|The Irene, a small catamaran, carried eight Jewish activists, including ex-soldiers and a Holocaust survivor [EPA]|
Five Israeli activists who attempted to break their country’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in a boat have been released from police custody, though five others who had been on board the ship are set to be deported.
Yonatan Shapira, a former pilot in the Israeli air force, said after being released on Tuesday that Israeli marines who boarded the yacht Irene were “very brutal”.
“They didn’t kill us like they killed other Palestinians and Muslims, but they were very brutal. I got shot with a taser shock gun … and was brutally treated just like my brother Itamar,” Shapira, a member of the Combatants for Peace group, told the Reuters news agency.
The Irene was carrying eight Jewish activists – including 82-year-old Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskovitz and captain Glyn Secker – as well as two British journalists. Of the eight, five were Israeli citizens and three were citizens of the US, UK and Germany.
Another passenger was Rami Elhanan, an Israeli whose daughter died in a 1997 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem shopping centre.
Eli Osherov, a reporter from Channel 10 in Israel, was also on board.
The Israeli army said in a statement on Tuesday that Israeli forces boarded the Irene “without incident” and that “no violence of any kind” was used by either side.
Itamar Shapira told Reuters that Israel “must let people live freely, study freely around the world, eat what they want, buy what they want like any other citizen should”.
Symbolic aid package
Irene carried a symbolic aid package including children’s toys, musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets, prosthetic limbs and a water purifying kit. Israel has said the cargo will be screened and sent to Gaza.
The Irene, a 10-metre catamaran, is tiny in comparison with the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged ship that was part of a six-ship aid convoy intercepted by Israel on May 31. Israeli marines raided the Mavi Marmara and killed nine of its passengers: eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American.
But the Irene’s voyage was a gesture by left-leaning European Jewish groups to highlight what they see 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 heading 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 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.