Middle East
Jewish aid ship nears Gaza
Ship with 8 Jewish activists sails for Gaza, in another bid to send humanitarian supplies and break the crippling siege.
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2010 16:31 GMT

An aid ship carrying 8 Jewish activists from Europe, Israel, and the US is less than 24 hours from reaching Gazan coastal waters.

Having left the port of Famagusta in Turkish-held northern Cyprus Sunday afternoon, the Irene is set to test the Israeli blockade sometime early Tuesday.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, has repeatedly warned that Israel will intercept any ship nearing Gaza, which is run by the Palestinian movement Hamas.

"In the tradition of the civil rights movement...we assert our right to continue to Gaza under international law," Glyn Secker, the ship's captain, told Al Jazeera.

The 10-meter catamaran is tiny in comparison with the six-ship May 31 aid convoy that contained 10,000 tons of aid and over 700 activists.

But the voyage is a gesture by left-leaning European Jewish groups to highlight what it sees as a flawed Israeli policy of collective punishment against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Yousef Rizka, a Hamas official, said: "The government has received Jewish activists arriving to Gaza before. The government positively views all attempts to break the siege on Gaza".

Israel eased its naval blockade following harsh international condemnation for storming the Mavi Marmara. The nine deaths aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were a public relations disaster for Israel.

Since then, groups from Iran, Ireland, Lebanon, and Libya, among others, have been trying to reach Gaza -- with varying degrees of success.

Groups represented on board the Irene include the UK-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the German Jewish Voice organization.

"The boat's cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children's toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza's fishing communities and prosthetic limbs," read a statement from European Jews for a Just Peace movement, the activist network that coordinated the voyage.

"We stand in the proud Jewish tradition of justice, of championing the rights of the downtrodden, of implacable opposition to prejudice and racism," continued the statement.

Kate Katzenstein-Leiterer, a leader of the German Jewish Voice, was quoted in June as saying, "We want Israel to behave in a way that it can be recognized as a democratic state. Now it is recognized as a criminal state. That is not what we want."

Reuven Moskovitz, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor among the passengers on the British-flagged vessel, is a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace).

“We are two peoples, but we have one future”, said Moskovitz in a statement on the Jewish Boat to Gaza website.

Another passenger is Rami Elhanan, an Israeli whose daughter died in a 1997 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem shopping centre.

Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli military pilot and Irene crew member, represents Combatants for Peace. Eli Osherov, a reporter from Channel 10 in Israel, is also on board.

Adam Keller, spokesman for Gush Shalom, another Israeli peace group, said he expected the incident to end "less tragically than the previous one," adding that the Israeli Navy would probably divert the boat peacefully to the port of Ashdod in daylight on Tuesday.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Andy David described the voyage as "a provocative joke that isn't funny".

Secker, the ship's captain, told Al Jazeera that the organisers have "a particular point to make, as the voice of Jews who have an alternative opinion to that of the Israeli establishment".

Al Jazeera and Agencies
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