|The activists plan to raise multi-coloured flags bearing the names of dozens of Jews who support their action [AFP]|
A boat carrying Jewish activists from Israel, Europe and the US has set sail from Turkish held northern Cyprus bound for Gaza, in a bid to breach Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip.
The Irene left the port of Famagusta on Sunday carrying eight activists, three of them crew members, and two journalists.
Richard Kuper, a member of the UK-based organising group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said: “The Jewish Boat to Gaza is a symbolic act of protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the siege of Gaza.”
Kuper said the action sent out “a message of solidarity to Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace and justice” and showed that “Israeli government policies are not supported by all Jews”.
Reuven Moskovitz, an 82-year-old passenger who survived the Nazi Holocaust, said he felt duty-bound to attempt the voyage in the small blue and white sailing boat, a trip expected to take around 36 hours.
“It is a sacred duty for me, as a survivor, to protest against the persecution, the oppression and the imprisonment of so many people in Gaza, including more than 800,000 children,” Moskovitz said.
Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli military pilot and crew member on the British-flagged sailing boat, said they were not seeking confrontation.
“We have a policy of non-violence and non-confrontation,” he said. “But if the Israeli army stops the boat, we will not help them to take it to Ashdod.”
Ashdod is the port in southern Israel where other vessels attempting to break the blockade have been taken after being stopped by Israeli warships.
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 May, Israeli forces intercepted a six-ship flotilla heading for Gaza, killing nine Turkish activists and prompting a wave of international condemnation.
The activists on the Irene plan to raise multi-coloured flags bearing the names of dozens of Jews who support their action as the vessel nears Gaza.
“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 for orthopaedic medical care in Gaza’s hospitals,” said a statement from the organisers.
Rami Elhanan, another activist on board, said: “We are banging our head on a very hard wall of hatred. Our hope is to make little cracks on that wall, so that in the end it will fall.”
Moskovitz said he still remained a Zionist.
“The state of Israel was a big dream, and it has become reality. We have to make sure it does not become a nightmare,” he said.
“I am a Zionist, I still believe I have a right to be here, but not to rob Palestinians from their land and steal the rights of 1.5 million people.”
Last week, a report by the UN human rights council found there was clear evidence to back prosecutions against Israel for killing and torture when its troops stormed the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the May flotilla.
In a scathing report, it also threw out Israel’s argument that the aid activists were violent, thereby justifying the decision by Israeli forces to open fire.
Israel rejected the report out of hand as “biased” and “one-sided”.
It said its commandos resorted to force only after they were attacked when they landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara.
But activists on board say the soldiers opened fire as soon as they landed.
A separate inquiry into the incident has been set up by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, and several more inquiries into the raid are also being pursued by Israel and Turkey.