report in Haaretz that spokesperson Miri Weingarten expects the boat to reach Gaza waters “late on Monday”… any time from now. About an hour ago, one of the Jewish Boat to Gaza support team sent out a tweet here, five minutes ago, saying “Reports that the IDF have boarded the Irene have proven untrue – they fired upon a fishing boat off the Gaza coast”… Is this code? Are they close enough to see or hear IDF firing on a [Palestinian, of course] fishing boat off the Gaza coast? Did they hear about this from other contacts they have, or other news sources? An hour ago, they tweeted this — with a slightly different wording: “Reports that the IDF have boarded the Irene have proven untrue – they just fired upon some fishermen off the coast of Gaza”.

UPDATE THREE: It’s just after 1825, and there’s still no news. However, on the website of the Jewish Boat to Gaza, here, there is a link to a Jerusalem Post website article which I otherwise did not see when browsing the JPost website. Clicking on the link takes you here, to a JPost article dated 24 September with the title: Hamas reports fisherman killed by IDF fire off Gaza coast. What is this supposed to mean? Is it just to draw attention to the hard reality of Gaza? Or, is it code?

UPDATE FOUR: It’s midnight on Monday, and there’s still no news. YNet reported earlier this evening that the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, indicated that the Jewish Boat will not be allowed into Gaza:
“The procedure will be the same as with all other flotillas,” foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor told Ynet. “First, radio contact will be established, and they will be asked where they’re headed….if they say they’re headed to Gaza, we will make it clear that the area faces an international blockade and arrival there is forbidden, and offer that they sail elsewhere. If they insist on Gaza, once they enter the forbidden zone they will be detained and towed to Ashdod,” he said. This is postedhere. CNN, however, added that the option of Al-Arish is also open: “The Israeli foreign ministry said Monday that when the boat nears, officials will ask for its destination. If they are told that the boat intends to go to Gaza, it will be told to dock at Al Arish port in northeastern Egypt near Gaza or Israel’s Ashdod ports. If the boat refuses, it will be intercepted and towed to Ashdod, said ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor”.  This is posted here.


On Sunday night, the Jerusalem Post’s well-connected defense correspondent Yaakov Katz wrote that the Israeli Navy had gone on high alert, and was set to stop the small 30-foot catamaran. He quoted one senior Israeli defense official as saying: “We cannot allow ships to sail freely into Gaza, since they could be carrying weaponry … If the ships sail into Ashdod [Israel’s southern port], we will inspect the cargo and then allow it through the land crossings into the Gaza Strip”.

It seems quite clear that the likelihood of the Irene carrying weapons is less than zero.

Israel has maintained an announced and declared naval blocade of the Gaza Strip since the night of 3-4 January 2009, when it began the ground offensive stage of its massive military attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009].

One attribute of a legal blocade is that it be announced, and information about it published. Another, apparently, is that it be applied impartially to all ships.

Therefore, Israel could maintain its embargo by merely boarding the ship at sea for an inspection.

It does not have to insist that all ships divert to Ashdod, and have whatever is permitted of its cargo sent in whenever it is convenient to the Israeli military’s Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the [Palestinian] Territories (COGAT).

However, that does appear to be the state’s firm policy, at least at the moment.

Alternatively, a ship could apply to the Egyptian government to offload its cargo at Al-Arish port on the northern, Mediterranean, coast of the Egyptian Sinai.

But, the Jewish Boat To Gaza wants to go to… Gaza.

Katz wrote in his JPost report that “Israel’s policy is to prevent ships from reaching the Gaza Strip, but rather have them undergo an inspection of their cargo at the Ashdod Port. This policy – that humanitarian aid must enter Gaza by land – was supported by the international community last week at a donor conference for the Palestinian Authority in the US”.
This article can be read in full, here.

It was previously mentioned in an earlier JPost report [see our earlier post here] that this policy would be ratified by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee of donors who met on the margins of the UN General Assembly high-level meetings in New York last week, and that this would be mentioned in a joint press conference by Israel’s Deputy Ambassador Danny Ayalon with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — which was called off by a dispute. The dispute was about an entirely different matter. It is not clear if this policy of having Flotillas go to Ashdod or Al-Arish is — or is not — endorsed by the Palestinian Authority.

And if it is not, then if this could have been another part of the disagreement between the two men.

Israeli decision to participated in UN Panel on Freedom Flotilla: "UNprecedented"

Given Israel’s new-found appreciation of international law, it should not be too surprising: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today (Monday), 2.8.10, informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that Israel would participate in the panel that he is establishing in the wake of the 31.5.10 events regarding the flotilla”, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office has announced.

According to the statement, Netanyahu said that “Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true. It is in the national interest of the State of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world and this is exactly the principle that we are advancing.”

The Prime Minister consulted his “Security Cabinet” — a “seven-member ministerial forum” — before the decision was announced,  and, the statement said, “diplomatic contacts … have been held in recent weeks in order to ensure that this was indeed a panel with a balanced and fair written mandate”.

Haaretz’s Barak Raviv wrote that This is the first time Israel has ever agreed to participate in a UN probe regarding the Israel Defense Forces … UN Secretary General Ban officially announced Israel’s participation in the international inquiry, calling it an ‘unprecedented development’ … Ban also announced those who are planned to head the UN inquiry, saying the ‘panel will be led by eminent personalities: former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Geoffrey Palmer as Chair and the outgoing President of Colombia, Mr. Alvaro Uribe as Vice-Chair. The Panel will have two additional members, one each from Israel and Turkey. It will begin its work on 10 August and submit the first progress report by mid September’.”

Ban reportedly added that he hoped “the Panel will fulfill its mandate based on the Presidential Statement of the Security Council and with the fullest cooperation of the relevant national authorities of the two countries … It will also give me recommendations for the prevention of similar incidents in the future”… This is reported in Haaretz here.

Investigation: the Challenger, Israeli military sanctions

In a telephone interview from Ireland, Shane Dillon, First Mate of the Challengera U.S.-flagged ship that was one of six in the Freedom Flotilla sailing together when they intercepted by the Israeli Navy before dawn on Monday 30 May— said that the six ships were steaming ahead, slowly, at approximately 7.5 knots per hour when the Israeli naval raid at sea began. There were other ships in the area at the time, Dillon confirmed, but because there was no radar on board the Challenger, he had no idea of how many. They continued to sail, though followed by Israeli naval vessels, for about 15 to 20 minutes (during which time there were several radio exchanges).

Dillon said that the Captain of the Challenger was asleep (!) at the time that he saw the Israeli Navy prepare to board the largest ship in the Freedom Flotilla group, the Mavi Marmara (chartered by the Turkish humanitarian relief organization IHH).

[The Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), published an interesting information in an account earlier this week that “Challenger One’s first mate, Shane Dillon, saw (SMH staff photographer, Kate) Geraghty being attacked and Israeli forces ripping equipment from McGeough. ‘She was just doing her journalistic duties … She advised them she was a bona fide photographer … She was just attacked’, Mr Dillon told the Herald from Dublin. He said Challenger One had attempted to outrun the Israeli boats to give Geraghty a chance to send her images. ”We were 15 minutes from the flotilla before they could board us’, he said”. This was published here.]

Questioned in the phone interview today, Dillon said that at the moment when he saw the Israeli naval forces preparing to board the Mavi Marmara, he made the decision to break away and make a run for it, as he described to the SMH. “I sounded the whistle — the Captain of the Challenger was asleep (!) at the time. We speeded up to about 22 knots”, Dillon said. The Challenger travelled for about 15 minutes or so, he said, flanked all the while by one Israeli naval vessel. Dillon explained that he only stopped at the point where a much bigger Israeli naval vessel suddenly materialized, and shined a very bright light on the Challenger. He said he was not aware of any other of the six ships travelling together in the Freedom Flotilla doing the same.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Israeli Ministry of Defense has begun to loosen some of the restrictions it has imposed on goods entering the Gaza Strip.

And, after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama told journalists that “We – and I think President Abbas agrees with this – recognize that Israel should not have missiles flying out of Gaza into its territories. And so there should be a means by which we are able to stop the flow of arms that could endanger Israel’s security … At the same time, we’re doing so in a way that allows the people in Gaza to live out their aspirations and their dreams both for themselves and their children…we’ve already begun some hardheaded discussions with the Israelis in achieving that.” This was reported here.

Continue reading Investigation: the Challenger, Israeli military sanctions