Sisters of mercy

IssueDecember 2016 - January 2017
News by David Polden

The Women’s Boat to Gaza campaign (see PN 2598–2599) has announced that it will continue to sail until Palestine is free, despite the seizure of its first vessel. On 5 October, two Israeli warships and four or five smaller boats surrounded the Zaytouna-Oliva in international waters and ordered it to stop sailing towards the Palestinian coast.

When the women-only boat continued its siege-breaking journey, the Israeli defence forces (IDF) boarded and commandeered the sailboat 35 nautical miles from Gaza.

The Zaytouna-Oliva was carrying 13 women, including Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mairead Maguire; ex-US army colonel Ann Wright; Marama Davidson, a New Zealand MP; and Leigh-Ann Naidoo, a South African Olympic volleyball player.

The IDF later described its search and takeover of the ship as ‘in accordance with international law... in order to prevent their intended breach of the lawful maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip’.

It might well be asked how hijacking an unarmed boat in international waters can be ‘in accordance with international law’, and how the Israeli blockade of Gaza can be seen as ‘lawful’ when it involves collective punishment which is specifically prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

Israel Radio reported that women soldiers were placed at the forefront of the interception force to minimise friction. This was an improvement on the IDF interception of the Mavi Marmara in 2010. In that incident, Israeli forces shot dead nine unarmed people on the siege-breaking Turkish ship.

The Zaytouna-Oliva was towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod where the 13 women were imprisoned. They were deported via Ben Gurion airport much more quickly than in the case of earlier siege-breaking flotillas. Wendy Goldsmith, a member of the Women’s Boat to Gaza land team, suggested that this might have been due to ‘the negative media attention Israel has been receiving for its illegal interception’.