Activists on thwarted boat seeking to defy Israel’s Gaza blockade say soldiers acted harshly

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jewish boat activists: Israel treated us harshly

JERUSALEM — Jewish activists who sought to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade this week said Wednesday that navy commandos treated them harshly when they intercepted their boat.

The claims of rough treatment present another headache for Israel, which has had to fend off several recent attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to break the Jewish state’s three-year naval embargo of the seaside strip.

Israel said it seized the catamaran Irene, carrying nine Jewish activists, on Tuesday without incident.

While none of the blockade-defying vessels has reached Gaza this year, the activists’ frequent efforts to challenge the embargo have battered Israel’s image abroad and pressured the country to ease its restrictions — particularly after Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-led flotilla that killed nine activists in May. Both sides claim they acted in self-defense.

Activist Itamar Shapira said Wednesday that his brother, Yonatan — a former Israeli helicopter pilot who is well known locally for refusing to carry out his military duties — was shocked with a Taser gun while passively resisting arrest by sitting down and embracing another passenger.

“Very frightening voices came out of Yonatan. He was being shocked with the electricity (Taser), and I saw him bouncing around, his legs and head bouncing around,” said the younger Shapira.

Shapira said the boat’s 67-year-old captain was also knocked over.

The activists’ comments contradict military statements that said no violence took place when soldiers commandeered the boat — statements that were released while the activists were still in detention. Military officials declined to comment Wednesday on Shapira’s report.

Israeli forces also seized all cameras on board, the activists said.

On Tuesday, three independent experts leading a U.N. investigation into the Israeli raid on the Turkish flotilla censured Israel for seizing and “suppressing” all media materials from passengers on those ships.

Three of the four foreign nationals on Tuesday’s boat were deported, said activist spokeswoman Miri Weingarten. Another will be deported in the next few days.

Also Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court halted a government order to deport Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who tried to reach Gaza on a similar blockade-busting vessel in June. After capturing that ship, Israel detained and deported her and other activists on board.

Maguire’s lawyer, Fatmeh el-Ajou, said Israel stopped her client from entering Israel when she arrived Tuesday at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv because of her previous deportation.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said those deported from Israel cannot return for ten years, except with prior coordination, which Maguire did not have. “She was told that before and she came here anyway,” Haddad said.

The court ruled Wednesday that Maguire could not be deported until after a judge rules on her appeal Friday. She remains in an airport lockup.

Maguire, 66, is an outspoken supporter of Palestinian statehood. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

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