Tahrir Gaza boat activists imprisoned in Israel
Canadians face two months of incarceration in Israel without trial
Update Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011
Free Palestine Movement
Yesterday, Freedom Waves to Gaza activists detained in Israel - including Canadians David Heap and Ehab Lotayef - came before a judge and were told they could be held in prison for 2 months without charges or trial.
To avoid this, the judge told them, they must sign a statement that they entered Israel 'voluntarily' and 'illegally' despite being violently kidnapped from international waters and taken to Israel against their will while trying to reach Gaza. While a handful of Freedom Waves to Gaza participants have been deported – including Canadian Karen DeVito – 18 activists and journalists have now been in Israeli prison for 5 days with no end in sight. DeVito is available for interviews.
The Israeli military forcibly commandeered the boats Tahrir and MV Saoirse that journalists and activists were traveling on as part of the Freedom Waves initiative and brought them to Ashdod port in Israel.
American journalist Jihan Hafiz was on the Canadian boat Tahrir, and was among those detained by Israel despite her press credentials. Israeli authorities ordered her and others not to talk about "anything negative or political" during their brief phone calls to home from Israeli detention. This censorship explains why some details are only just coming out now. She reported Tuesday about her experience during the Israeli takeover of the Irish and Canadian boats:
"There were three warships [...] four Zodiacs, four water cannon boats, as well as four regular gunboats. All of the commandos on all of these boats were heavily armed. It looked like they were taking on an army of a foreign country."
She added: "Two water cannons started to pour lots of water into the Irish boat, which flooded it, blew their sockets, and cut off all the electricity. And so, at that point, the Irish delegates I spoke to said they told the Israeli army, "We're taking on water. We're sinking. We're going to go down at sea if you continue with the water."
Hafiz went on to describe the violent takeover during which guns were pointed at the heads of the boats' passengers, how they were roughed up, mistreated, strip-searched, and filmed naked. She also tells of how the journalists' equipment was confiscated, in a bid to silence any reporting that might contradict the sanitized Israeli account of what happened during the hijacking of the Tahrir and the MV Saoirse.
For the full video interview and transcript, click here
"Our friends have been assaulted, tasered, beaten, kidnapped, robbed, and imprisoned. Now Israel is threatening to illegally detain them for two months. What is it going to take for the Canadian government to actually do something about another country kidnapping Canadian citizens and refusing to let them go?" demands Wendy Goldsmith, an organizer with the Canadian Boat to Gaza.
"We are disappointed, but not surprised, by the inaction of Baird and Harper," said Canadian Boat to Gaza organizer Dylan Penner. "In its failure to speak out against Israel's blockade of Gaza, the Canadian Government is condoning Israel's disregard for the human rights of the citizens of Gaza and giving it impunity for its refusal to comply with its international obligations. It is this silence that compels citizens of good conscience, like David and Ehab, to act where our Government has so consistently failed to do so."
Organizers of the Canadian Boat to Gaza are demanding Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird step down for failing to do his job to stand up for the interests of Canadians.
I write to you from cell 9 of the Apartheid State of Israel
|Canadian activist and professor David Heap aboard the|
Tahrir before imprisonment in Israel
Nov. 6, 2011
Dear sisters and brothers, friends and loved ones,
I write to you from cell 9, block 59 Givon Prison near Ramla in Occupied Palestine. Although I was tasered during the assault on the Tahrir, and bruised during forcible removal dockside (I am limping slightly as a result) I am basically ok. We, Ehab, Michael, Karen from Tahrir, as well as Karen, Kit (US) and Jihan who we saw briefly this morning. We are most concerned about our Tahrir shipmate, Palestinian Majd Kayyal from Haifa, last seen by us at Ashdod being photographed and put in a police car.*
Although Michael and I (among others) were transported in handcuffs and leg shackles, let me stress that we are neither criminals nor illegal immigrants but rather political prisoners of the apartheid state of Israel. Four from the Tahrir are imprisoned with 12 Irish comrades from the Saoirse, who have more experience with such issues. The four of us, Ehab and I (Cdn), Michael (Aus) and Hassan (UK) have joined with the Irish in their political prisoners' committee in order to press our collective demands:
association in the block - i.e. open cells
adequate writing and reading material
free communication with outside world - i.e. regular phone calls
information about shipmate women held at same prison
We add one Tahrir-specific demand: that Israeli state recognize the professional status of Democracy Now journalist Jihan Hafiz in accordance with her credentials from the US government. All political incarceration is unjust but let me stress that in duration and conditions, our situation pales in comparison to the plight of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners and to the open air prison of Gaza.
If you have energy to devote to solidarity actions in the coming days, please concentrate on them. We must get Tahrir back and hope Freedom Waves continue.
Free Majd Kayyal! Free all political prisoners! Free Gaza! Free Palestine!
Anishnabe-debuewin, restons humaine, stay human, in love and struggle,
David Heap of London, Ontario
* Majd Kayyal was released, but it appears the other political prisoners weren't told where he was taken.
Freedom Waves journalists held in Israeli prison
It seems that at least one of Kit and Jihan, and probably both, is still in Israeli detention. This AFP story was filed minutes ago. My understanding is that among the journalists, Jihan and Hassan refused to sign the deportation order.
A group of 21 activists who tried to sail to Gaza in breach of an Israeli blockade of the territory remain in Israeli custody, pending legal proceedings, the interior ministry said on Sunday.
"There are 21 passengers detained who refused to be expelled immediately and are engaged in proceedings against their deportation before an Israeli judge," interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP.
"Only after these proceedings are complete... can they be deported," she said. The 21 activists were among 27 passengers and crew aboard two ships intercepted by the Israeli navy as they tried to run the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli commandos boarded the Irish-flagged Saoirse (Freedom) and the Canadian ship Tahrir (Liberation) in international waters off Gaza on Friday before the navy escorted them to the port of Ashdod, the Israeli military said.
On Saturday, Israel freed six of the passengers -- an Arab-Israeli, two Greek crewmen, and three journalists from Egypt, Spain and the United States.
She said the remaining 21 people were still being held at a detention facility in Ramla near Tel Aviv, after questioning by immigration authorities.
Those still in Israeli detention are from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland and the United States.
The attempt to sail to Gaza was the latest in a string of activist missions aimed at breaching Israel's blockade of the territory.
In May 2010, six ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara tried to reach the coastal strip, but were intercepted by Israeli commandos, who stormed the boats, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara.
Earlier this year, a second flotilla tried to reach Gaza, but several ships were sabotaged -- which activists blamed on Israel -- and the one boat that made the sailing was intercepted before it could reach Gaza.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement. Two months ago, a UN report on the 2010 flotilla raid accused the Jewish state of acting with "excessive force" but found that its naval blockade of Gaza was legal.
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Latest update on the Freedom Waves to Gaza Boats November 6, 2011
The take over of the Tahrir and the Saoirse was violent and dangerous. Despite very clear protests from the occupants of the two boats that they did not want to be taken to Israel, they were forcibly removed from the boats in a violent manner. The whole take over took about 3 hours. Many of those on the Canadian boat were beaten.
It began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with high pressure hoses and pointing guns at the passengers through the windows. Fintan Lane, on the Saoirse, was hosed down the stairs of the boat. Windows where smashed and the bridge of that boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir collided with each and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse. The boats nearly sunk, the method used in the take over was very dangerous.
The Israeli forces initially wanted to leave the boats at sea but the abductees demanded that they not be left to float unmanned at sea, for they would have been lost and possibly sunk. David Heap, a Canadian delegate, was tasered and beaten. All belongings of the passengers were taken off them and crew and they still do not know if and what they will get back. 6 prisoners were released-both of the Greek Captains, 2 of the journalists and 2 delegates. The passengers remain in Givon detention center and many, including Kit Kittredge of the U.S., have not been able to make phone calls.
Those remaining are being asked to sign deportation papers which state that they came into Israel illegally and that they will not attempt another effort to break the Gaza blockade. If they sign they will not be allowed into Palestine, through Israel, for 10 years. Obviously their goal was to go to Gaza not Israel, and a signature could validate Israel's right to blockade Gaza, so they refuse to sign. This will mean longer detention. Their continued detention is designed to force them to agree to abandon their legal rights and has nothing to do with the security of Israeli civilians - just like the blockade of Gaza's civilians is clearly punitive and has nothing to do with the security of Israeli civilians
Our State Department has not been an advocate for its citizens. They would rather join Israel in stating that we are terrorists. Obama on Thursday said the passengers on these boats are defying Israeli and American law. He must have been confused. It's the other way around. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was renewing its call to Americans "not to involve themselves in this activity," and warned of possible consequences.
WE NEED ALL OF YOU TO GET ON THE PHONE TODAY AND CALL:
U.S. Emergency Consular Services 202-647-4000
and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv 011-972-3-519-7575
Tell them you want them to insist Israel free the prisoners immediately and end its siege of Gaza.
Just a few phone calls can make a difference.
Thanks for all you do.
Jane Hirschmann and Felice Gelman
Please distribute this press release:
For Immediate Release:
November 6, 2011
Contact: Felice Gelman 917-912-2597
Passengers on boats to Gaza beaten, denied visits by lawyers and access to families;
misled by U.S. consular authorities
Although Freedom Waves to Gaza organizers have not yet had direct communication with the people taken into custody by Israeli armed forces as they tried to peacefully sail to Gaza last week, information is emerging that Israeli armed forces tactics in confronting the non-violent activists have been violent and dangerous. This despite claims from the IDF spokesperson that "every precaution will be taken for the safety of the activists."
Prisoners include U.S. citizen Kit Kittredge, a delegate on the Tahrir from Quilcene, WA, and Jihan Hafiz, a U.S. citizen and journalist from Democracy Now, the national news program. Both have been advised by the U.S. consul in Israel to sign an Israeli deportation agreement. Both have refused because the statement says they came into Israel illegally and will not attempt another effort to break the Gaza blockade. Both statements are untrue.
A letter from Canadian David Heap, smuggled from the Givon prison, states that he was tasered and beaten when the Israeli Navy attacked the Tahrir. Irish prisoner, Fintan Lane, in a telephone call from Givon prison, reported that the takeover of the Saoirse was also violent. The Tahrir and the Saoirse were forced by Israeli warships to crash into each other, crippling both ships.
Palestinian Israeli Mad Kayal, a delegate aboard the Tahrir, who was arrested and released confirms these reports. "As a Palestinian, I was not surprised at how the IDF treated us," said Kayal, after his release, noting this kind of abuse is a daily reality for the 1.5 million people of Gaza, who are indefinitely detained in an open-air prison. "However, for the Canadians and other Westerners onboard, it was a complete shock."
"Israeli brutality and the unnecessary use of force against non-violent protests are well documented. What has happened to the passengers on the Tahrir and the Saoirse is just a tiny fraction of the daily abuse directed at Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as part of Israel's occupation policy," said U.S. coordinator Jane Hirschmann. "Nonetheless, all people - Palestinians under occupation and peace activists kidnapped and imprisoned - have human rights under international law that civilized governments must respect. The purpose of the boats' voyage to Gaza was to demonstrate that Israel continually violates those laws, and that the U.S. government cares more about Israel than about its own citizens."
GET ON BOARD THE U.S. TO GAZA CAMPAIGN
Also see: Reporters without Borders condemns arrest of five journalists on two Gaza-bound boats: