Israeli Patrol Boat Rammed Civilian Mercy Ship
by Sheila Musaji
According to a press release we received from the Free Gaza Movement:
The Dignity, a Free Gaza boat on a mission of mercy to besieged Gaza, was attacked by the Israeli Navy in international waters. The Dignity was surrounded by at least half-a-dozen Israeli warships. They were firing live ammunition around the Dignity, and one of the warships has rammed the civilian craft causing an unknown amount of damage. Contrary to international maritime law, the Israelis are actively preventing the Dignity from approaching Gaza or finding safe haven in either Egypt or Lebanon. Instead, the Israeli navy is demanding that the Dignity return to Cyprus - despite the fact that the ship does not carry enough fuel to do so. Fortunately, no one aboard the ship has yet been seriously injured.
There are 15 civilian passengers representing 11 different countries (see below for a complete list). At approximately 5am (UST), well out in international waters, Israeli warships began surrounding the Dignity, threatening the ship. At 6:45am (UST) we were able to establish brief contact with the crew and were told that the ship had been rammed by the Israeli Navy in international waters, and that the Israelis were preventing the ship from finding safe harbor. We heard heavy gunfire in the background before all contact was lost with the Dignity.
The Israeli Navy claims they didn’t know it was an aid ship and they are now allowing them in. The report is in the video section of CNN at http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/12/29/penhaul.gaza.bpr.boat.cnn
According to Reuters: “Israel declared the coastal territory a closed military zone after it launched air attacks on Hamas targets on Saturday. More than 345 Palestinians have been killed in the attacks.
There were no reported casualties from the incident involving the small cabin cruiser “Dignity” that sailed from Cyprus late on Monday.
It was forced to divert to Lebanon, from where a naval vessel was sent to escort it into the port of Tyre.
Free Gaza Movement told Reuters their boat, carrying 3 1/2 tonnes of medical aid with 16 people aboard, was rammed and shot at in international waters 70-80 miles off Gaza by an Israeli naval vessel. There were Europeans and Americans on board.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, denied there had been any shooting although the two ships had made “physical contact.”
Cyprus state radio said the Cypriot government would seek explanations from Israel over the incident. The vessel was carrying medical aid donated by Cyprus and there were at least three Cypriots on board, including a Member of Parliament.”
According to YNet in Israel the Israeli Navy has ordered the ship to retreat and will not let it enter Gaza. The ship is now in Lebanon’s port of Tyre. Whether the medicine and doctors will be allowed to enter Gaza is unknown at this time. We will update as we get more information.
UPDATE 12/30 We just received this from the Free Gaza Movement:
Lebanon, Tuesday 30 December) - Today the Free Gaza ship “Dignity” carefully made its way to safe harbor in Tyre, Lebanon’s southern-most port city, after receiving serious structural damage when Israeli warships rammed its bow and the port side. Waiting to greet the passengers and crew were thousands of Lebanese who came out to show their solidarity with this attempt to deliver volunteer doctors and desperately needed medical supplies to war-ravaged Gaza. The Lebanese government has pledged to provide a forensic analysis of what happened in the dark morning, when Israel rammed the civilian ship in international waters, and put the people on board in danger of losing their lives.
The Dignity, on a mission of mercy to besieged Gaza, was attacked by the Israeli Navy at approximately 6am (UST) in international waters, roughly 90 miles off the coast of Gaza. Several Israeli warships surrounded the small, human rights boat, firing live ammunition around it, then intentionally ramming it three times. According to ship’s captain Denis Healy, the Israeli attack came, ““without any warning, or any provocation.”
Caoimhe Butterly, an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement, stated that, “The gunboats gave us no warning. They came up out of the darkness firing flares and flashing huge flood lights into our faces. We were so shocked that at first we didn’t react. We knew we were well within international waters and supposedly safe from attack. They rammed us three times, hitting the side of the boat hard. We began taking on water and, for a few minutes, we all feared for our lives. After they rammed us, they started screaming at us as we were frantically getting the life boats ready and putting on our life jackets. They kept yelling that if we didn’t turn back they would shoot us.”
Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate, was traveling to Gaza aboard the Dignity in order to assess the impact of Israel’s military onslaught against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. According to McKinney, “Israeli patrol boats…tracked us for about 30 minutes…and then all of a sudden they rammed us approximately three times, twice in the front and once in the side…the Israelis indicated that [they felt] we were involved in terrorist activities.”
The Dignity departed from Larnaca Port in Cyprus at 7pm (UST) on Monday 29 December with a cargo of over 3 tons of desperately needed medical supplies donated to Gaza by the people of Cyprus. Three surgeons were also aboard, traveling to Gaza to volunteer in overwhelmed hospitals and clinics. The ship was searched by Cypriot Port authorities prior to departure, and its passenger list was made public.
Israel’s deplorable attack on the unarmed Dignity is a violation of both international maritime law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that “the high seas should be reserved for peaceful purposes.”
Delivering doctors and urgently needed medical supplies to civilians is a just such a “peaceful purpose.” Deliberately ramming a mercy ship and endangering its passengers is an act of terrorism.
SEE Video of boat landing in Tyre at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRghMmgQ1kA
CALL the Israeli Government and demand that it immediately STOP attacking the civilian population of Gaza and STOP using violence to prevent human rights and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.
Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office at:
+972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264
Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence at:
+972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148
Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy at:
+ 972 5 781 86248
The Dignity departed from Larnaca Port in Cyprus at 7pm (UST) on Monday 29 December, bound for war-devastated Gaza with a cargo of over 3 tons of desperately needed medical supplies donated by the people of Cyprus. At our request, the ship was searched by Cypriot Port authorities prior to departure, to certify that there was nothing “threatening” aboard - only emergency medical supplies.
Civilians aboard the Dignity:
(UK) Denis Healey, Captain
Captain of the Dignity, Denis has been involved with boats for 45 years, beginning with small fishing boats in Portsmouth. He learned to sail while atschool and has been part of the sea ever since. He’s a certified yachtmaster and has also worked on heavy marine equipment from yachts to large dredgers. This is his fourth trip to Gaza.
(Greece) Nikolas Bolos, First Mate
Nikolas is a chemical engineer and human rights activist. He has served as a crewmember on several Free Gaza voyages, including the first one in August.
(Jordan) Othman Abu Falah
Othman is a senior producer with Al-Jazeera Television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(Australia) Renee Bowyer
Renee is a schoolteacher and human rights activist. She will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring and reporting.
(Ireland) Caoimhe Butterly
Caoimhe is a reknowned human rights activist and Gaza Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. She will be remaining in Gaza to do human rights monitoring, assist with relief efforts, and work on project development with Free Gaza.
(Cyprus) Ekaterini Christodulou
Ekaterini is a well-known and respected freelance journalist in Cyprus. She is traveling to Gaza to report on the conflict.
(Sudan) Sami El-Haj
Sami is a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, and head of the human rights section at Al-Jazeera Television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(UK) Dr. David Halpin
Dr. Halpin is an experienced orthopaedic surgeon, medical professor, and ship’s captain. He has organized humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza on several occasions with the Dove and Dolphin. He is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.
(Germany) Dr. Mohamed Issa
Dr. Issa is a pediatric surgeon from Germany. He is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.
(UK/Tunisia) Fathi Jaouadi
Fathi is a television producer and human rights activist. He will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring and reporting.
(USA) Cynthia McKinney
Cynthia is a former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, and the 2008 Green Party presidential candidate. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict.
(Cyprus) Martha Paisi
Martha is a senior research fellow and experienced human rights activist. She is traveling to Gaza to do human rights work and to assist with humanitarian relief efforts.
(UK) Karl Penhaul
Karl Penhaul is a video correspondent for CNN, based out of Bogotá, Colombia. Appointed to this position in February 2004, he covers breaking news around the world utilizing CNN’s new laptop-based ‘Digital Newsgathering’ system. He is traveling to Gaza to report on the ongoing conflict.
(Iraq) Thaer Shaker
Thaer is a cameraman with Al-Jazeera television. He will remain in Gaza to report on the ongoing military onslaught.
(Cyprus) Dr. Elena Theoharous, MP
Dr. Theoharous is a surgeon and a Member of the Cypriot Parliament. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and volunteer in hospitals.
Dignity Leaves for Gaza : Challenges World to “Stop this Madness!”
( Larnaca , Cyprus 29 December 2008) - There is a time when silence is complicity and inaction is unacceptable. On Saturday, December 27, Israel began Operation “Cast Lead,” a military onslaught against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip that has - so far - massacred more than three-hundred men, women, and children, and seriously injured over a thousand.
In response to Israeli butchery, the Free Gaza ship, the DIGNITY, will depart Larnaca Port at approximately 5pm (UTC), on Monday, December 29, bound for besieged Gaza . The ship is on an emergency mission carrying in physicians, human rights workers and over three tons of desperately needed medical supplies donated by the people of Cyprus . Coordinating with the Gaza Ministry of Health, the doctors will be immediately posted to overburdened hospitals and clinics upon their arrival.
We are not asking Israel for “permission” to go, and we will not stop until the DIGNITY lands in Gaza . We are answering urgent calls from hospitals and health care workers in Gaza by taking in three physicians who will stay and work in Gaza for several weeks. We will hold Israel responsible for the safety of our passengers and our cargo of emergency medicine.
Even before the present Israeli blitzkrieg, Karen Koning Abu Zayd, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), asserted that, ” Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community.”
Ewa Jasiewicz, a Free Gaza organizer living in Gaza , agreed with Abu Zayd, saying: “Where is the United Nations? Where is the Arab League? Where is the outrage against Israeli cruelty and Egyptian complicity? Every hospital in Gaza is already overwhelmed. Israel is committing war crimes here in Gaza , and words of condemnation are no longer enough. The world must act now to stop this madness.”
The Free Gaza Movement continues to do what the governments of the world will not do - take direct action to defend the health, lives, and dignity of 1.5 million Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip.
This catastrophe is still unfolding, and humanitarian needs in Gaza are quite literally devastating. The world can no longer stay silent as the Palestinian people are deliberately massacred, starved and humiliated. We have to create a new consciousness that turns the practice of human rights from rhetoric into reality. Palestinians have an inalienable right to live, and the undeniable right to a life with dignity.
Visit the Free Gaza site at http://www.FreeGaza.org