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Gaza's Ark News News

Trivia Night in support of Gaza’s Ark

Help us turn this picture of Gaza's Ark into a reality

Date: 1st November

Time: 7.oopm for a 7.30pm start

Venue: Marrickville, Sydney, NSW

Facebook Event Link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/440430162665473/

Free Gaza Australia is hosting an unmissable fundraiser. Bring your friends and colleagues along for anight of progressive trivia (including a bonus Palestine round) in support of Gaza’s Ark > www.gazaark.com

There will be entertainment/live performances and spot prizes

* nibbles provided

* soft/alcoholic drinks will be available for purchase

Tickets in advance: $25 waged/ $10 unwaged/student

Tickets on the door: $30 waged/$15 unwaged/student

Tickets can be purchased by depositing the ticket amount/s and referencing name/s into our:

Bank Account: Commonwealth Bank

Acc. Name: GFF Australia Group

BSB: 062102 Acc. No: 10197185

(insert your name into the reference section and send an email to freegazaaustralia@gmail.com to advise of your payment)

* To assist with logistics if you are organising a team please send us an email advising the names and the number of waged/unwaged tickets you are buying > freegazaaustralia@gmail.com

See you there !

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Gaza's Ark News News

Rachel Corrie’s humanity lives on in Gaza’s Ark

* Article by Michael Coleman, aka one half of the kayaktivists, edited by Greta Berlin and James Godfrey and first published on Green Left Weekly on Thursday, August 30, 2012http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52095

Rachel Corrie, 2002

Rachel Corrie was born on 10 April 1979, and raised in Olympia, Washington, USA. She was the youngest of Craig and Cindy Corrie’s three children. Cindy describes their family as “average Americans, politically liberal, economically conservative, middle class”. However, even as a young girl, Rachel’s commitment to human rights was clear, when in grade five she stood in front of an auditorium full of adults and talked passionately about her dreams for the future, giving her now famous “I’m here because I care” speech.

After graduating from college at 23, Rachel’s commitment to human rights took her to the Palestinian enclave called Gaza, to a small city called Rafah  – about as far from Olympia as humanly possible. In Palestine, Rachel volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), bearing witness to Israel’s daily violations of international law against the 1.4 million people who lived there.

Rachel’s main purpose in Rafah was to try and prevent the Israeli Occupation Force [IOF], from demolishing Palestinian houses along the border with Egypt to create a “security” zone. At the time, the Israeli military had demolished 1,700 homes in Rafah, an action human rights groups claimed was collective punishment. On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie died trying to protect a Palestinian home from demolition, when she was crushed by an IOF bulldozer.

Rachel Corrie faces down a bulldozer in Gaza

Shortly before her death, Rachel said that “I feel like I’m witnessing the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive”. Unfortunately since 2003 the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has only deteriorated, and the collective punishment now targets the entire population of the Strip. All of Gaza’s now 1.6 million residents, the majority of whom are children, have been under an Israeli blockade since 2007 ‘officially‘. However the restrictions on the movement of the population of Gaza began as far back as 1991 – when Gaza was first cut off from Israel and the West Bank. The blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, something the International Committee of the Red Cross has pointed out, stating that “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.”

The effects of the blockade are well documented. During the past five years when the blockade has been in full effect, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have reported that the Israeli Military has killed or injured over 10,000 Palestinians residents. 70% of the population is now reliant on aid organisations for their basic human needs such as food, shelter or medical care. 90% of Gaza’s water is now undrinkable; due to a sanitation system that was rendered inoperable by the IOF during Operation Cast Lead. Gaza’s hospitals have faced constant chronic shortages of drugs and equipment for years, while fuel shortages cause power cuts of up to 18 hours a day.

Last Tuesday, the Corrie family’s decade long struggle for justice for Rachel was dealt a blow when the Haifa District Court ruled that her death was an accident, for which she was responsible. Despite the judge’s decision perpetuating the myth that her death was a tragic accident, the case shed light on Israel’s breaches of human rights and the impunity enjoyed by its military.

However people of conscience around the world have not been deterred by Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie or the many murders that preceded and followed it. In fact as it has becomes blatantly clear that the only route to a free Palestine is through civil society initiatives like the ISM, the Free Gaza movement, the flotillas, flytillas and other global civilian projects, the numbers of people around the world standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, both in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, has only increased.

The latest creative strategy for challenging Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza is Gaza’s Ark. Gaza’s Ark will not only challenge the blockade physically – it will also build hope on the ground in Gaza by providing investment, training and employment. Gaza’s Ark will also promote Palestinian trade with the outside world through the only port on the Mediterranean that is closed to shipping. Indeed, as James Godfrey of Free Gaza Australia stated: “Gaza’s Ark affirms our belief that the Palestinians of Gaza can rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.”

The legacy and spirit of Rachel’s humanity lives on in projects like Gaza’s Ark and always remember as Cindy Corrie stated following the verdict: “I don’t think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her”. The Corrie’s are a truly inspirational family who have both my condolences and gratitude.

Corrie Family awaiting the verdict
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Gaza's Ark News

One year after Greece stopped Freedom Flotilla: The struggle to end Gaza blockade continues

BY DAVID HEAP EHAB LOTAYEF > FIRST PUBLISHED JULY 26, 2012 ON RABBLE.CA
http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/canadianboattogaza/2012/07/one-year-after-greece-stopped-freedom-flotilla-struggle-en

One year after the Greek government bowed to pressure and enforced he outsourced Israeli blockade of Gaza, the international movement to challenge the blockade is still very much afloat: we may change our tactics, but not our objectives. Our new campaign to challenge the blockade from the inside out emphasizes the fundamental importance of freedom of movement for Palestinians.

On July 4, 2011 the Canadian boat Tahrir left the port of Aghios Nikolaos (in Crete, Greece) bound for Gaza. After days of waiting for official clearance in the face of increasing bureaucratic and political obstacles, we decided to defy a Greek government ban on Freedom Flotilla departures and simply cast off. There were more than 40 people on board the Tahrir: a wide range of delegates from Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Canada as well as journalists from various countries. Our Greek captain and crew had been replaced for the occasion by volunteers — we were lucky to have among us delegates with professional maritime experience, from engineer to ship’s officers.

We didn’t make it more than eight nautical miles out before the Greek coastguard commandos boarded the Tahrir and took control of the vessel. We were towed back to port where a three people from our group had been arrested (they were subsequently tried and given suspended sentences). The Greeks used minimal force in stopping the Tahrir. They did not interfere with communications nor with media reporting – cameras and live phone interviews were rolling throughout the whole process. Some of the coastguard commandos in fact said they were embarrassed by what they saw as their government’s betrayal of Greece’s traditional Mid-East position.

By accepting to play the role of unenthusiastic enforcers for Israel’s outsourced blockade of Gaza, then-Prime Minister Papandreou was indeed betraying his father Andreas’ historical support for Palestinian liberation. All the pandering to powerful international forces could not of course save the younger Papandreou’s job as PM from the pressures of the austerity agenda, and it remains to be seen whether present or future Greek governments will return to a more independent foreign policy. Meanwhile, we remain more buoyant about our internationalanti-blockade movement than about the Greek political situation.

When the Tahrir sailed again in November, this time from Turkey and with a much reduced delegation (just 12 people on board), we got much further before being captured by the Israeli navy in international waters just 45 nautical miles from Gaza. In stark contract to the Greeks, the Israeli navy began by blocking all communications and throughout did everything possible to prevent journalists on board from doing their work by reporting. By stealing media professionals’ recording equipment, the Israelis showed once again they know their actions are illegal and indefensible.

Despite recognizing that there were no arms or munitions of any kind on the Tahrir and that they would be met with only non-violent resistance, the heavily armed commandos boarded us with overwhelming military force, an act of state-sponsored piracy.

The Tahrir and the Saoirse are still illegally impounded in Israel, along with at least five other boats from different countries which have challenged the blockade since 2009 (after the six successful voyages to Gaza in 2008). We have filed a legal request for the release of our boat and its content but we know the Tahrir faces more delays before we can deliver this gift from Canadian civil society to the Palestinians of Gaza. The U.S. boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope has been impounded since last year by the Greek authorities, along with three other vessels.

A few Greek and Turkish boats from the 2010 Freedom Flotilla were finally returned, heavily damaged, from Israeli captivity, and the French campaign Un Bateau français pour Gaza, has filed legally against Israeli authorities for piracy, kidnapping and theft following the illegal capture of their boat Dignité Al-Karama last July. Meanwhile the commercial sailing ship Estelle is making its way from Scandinavia through the ports of Europe to the Mediterranean in order to challenge the blockade. So our international civil society movement against the blockade of Gaza remains very much afloat. Launched in May 2012, Gaza’s Ark is a new campaign in cooperation with organizations and individuals in Palestine, Canada, Australia and the U.S. which aims to build hope on the ground in Gaza in order to sail from Palestine against the blockade. It is not an “aid” project but rather an affirmation of the ability of the Palestinians of Gaza to rebuild their productive export economy, once they regain their freedom of movement. We are funding a boat to be sailed out of Gaza (the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping) by internationals and Palestinians to transport Palestinian products to complete trade deals with international buyers.

Importantly, outbound export trade from Palestine cannot be portrayed as threatening anyone’s security. But it does affirm a very basic human right systematically denied to Palestinians by the Israeli occupation: the freedom of movement within as well as in and out of their country. It also supports the Palestinian fishery’s right to operate in Palestinian territorial waters off Gaza for their livelihood, also threatened daily by the same blockade we are challenging.

Five independent human rights experts reporting to the U.N. Human Rights Council reiterated in September 2011 that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. Until the governments of the world take up their responsibilities towards Palestinian civilians and demand that Israel comply with international law, civil society movements like ours maintain our sights steadily fixed on freedom of movement for all Palestinians. Our tactics may change but our course remains the conscience of humanity.

Linguistics professor David Heap and IT engineer & poet Ehab Lotayef are steering committee members with the Canadian Boat for Gaza and Gaza’s Ark. They were on the Tahrir when it was attacked and seized last November and spent six days in Israeli prison before being deported back to Canada.

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Gaza's Ark News

‘Gaza’s Ark’ to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade

This article was first published in Green Left Weekly on Friday, July 13, 2012 and was written by Michael Coleman.

After its successful participation in Freedom Flotilla Two and Freedom Waves last year, Free Gaza Australia (FGA) in cooperation with its international partners is launching a new initiative: Gaza’s Ark — Building Hope. Gaza’s Ark will challenge the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza that collectively punishes more than 1.5 million Palestinians.

Gaza has “officially” been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, but the restriction on the movement of the population of Gaza began in 1991 when Gaza was first cut off from Israel and the West Bank.

The human costs of this blockade have been well documented, although often not reported. By restricting crucial medical and building supplies and blacklisting large amounts of food items, Israel has made 80% of the population of Gaza dependent on aid.

The virtual ban on exports has caused Gaza’s unemployment to soar to more than 30%. Gaza’s exports are now at just 5% of what they were in 2007.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.” The ICRC says the border “closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law”.

Gaza’s Ark will not only challenge the blockade physically as the “Flotillas” have done, it will also provide investment, training and employment in Gaza. It will promote Palestinian trade with the outside world through the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping.

Gaza’s Ark will be built in Gaza by Palestinian hands and expertise, with international assistance. We hope that building of the Ark will help revitalise the dwindling ship building industry in Gaza and help ensure the transmission of this disappearing expertise to younger generations.

During this process, training will be provided to Palestinian sailors in the use of modern electronic sailing equipment and techniques that have been denied them for years due to the blockade.

Gaza’s Ark trade deals will be secured between Palestinian producers and international businesses and NGOs. Although it will help in a very limited manner to alleviate Gaza’s unemployment crisis by paying wages to the boat builders and providing business opportunities to traders, James Godfrey a member of FGA stresses that Gaza’s Ark is not an aid project.

He says: “It is a peaceful action against the blockade which Israel unilaterally and unreasonably imposes on people living in Gaza. Gaza’s Ark challenges the blockade by building hope on the ground in Gaza, which can support the Palestinians of Gaza to rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.”

Once the Ark is complete and trade deals have been secured a crew of internationals and Palestinians will sail it from the port of Gaza carrying Palestinian products and will challenge the three-mile coastal limit imposed by Israel on residents of the Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s Ark will also work closely with Palestinian fishers to draw attention to their plight. Under the “Oslo Accords”, Palestinian fishers would be “allowed” to sail up to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. However, this was never implemented by Israel, which allowed only a 12 nautical mile limit. This has since been cut to six nautical miles and now three as punishment for the second Intifada and then as part of Israel’s military assault (Operation Cast Lead) in 2010.

This restriction on navigation and fishing has had a huge impact on the fishing industry in Gaza. Mahfouz Kabariti, Coordinator of the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign in the Gaza Strip, says: “The Gazan community needs 21,000 tons of fish annually. In the last year, the total extracted fish from the sea was only 3000 tons.” Gaza now imports most of its seafood — the blockade is slowly turning a generation of fishers into fishmongers.

Gaza’s Ark aims to build hope on the ground in Gaza by providing investment, training and business opportunities. Through non-violent direct action we will also expose the blockade that is collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of Gaza.

Please follow the Ark’s progress online at our new international website > http://gazaark.org/

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News

Cleaned the slate

Dear Supporters,

Following our fundraising lunch “Cleaning the Slate” in Sydney last Sunday we are pleased to announce that thanks to the support of our many friends, we have now ‘cleaned the slate’. We have repaid all of the money we borrowed in order to participate in Freedom Waves to Gaza last November!

This leaves us clear to raise money for the next venture Gaza’s Ark. This project is focussed on building a boat with Palestinians in Gaza, to help export goods by sea from Palestine. It will give individuals and businesses the opportunity to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza by pledging to purchase particular items, the details of which we are currently negotiating.

We are hoping to raise $10,000 in Australia in the coming month to help in the preparations of the boat and hope that you can dig deep and spread the word to help achieve this ambitious target.

You can help by:

1. Giving your financial support:
Bank: Commonwealth Bank
Acc Name: GFF Australia Group
BSB: 062102 Acc No: 10197185

* Please insert your name into the reference section and send us an email to advise of your donation so we may directly thank you.

2. Giving of your time/skills – contact us to discuss how you would like to be involved: Publicity/Outreach, Fundraising, Media, Social Media, Website development or Planning.

Thank you very much for your support.

In solidarity,

Free Gaza Australia

Post: PO Box 542, Leichhardt NSW2040

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GazaAustralia

Twitter: @GFFAusGroup

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Gaza News

50 aid groups demand end to Gaza blockade

As the inhumane blockade of Gaza enters it’s sixth year it’s not enough for 50 Aid organisation to demand an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of Gaza, as they have done below. It is high time we demand similar calls from our elected officials – contact Julia Gillard and Bob Carr and express you disgust at their inaction over the illegal blockade > FGA – this article was first published on Ma’an News on the 14/06/2012.

Fifty international charities and UN agencies called Thursday on Israel to lift its years-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Marking the fifth anniversary of the siege, the organizations — among them Amnesty International, Médecins du Monde, Oxfam, and Save the Children — joined agencies like the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights  UNICEF and four other UN agencies in urging Israel to lift the siege “now.”
“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now,'” the petition said.
Israel imposed restrictions on trade to Gaza in 2001 following the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising and tightened them further in 2007 after Hamas took over in the coastal enclave adjacent to Egypt, which also enforces a blockade.

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Occupation News

Co-existence vs. Co-resistance: A case against normalization

In this article Omar Rahman makes one of the best  arguments against normalisation I have ever read, hear hear Omar > FGA – This article was first published Tuesday, January 3 2012 on +972 Magazine

Although the “anti-normalization” debate has been around a long time, its resurgence in public discourse can likely be attributed to two things: the rise of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and the beginning of a transitional period in internal Palestinian politics.

Due to the very nature of the BDS movement, everything pertaining to Israel is put under the microscope and scrutinized. Subsequently, any relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is done so in spades. BDS encourages its adherents to look critically at everything they do and everything that is happening around them. It is important to distinguish what works in the service of achieving Palestinian rights and what does not, or even works against it. This is why the BDS movement has produced strict and coherent guidelines for what can be considered worthy of boycott and what constitutes normalization.

Secondly, the era in which Palestinians and Israelis engaged in dialogue under the wider auspices and example of governmental-led negotiations is coming to an end—at least for the time being. We are now at the cusp of a transitional period in Palestinian politics where the lack of a clear strategy and path forward on the diplomatic and resistance fronts is forcing Palestinians to look internally at the state of their own society and political situation. Reconciliation and reform within their fractured political system are desperately needed in order to move cohesively in a new direction. Thus many Palestinians have started to re-examine the logic of their relationships with Israelis and criticize those Palestinians who have benefited immensely from it over the years while others around them have suffered.

When we consider the resurgence of anti-normalization, we must also remember that the post-Oslo period witnessed an explosion in normalization programs and projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Any organization, group or program that had “joint” or “co-existence” in reference to Israelis and Palestinians was instantly given credibility and financing on the world stage. Such programs became extremely lucrative and many people profited with little regard to the actual state of the conflict and its overall deterioration. Even prior to the breakout of the Second Intifada, but largely afterwards, normalization programs lost their relevance. We were no longer in the post-conflict transitional period we thought Oslo had ushered in, and things got worse, not better.

FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH OPPRESSION

It has become senseless for Israelis and Palestinians to act like nothing is wrong with the status quo and carry-on with such projects. Normalization may be fine for those bridging the gaps between people in India and Pakistan or Venezuela and Colombia—where the two sides are on equal footing—but not in Israel/Palestine where one side lives under the yoke and chain of the other. When we seek to normalize this relationship by giving each other equal standing and equal voice, we project an image of symmetry. Joint sports teams and theatre groups, hosting an Israeli orchestra in Ramallah or Nablus, all these things create a false sense of normality, like the issue is only a problem of recognizing each other as human beings. This, however, ignores the ongoing oppression, colonization, and denial of rights, committed by one side against the other.

Moreover, normalization creates a false sense in the mind of Israelis that they are working for peace, while in actuality, though maybe unwittingly, they are contributing to the calcification of the status quo. Their energy is misdirected away from root causes and channeled into making the current situation more tolerable—largely for themselves—by helping them to cope with wider injustices occurring in their name. Many Israelis who participate in normalization projects believe that they are detached, that they are not part of the problem, because they have some Palestinian friends or colleagues, even if they are doing nothing to rectify the actual injustices that have been committed by their society daily for over half a century. In the words of Israeli architectural theorist Eyal Weizman in his monumental work on the architecture of occupation, Hollow Land: “The history of the occupation is full of liberal ‘men of peace’ who are responsible for, or who at least sweeten, the injustice committed by the occupation. The occupation would not have been possible without them.”

Likewise, these normalization projects are put on display for all the world to see, so that they may all feel comfortable and say: look, the moderates are resolving the differences in a civilized manner. This is probably why the largest contributors to normalization projects are not Israelis and Palestinians themselves, but rather the international community. These programs work in much the same way as endless negotiations, offering a semblance of progress so that the world may deceive itself without having to take real action.

I do not discount the authenticity of Israelis who desire to see a just peace. Nor do I overlook the importance of meeting your enemy on a human level, of the power of these efforts in defusing tension, mistrust, and misunderstanding. But we can’t ignore the negative impact of normalization given the ongoing occupation and colonial enterprise. We must ask ourselves, what did all the normalizing get Palestinians after Oslo except for deterioration in their circumstance? For all the money pumped into these programs why are there no statistics or data showing they work? Why does no one think to question the effectiveness of normalization, including its proponents, in the case of Mr. Abu Sarah’s article? We can sit back and comfort each other that we are not fanatics or extremists, and that may be all well and good, but the fanatics are determining the reality on the ground while liberals and moderates provide a veneer of normality and progress.

The truth is when we “normalize” relations with Israel and Israelis without bearing to the political situation, we legitimize Israel despite its continued oppression of Palestinians and its colonial policies on Palestinian land. We must remember that the greatest boon in Israeli history came after the Oslo Accords were signed. Many countries around the world that had refused to have “normal” relations with Israel reversed their policies. This false peace opened Israel up to the wider international community, spurring unprecedented growth and trade. By reversing the normalization trend, we strip the conflict of many illusions and niceties in favor of exposing the raw truth.

Mr. Abu Sarah portrays anti-normalization like it is based purely on hate for the “other.” In order to do this he ignores the strongest arguments against normalization in exchange for obscure notions that take anti-normalization to the extreme; such as any instance in which a Palestinian and an Israeli come together constitutes normalization. In my own experience meeting people who are against normalization, I came to understand that Israelis are valued and encouraged to take part in the resistance movement to occupation. As long as an Israeli is working for Palestinian rights and the end to occupation, the cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is perfectly legitimate and justified. This is the concept of “co-resistance” as opposed to “co-existence,” and should hardly be described as radical.

Yet, Mr. Abu Sarah’s article chooses to harp on these extreme cases at the expense of a serious argument over the topic. In what constituted an extensive blog post, there is little argument discussing why normalization activities are valid and beneficial; rather the entire piece is devoted to portraying anti-normalization as irrational. Some of his claims are true, such as those who use “normalization” as a character attack for dubious ends. But none of that still gets to the heart of the matter. I simply want to know, are we better off today because of normalization projects?

THE KIDS RETURN HOME

I wish to conclude this piece with an example of normalization from my own history. When I was fifteen years old, I was a participant in the Seeds of Peace program, which brings young teenagers from conflict zones together to a summer camp in the northeastern United States. Although originally set up for Israelis and Arabs, the program expanded over the years to include Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Indians and Pakistanis, and others. In each session there was also a delegation of American teenagers, of which I was a part. This was still prior to the breakdown of the Oslo Accords and the outbreak of the Second Intifada and most believed we were on the path to peace. Teenagers, who for the most part had never met someone from the other side before, would tell stories from their own experience in the hope of making their enemy understand them. Yet, I can still remember feeling at the time that the effort would be somehow wasted when these kids returned home because even I knew that, despite pretenses, there was no real peace on the ground. During my trips to the West Bank to visit my extended family, I would see and feel the military presence that continued to persist in the still-occupied territories. And in the “co-existence” sessions at Seeds of Peace, I would hear from those Palestinians what life still held for them.

The most poignant moment for me, however, was when a Palestinian teenager near the end of the program asked an Israeli teenager if he would still join the army and serve in the occupied territories, to which the answer was “yes”. To me, this said it all. What did this whole program mean if in a few years that Israeli teenager would be sitting at a checkpoint in the West Bank and shoving his M-16 in the face of a Palestinian while asking for his ID? Would it make him a more compassionate soldier serving in an inherently unjust system? When all the fun and games were over, we each returned to our respective societies and things stayed the same.

If these teenagers had returned to a cold peace, it may have been different. They could continue to work to establish more friendly relations between their respective peoples. But for Palestinians and Israelis, they live everyday in a system of imbalance and injustice where one side is oppressing the other through an engineered structure of superiority and subjugation. That is it. Normalization can try to make you forget that fact, but the next time a gun barrel is pointed in your direction, or a cousin is arrested and thrown in prison, or the home of a neighbor is bulldozed, or your relatives in Gaza fall under the bombs, you will be hard pressed to do so.

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Flotilla News

Give back the Tahrir

Since Michael’s return to Australia, Free Gaza Australia [FGA] has been running a political campaign to get our beloved ‘Tahrir’ back from Ashdod, where the Israeli navy took her after illegally taking control of her in international waters in November.

We have sent the following letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in an effort to enlist her support for the campaign for the Tahrir’s return and for our Government to reposition Australia on the right side of history and international law, and alongside the overwhelming majority of countries in the world who will not support the ongoing systematic abuse of Palestinian people and denial of their human rights.

You can add your support for this campaign by clicking on the link below and adding your name to the call for the ‘Tahrir’ to be returned to its rightful owners.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/give-back-the-tahrir.html

In the coming weeks we plan to contact all Federal Members of Parliament and seek their support as well.

In recent months, we have also been talking to our international partners about our next plans – stay tuned for the news of the next ‘waves’ to Gaza.

Dear Prime Minister,

In early November 2011, we wrote to your Government demanding immediate action, to:

1. Pressure the Israeli government to unconditionally release and facilitate the safe return of Michael Coleman and all political prisoners.

2. Demand the release of the Tahrir and Saoirse along with all personal property, as well as compensation for damages incurred by the act of piracy that the Israeli government committed on the high seas.

3. Ensure that Israel ends its illegal blockade of Gaza to enable freedom of movement for people and goods.” Five days after the Tahrir was attacked in international waters and Michael, all other passengers and crew were abducted; he was released and ‘deported’ to Australia via Bangkok and Melbourne.

On 28 November 2011 we received a woefully inadequate response from Samuel Allen (Acting Director, Levant and Iran Section) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in which no answers were provided to our principal demands for action.

The Australian Government’s response to the act of piracy committed by the Israeli Government against the unarmed flotilla that Michael Coleman was aboard has been pitiful.

Your regurgitated comments about practical support and partnership agreements are mealy-mouthed apologies, which are grossly inadequate and disproportionate for the Palestinian people whose land has been stolen from them by the actions of the ever-expanding Apartheid Israeli ‘state’.

Providing drip feed of ‘aid’ is not the solution to the plight of the Palestinians and the injustices they experience in Palestine and in forced exile. Your ‘travel advice’ that Australians should not attempt to travel to Gaza by sea is cowardly. The Australian Government should be working with other countries to aid the people of Gaza who demand an end to the blockade and with it their ability move and trade freely.

All governments, including yours, must hold Israel accountable for its defiance of international law with regards to the ongoing collective punishment of more than 1,600,000 Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are under the age of 16 in what is effectively the world’s largest open air prison.

Instead you persist in platitudes to the Israeli Government and business interests who continue to make their money from the theft of Palestinian lands. Indeed we found your recent attendance at and speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce extremely offensive when Palestinian people are denied freedom of movement and trade.

We contrast your Government’s actions with the visit to Gaza last month by Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore from the Irish Republic and his statement demanding an end to the blockade.

It is because of the continuing inaction of governments, including the Australian Government that ordinary people feel compelled to act. When our delegate sailed to Gaza, he did so in the firm belief that the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli Government is illegal and inhumane and should end without delay. In this appraisal we believe that we have the support of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross. and numerous other human rights organisations.

We consider that our assets – the Tahrir, of which we hold a one-tenth share, medical aid we were transporting to give to the people of Gaza and our personal belongings including a satellite telephone have been confiscated illegally by the Israeli Government.

We urge you to actively support our demand that the Israeli Government reloads our medical supplies and our personal belongings and other assets onto our boat and allow us to sail it to Gaza without delay.

We look forward to hearing back from you soon with a considered, positive reply that repositions Australia on the right side of history and international law, and alongside the overwhelming majority of countries in the world who will not support the systematic abuse of Palestinian people and their human rights.

Yours sincerely,

James Godfrey

for Free Gaza Australia

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Flotilla News

LIVE-BLOG: Israel military intercept Irish and Canadian boats off the coast of Gaza and detain all on board

12:00pm (Wednesday 9 November) Sydney time: Journalist Jihan Hafiz, who was on board the Tahrir when it was intercepted by Israeli military last week, has revealed that Australian delegate Michael Coleman was subjected to “extreme violence” by Israeli commandos.

…they were very forceful with Michael Coleman, who was a delegate—the only Australian delegate. He did resist. He was not—he was not cooperating with any of their demands. They dragged him to the other side of the boat. They had guns to his back, as well as to his head, as they frisked him. And they even had lasers pointed at his chest. And this irritated a lot of people on board, including the journalists, because it seemed as though they were threatening to shoot him. And so, we were a bit concerned about having lasers pointed at people, at which point they put it down.  […]

I did witness extreme violence toward Michael Coleman, who I must say was the most defiant of that day that we were taken. … I could hear him arguing with them: “You kidnapped us. You’re pirates. You violated international law. You’re lawless.” And I think the more he would say these things that would irritate them, the more violent they would become.

Read a full transcript of Jihan’s interview with Democracy Now here, or watch the interview below:

08:00pm (Tuesday 8 November) Sydney time: We spoke with the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv earlier this evening who confirmed that Michael remains detained in Israel. We currently do not know when he will be deported. With this in mind and the woeful inaction from the Australian Government, we have have organised a protest rally this Thursday in Sydney, details are as follow:

When: 5.30 pm Thursday 10 November.
Where: Martin Place Sydney, corner of Angel Place.
(This is near the Sydney office of DFAT in Angel Place.)

Please share this information with your networks and be sure to come down to support Michael! Click here to RSVP and share the event on Facebook.

05:00pm (Tuesday 8 November) Sydney time: We have sent out a media release calling on the Australian Government to take action to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Australian Michael Coleman who remains in an Israeli prison.

Despite Michael’s ongoing imprisonment in Israel’s Givon prison, there has to date been no response from the Foreign Minister or his staff to this violence against an Australian citizen.

In a phone call to Minister Rudd’s office earlier today, a staff member said that government representatives have corresponded with Michael and his family to see that he is “OK”. The staff member in Minister Rudd’s office noted that she believed that the conditions Michael is being kept in are “above board” and “up to standard”.

This is in stark contrast to Michael’s statements via a call with his father on Sunday evening: “We have been hand-cuffed and shackled, sleep-deprived, with our watches impounded and the clock in the prison set to the wrong time. This is all designed to disorient and demoralise us.” […]

An open letter has been sent to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Rudd today asking for the Australian Government to urgently address its ongoing inaction.

The letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard can be found at: http://freegazaoz.org/open-letter-to-prime-minister-julia-gillard/

Read our full statement here.

02:00pm (Tuesday 8 November) Sydney time: Michael Coleman remains detained in Israel. We have today written an open letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which was sent also to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. You can read the full letter here. Here is part of what we had to say:

We demand the Australian Government takes immediate action, to:

1. Pressure the Israeli government to unconditionally release and facilitate the safe return of Michael Coleman and all political prisoners.

2. Demand the release of the Tahrir and Saoirse along with all personal property, as well as compensation for damages incurred by the act of piracy that the Israeli government committed on the high seas.

3. Ensure that Israel ends its illegal blockade of Gaza to enable freedom of movement for people and goods.

This morning ABC News 24 ran an interview with Michael’s dad John, click here to watch. We also received another letter of support, from Greens NSW MP John Kaye. You can read the full letter here, and here is part of what John had to say:

Some people just cannot sit still when they witness injustice. Michael Coleman is one such hero who finds intolerable the discrimination and disenfranchisement visited on the Palestinian people on a daily basis. He left his day job in Australia as a youth worker who educates and empowers young people at risk of homelessness and joined a ship to be part of the nonviolent challenge Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza. […]

Rather than detaining people like Michael, a real democracy would welcome their commitment to the values of social justice.

I join with Michael’s supporters in calling on the Australian Government to act for Michael’s immediate release. The Gillard government should further condemn Israel’s detainment of Michael and its ongoing occupation of Gaza.

01:00pm (Tuesday 8 November) Sydney time: This update comes from our friends in Palestine who have been liaising with Israeli authorities, foreign consulates and lawyers about the current situation of the peace activists and journalists that were on the Freedom Waves boats Tahrir and Sairose:

Freedom Waves to Gaza
Palestine Office @PALWaves
7 November 2011

[RAMALLAH] Of the 27 human rights defenders captured during Israel’s illegal takeover of the Freedom Waves to Gaza vessels on Friday, 4 November, 20 remain in Givon prison and the whereabouts of one is unknown.

Israeli officials have been claiming that all 27 people aboard the MV Tahrir and MV Saoirse have been released or are awaiting deportation. This is not true. Freedom Waves can confirm that six people have been released or deported. These are Majd Kayyal (Palestinian from Haifa), Lina Attalah (Journalist from Egypt), Casey James (Journalist from the US), Aimane Zoubir (Journalist from Morocco), Captain George Klontzas (Greece) and Captain Zacharias Stylianakis.

The whereabouts of British journalist, Hassan Ghani of PressTV is unknown. On Saturday prison authorities told lawyers that Hassan was not at the prison, yet we know that he has not yet been released.

Australian Michael Coleman is amongst those still detained in Israel. Read the full update on the Freedom Waves activists and journalists here.

11:48pm (Monday 7 November) Sydney time: News report featuring an interview with Michael’s dad John and our spokesperson James.

04:00pm (Monday 7 November ) Sydney time: Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon spoke on ABC Radio about Michael, listen here-

Some other recent media, from SBS TV, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Herald Sun, and ABC.

12:00pm (Monday 7 November) Sydney time: We have released a statement about Michael’s current situation, including messages of support from independent journalists John Pilger and Antony Loewenstein.

Contrary to Israeli claims that the takeover of the two Freedom boats Tahrir and MV Saoirse by the Israeli navy was peaceful, organisers of this latest Freedom Wave to Gaza say it was aggressive and dangerous. The two boats were violently intercepted in international waters, says Michael Coleman, an Australian aboard the Tahrir, who is currently imprisoned in Israel. […]

Michael told his father: “We were intercepted in international waters, illegally boarded by about 30 armed Israeli troops and forcibly taken to Israel against our expressed will. We were assaulted and thrown around. I had my arm twisted hard up my back. One activist was tasered.”

“We have been hand-cuffed and shackled, sleep-deprived, with our watches impounded and the clock in the prison set to the wrong time. This is all designed to disorient and demoralise us. But our spirits are high. We are political prisoners, defending the rights of Palestinians. We have refused to sign any statement that we came illegally to Israel. We were headed for Gaza, not Israel. We were forcibly, violently and illegally taken to Israel against our will,” he said.

Many goodwill messages for Michael have been received. Australian journalist, writer and film-maker, John Pilger wrote: “Be assured the great majority of humanity is with you in spirit; …All power to you.”

Australian writer and journalist Antony Loewenstein wrote: “The silence of the political and media elites over both Michael’s imprisonment and the suffering of the Gazan people proves how Zionist ideology has corrupted our democratic process.”

Read our statement in full here.

10:36am (Monday 7 November) Sydney time: Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has released a media statement about our Australian Freedom Waves delegate Michael Coleman who remains detained in an Israeli prison:

“I have also asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to work hard to ensure Mr Coleman is safe and is released without delay,” Senator Rhiannon said.

“It is the Israeli Defence Forces that have acted illegally as the boat Mr Coleman and other Freedom Waves participants were on was in international waters when intercepted.

“University of Western Ontario Professor David Heap has reported that he and Mr Coleman were transported to prison in handcuffs and leg shackles. I understand Professor Heap was tasered.

“I know Mr Coleman and congratulate him for his work in highlighting the destructive Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Click here to read her statement in full.

02:31am (Monday 7 November) Sydney time: Irish organisers have now also had contact with delegate Fintan Lane who was travelling on board the MV Saoirse. While the IDF reported their soldiers had “took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels” while taking over Freedom Waves vessels in international waters, this eye-witness report clearly contradicts the Israeli military narrative:

The takeover of the MV Saoirse was violent and dangerous. Despite very clear protests from the occupants of the two boats that they did not want to be taken to Israel, they were forcibly removed from the boats in a violent manner. The whole takeover took about three hours. It began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with high pressure hoses and pointing guns at the passengers through the windows. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse.  The boats nearly sank. The method used in the takeover was dangerous to human life. The Israeli forces initially wanted to leave the boats at sea, but the abductees demanded that they not be left to float at sea, for they would have been lost and possibly sunk. All belongings of the passengers and crew were taken from them and they still do not know if and what they will get back.  The 14 Irish citizens remain in Givon prison.

10:36pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: ** UPDATE: DIRECT PHONE CONTACT WITH MICHAEL **

We have just spoken to Michael’s father who has just had a call from Michael. 

He was supposed to have a 3 minute call but was cut off after a minute. He reported that 30 armed men forcibly boarded the Tahrir. He and others were assaulted on the boat and again when they were forcibly taken off the boat against their will into Israel.

He has not signed and will not sign any deportation order or ‘admission’ that he entered Israel illegally. He expects to be deported 72 hours after ‘the process’ began.

Michael was stating categorically that he is a political prisoner. His Dad described him as fired up and agitated although ‘fine’ all things considered…

09:00pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: We have received information about an interview that Giorgos Klontzas, Captain of the Tahrir, did with Greek media, Omnia TV. Our contact writes:

Greek captain of the Tahrir Giorgos Klontzas has confirmed the use of violence on him by the israeli soldiers during his interrogation in a interview he gave to www.omniatv.com

He specifically reports that he was handcuffed on hands and feet , very tightly which created a blood circulation problem and that in order to make him give his fingerprints he was held by three soldiers and one was holding him in a strangling way almost suffocating him. At one point they stuck two fingers in his eyes creating very strong pain. He said that he was very calm, he did not speak aggressively and that he just requested to see a lawyer… He also confirms that some activists were very badly treated.

08:00pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: SBS ran a short piece about Michael’s ongoing imprisonment in Israel. Click here to watch, the story runs from around the 1:10 minute mark.

07:17pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: We have received confirmation from a contact in Palestine that our Australian delegate Michael Coleman has been visited by an Australian consular official at Givon prison in Israel where he remains detained.

02:41pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: This letter just in from David Heap who was on board Tahrir and remains in Israeli prison. Read the full letter here.

I write to you from cell 9 of the Apartheid State of Israel

Dear sisters and brothers, friends and loved ones,

I write to you from cell 9, block 59 Givon Prison near Ramla in Occupied Palestine.  Although I was tasered during the assault on the Tahrir, and bruised during forcible removal dockside (I am limping slightly as a result) I am basically ok.  We, Ehab, Michael, Karen from Tahrir, as well as Karen, Kit (US) and Jihan who we saw briefly this morning.  […]

Although Michael and I (among others) were transported in handcuffs and leg shackles, let me stress that we are neither criminals nor illegal immigrants but rather political prisoners of the apartheid state of Israel.

Republished from the Canada Boat to Gaza website.

1:19pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: News just in from Sofia Smith that one of the delegates on board the Tahrir, David Heap, was able to get a letter out to a lawyer who visited him in Israeli detention.  David, an activist based in Canada and father of two, says he was tasered. He says that the Freedom Waves delegates are doing ok. David’s full letter will be transcribed and published very soon. Read Sofia’s update here.

1:06pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: We have just released a media statement about Australian delegate Michael who remains locked up in Israel after the boat he was travelling to Gaza on was intercepted and boarded by Israeli military in international waters on Friday 4 November. We are calling for immediate action by the Australian government.

Free Gaza Australia is very concerned about Michael’s current condition after other passengers on board the Tahrir and M.V. Saoirse have reported being subjected to beatings and strip-searches by the Israeli military. Freedom Waves organisers are demanding that the Israeli government immediately free the remaining people they have kidnapped and are illegally detaining.

James Godfrey, spokesperson for Free Gaza Australia says: “We are outraged that delegates, including the Australian Michael Coleman, have been denied access to family and friends and we are therefore unsure as to their well being. We have heard indirectly from DFAT, but that is simply not good enough. We want to speak with Michael who is still being held in an Israeli detention centre without communication. We are unsure of what consular assistance has been provided and urge the Australian Government to ensure his immediate release,

Michael’s father John speaking early on Sunday morning said: “We have had one call from DFAT. That is all. Michael has not been able to contact us. We have support from the organisers here and around the world but not from our Government.”

We understand that the delegates were asked to sign deportation papers testifying that they entered Israel illegally and waive their right to a court hearing. They were brought into Israel against their will; therefore they have refused to sign those papers. We also understand that this peaceful resistance is what is leading to ongoing punishment and communication restrictions.

Read the full statement here. Comment is available, including from Michael’s father John. Call James on  0424 340 630 or Vivienne on 0411 366 295.

12:18pm (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: Australian Freedom Waves to Gaza delegate Michael Coleman remains imprisoned in immigration detention in Israel. DFAT and the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv are aware of Michael’s situation but they have not confirmed if they have yet had any direct communication or visits with Michael since he was detained by Israeli authorities yesterday.

We are very concerned for Michael’s safety and well-being are receiving reports from others on board the Tahrir about being subjected to beatings and strip-searches by the Israeli military.

This report from Lina Attalah, a journalist who was on board the Tahrir:

The place we were taken to at Ashdod is a featureless detention facility for “illegal migrants.” I was strip-searched and had my flip cam, personal diary, USB stick, mobile phone and voice recorder confiscated. My computer and camera had already been taken by the soldiers on the boat. I tried to negotiate to get my things back – or at least to recuperate my personal diary, where I had compiled minute details of the trip – but failed. I did manage to keep two books they wanted to confiscate. […]

I was brought somewhere else, where I was interrogated by police officers for 30 minutes and where my finger prints and photo were taken. During the interrogation, I was asked about my professional history, the different organizations I worked for and how I knew Freedom Waves, our flotilla to Gaza, and the activists involved. As I was facing the police officer, I saw the reflection of George Klontzas, the boat’s captain, in the mirror. His legs were cloaked in metal chain.

And from the Canada Boat to Gaza organisers which notes that Canadian consular officials have been able to visit their delegates detained in Israel, and saw that they had ‘varying degrees of visible bruising’:

Palestinian Israeli Majd Kayal, delegate aboard the captured Canada Boat to Gaza and recently released from Givon Prison, confirms the IDF’s “peaceful” take-over of the Tahrir was anything but peaceful. An IDF video clearly shows the Israeli military firing a water cannon at the Tahrir on rough seas, endangering the lives of those aboard. Delegates offering non-violent resistance to the takeover of the civilian ship in international waters were threatened and then beaten by soldiers. One delegate, 45-year-old David Heap, professor at the University of Western Ontario, was particularly badly beaten. Israeli prison authorities are continuing to prevent Heap’s family from contacting him by phone.

“As a Palestinian, I was not surprised at how the IDF treated us,” said Kayal, after his release, noting this kind of abuse is a daily reality for the 1.5 million people of Gaza, who are indefinitely detained in an open-air prison. “However, for the Canadians and other Westerners onboard, it was a complete shock.”

As of now, family members are still being prevented from having telephone contact with their loved ones. Lawyers were able to visit briefly with some of the delegates being held at Givon Prison in Israel. […]

Family members who have been able to speak with Canadian Consular staff have been told that several delegates showed varying degrees of visible bruising when Canadian Officials visited them. Nevertheless, Consular staff said they felt that everyone was “O.K.”

03:20am (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: Here are a couple more photos that come via our friends with the Canadian delegation on board the Tahrir. They are from shortly before delegates set out from Turkey on Thursday and show our delegates with medical aid that was carried on the Tahrir for Gaza. The total value of medical aid on board was $30,000.

 

03:20am (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: We understand Michael is currently in a detention facility in Israel, awaiting deportation process. We are continuing to urge Australia to provide urgent consular assistance to Michael at this time.

This from report from AFP filed around 4 hours ago:

Interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told AFP the six released included an Israeli Arab, two Greek crewmen and three journalists — from Egypt, Spain and the United States.

She said the remaining 21 people were still being held at a detention facility in Ramla near Tel Aviv, after questioning by immigration authorities.

Asked when the 21 activists were expected to be freed, Hadad explained the deportation process requires them to see a judge, a process that would take at least 72 hours.

At the end of the process, Israel would fly the activists back to their homelands, she said. Fourteen of the activists held by Israel were Irish, the rest are from Canada, Scotland, Australia and the US.

03:00am (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: Reports from our friends liaising with their delegates on board the boats indicate that Michael may have been amongst those that peacefully resisted leaving the Tahrir when it arrived in Ashdod port. We hear that for this reason Michael remains detained by Israeli authorities and contact with him is difficult at this stage.

We are very concerned about reports that some of the passengers on board the Tahrir and Saoirse were subject to violent and aggressive behaviour  by the Israeli military, and we are concerned too about the reported consequent ongoing punishment and communications restrictions placed on our Freedom Waves delegates while they are held in Israel at present.

This latest report from Winnipeg Free Press:

Organizers say some activists were beaten when Israeli troops took over a Canadian ship trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza strip.

The Tahrir was carrying medical aid and activists from nine countries, including three Canadians, when it was intercepted by Israeli forces yesterday.

Israel has said the takeover was peaceful and no one was hurt in the process. The Tahrir and an Irish ship it was sailing with were towed to a port north of Gaza.

But Canadian Boat to Gaza organizer Dylan Penner says he’s been told some activists — including a man from London, Ont. — were “roughed up” when they refused to voluntarily leave their vessel.

He says organizers are also very concerned that those being held haven’t been able to contact family, lawyers or supporters back home.

Israeli officials say deportation procedures are underway for 22 activists who were taken in yesterday and they should be sent home within 72 hours.

02:30am (Sunday 6 November) Sydney time: This news just in from AP in Jerusalem.

Israel has begun deportation procedures for a group of pro-Palestinian activists who tried to breach its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. […]

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said 22 activists are being processed and should be sent home within 72 hours.

09:30pm  (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: DFAT is still refusing to confirm that they have made contact with the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv. They also refused to confirm whether anyone at the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv (or elsewhere) has spoken directly with Michael on behalf of the Australian government in capacity of consular assistance. The only update we have is via the IDF, saying that the Tahrir was due to arrive at Ashdod Port in Israel over 12 hour ago.

We have an update via journalist Lina Attalah who was on board Tahrir with Michael has been since been released from Israeli custody. Lina tells us she believes Michael is still detained in Israel.

We are concerned for Michael’s well-being and are calling on our government and representatives to make urgent contact with Michael.

09:09pm (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: ABC have filed a report, as follows….

A 35-year-old Australian man has been detained by Israeli authorities after trying to break the Gaza blockade, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed.

A spokesperson for the Department said they were attempting to arrange a consular visit with Sydney man Michael Coleman, who was on board one of two boats carrying medical supplies activists trying to break the Israeli blockage of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli navy said it advised the vessels to turn back or sail to Ashdod Port in Israel or to Egypt, but the activists refused to cooperate.

The navy said it boarded the two boats and detained the protesters peacefully.

Kate Ausburn from Free Gaza Australia said Mr Coleman made contact last night but they have not heard from him since.

“Shortly after [the boats were intercepted] the Israeli defence forces were the only form of contact we had with the people on board those boats,” she said.

“The IDF released a statement confirming that their navy had boarded the boats and would be taking all the passengers to Ashdod Port in Israel.

08:50pm (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: Our friends on board the Freedom Waves to Gaza boats have confirmed there was $30,000 worth of medical aid on board the boats.

Still no contact with Michael.

10:26am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: An article by Israel’s YNet News accuses the Freedom Waves to Gaza boats of carrying no humanitarian aid. We have received an email sent to us from Annette Ekebjærg-Jakobsen from the Danish delegation who was due to travel on the Tahrir before Turkish authorities ruled the passenger numbers be cut. Annette confirms that there is aid on board the Tahrir. Annette said that she along with several other Tahrir activists loaded boxes of aid on to the boat, storing it in the boat’s kitchen.

We hid it in the kitchen by writing food stuff on the boxes, Tuna fish, baked beans and so. There is certainly aid a board!

And here is a photo of some of the aid that Annette and the others packed on board the Tahrir before it set out from Turkey to Gaza:

Humanitarian aid in boxes in the kitchen of the Tahrir. Image via Annette Ekebjærg-Jakobsen.

10:00am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: Our attempts to contact Michael via phone have so far failed. We still have no word on his current situation or location aside from confirmation from the IDF he and all passengers on board the Tahrir and Saoirse arrived earlier at Ashdod port. It is now after midnight in Israel so we may not have any update on Michael’s situation for some hours.

In the meantime, here is some recent media about the interception of Freedom Waves to Gaza boats by Israeli authorities:

New York Times: Israel Intercepts Two Boats Bound for Gaza
Washington Post: Israeli military says troops have boarded protest boats trying to break naval blockade of Gaza
Reuters: Israeli Navy intercepts Gaza-bound boats
The Guardian: Israeli Navy boards Gaza bound boats
BBC: Israel boards protest boats taking medical aid to Israel
ABC: Israeli navy boards Gaza-bound flotilla
ABC: Turkish ships won’t escort Gaza flotilla
CNN: Israeli military boards Gaza-bound aid ships

9:18am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: Michael filmed this video update before he left Sydney, in the event that he be detained by Israeli authorities. Hours ago the Israeli military boarded the boat Michael was travelling on and he is currently being held in Israel. Here is what he had to say:

9:04am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: WE have just spoken with the DFAT to update them on the current situation and ask about what efforts they have made to extend consular assistance to Michael.

We are unfortunately not able to confirm at this stage whether or not the Australian Embassy in Israel has made direct contact with Michael. We were told that “the appropriate people have been made aware of Michael’s situation”. We communicated to DFAT our concern about Michael’s detainment in Israel and urged the department to make immediate contact with Michael to offer consular support to him at this time.

They told us they were unable to give any further information without consent from Michael. We have requested the Embassy in Israel seeks to be in contact with Michael as a matter of urgency to provide consular assistance and at that time obtain Michael’s consent to communicate his current situation to us.

The information we have suggests he is currently detained by Israeli immigration authorities at Ashdod port at present.


8:40am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time:
We expect that Australian delegate Michael Coleman is currently in the custody of Israeli police or immigration authorities. We requested an update on the situation and location of the Freedom Waves to Gaza passengers since their arrival into Ashdod, and IDF Spokesperson Avital Leibovich told us: “I am sure the immigration authorities can give you the answer. The military part is over.”

8:29am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: Free Gaza Australia condemn the decision by the Israeli authorities to illegally board the Freedom Waves to Gaza vessels Tahrir and Saoirse, commandeering and re-routing the boats to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

We have this morning released a media statement urging the Australian government condemn Israel for what is an act of piracy and ensure all passengers are unharmed. We additionally demand the immediate release of our delegate Michael Coleman.

All communication was cut late last night to Freedom Waves boats Tahrir and MV Saoirse as they were sailing in international waters, approximately 50 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza.

The Tahrir was carrying 12 crew and passengers, including Australian Michael Coleman, whilst the Saoirse had 15 people on board. Earlier this morning we contacted DFAT who advised that it will contact the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Free Gaza Australia Spokesperson Kate Ausburn said “We are still awaiting a response to earlier communication to Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. When will Kevin or Julia pick up the phone to Netanyahu? Or maybe they are content that Israel has ‘stopped the boats’?”

An hour earlier, two naval vessels of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) were sighted rapidly approaching and then made radio contact. On board the Tahrir, Ehab Latoyef from the organising committee in Canada responded to the radio requests for the Tahrir’s final destination with “the conscience of humanity” and when the question was repeated, “the betterment of mankind”.

An IOF spokesperson has stated that the boats were taken to the port of Ashdod, and that Israeli police have taken the passengers into custody. […]

Free Gaza Australia calls on the Australian Government to immediately demand that the Israeli government condemn this act of piracy by the Israeli government and not harm any passengers aboard the Tahrir or its sister ship MV Saoirse.

CLICK TO READ THE FULL STATEMENT.

All communication was lost with Michael shortly after he told us that Israeli military had been spotted close by the Tahrir in international waters and that the Israeli authorities had made radio content with the Tahrir.

We have not been able to contact Michael since around 10:30pm Friday 4 November (last night).

8:21am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich reports: “All activists return safely and in good health to Ashdod port.”

We are waiting to hear from Australian delegate Michael Coleman who was on board the Tahrir when it was boarded by Israeli military several hours ago. We expect Michael is currently at Ashdod port in the custody of Israeli authorities. We earlier contacted DFAT to ensure Michael would receive consular support.

4:05am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: We asked IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich what time the Tahrir and Saoirse could be expected to arrive in Ashdod port, Leibovich told us: “approx within an hour and a half.” So that is by around 5:30am our time, or 8:30pm Israel time.

3:50am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: That’s it from us for now, Michael and the other passengers on board the Tahrir and Saoirse have had armed IDF soldiers board their vessels and will soon arrive at the Israeli port of Ashdod. We will update further when we get confirmation of their arrival and as soon as we have any news from their end.

Free Gaza Australia will release a media statement in a few hours time, until then, media comment can be sought if necessary by contacting kate.ausburn on Skype or emailing kateausburn@gmail.com.

3:00am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: This video has been posted online by the IDF, it shows Israel military boarding one of the Freedom Waves to Gaza vessels with the intention of forcefully commandeering it to Israel’s Ashdod port.

The IDF earlier confirmed that upon arrival in Ashdod all those on board the Tahrir and Saoirse would be handed over to Israeli police and immigration authorities. We have contacted the Australian consulate support, see below for how you can help our Aussie delegate as he faces the Israeli military.

2.25am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: As we mentioned earlier, we have been in touch with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about extending consular support to our delegate Michael, who is currently being taken to Ashdod port in Israel where he is expected to be detained by Israeli authorities.

You can help Michael too by picking up the phone, tweeting, or emailing all or any of the following people:

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd
Telephone: (02) 6277 7500
Email: kevin.rudd@dfat.gov.au
Twitter: @KRuddMP

Tweet the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Israel Embassy in Australia
Telephone: +61-02-6215-4500
Email: info@canberra.mfa.gov.il

Israel Prime Minister’s Office
Benjamin Netanyahu
Telephone: 972-2-6705555

Tweet the IDF Spokesperson.

Your support for Michael is so vital at this time. The IDF have in the past used violence against peaceful protesters and we want to ensure that Michael and everyone on board the vessels that were headed to Gaza as part of the Freedom Waves initiative are safe and call on their immediate release from Israeli custody.

The Canadian delegation is calling on people to respond to the situation in Canada too, this via email from their team:

We are confirming that the two ships en route to Gaza, the Canada Boat to Gaza Tahrir, and the Irish boat Saoirse are under attack by the Israeli Navy. … Boarding and commandeering are
imminent.

On board the Tahrir are three Canadians, Montrealer Ehab Lotayef, Londoner David Heap, and Karen DeVito from Toronto, as well as Australian Michael Coleman, American Kit Kittredge and 20-year-old Israeli Majd Kayal. Also on board are five international journalists, including Jihan Hafiz of Democracynow.org. The boats are presently 48 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. The first flotilla to break the siege was intercepted about 35 nautical miles off shore.

Now is the time to act. Call your local Member of Parliament and Canada’s foreign Minister John Baird and tell them to press the Israelis to ensure the safety of those aboard the two ships!

Local Member of Parliament:
Go to http://www.parl.gc.ca/SenatorsMembers.aspx?Language=E, enter your postal code and you will see his / her name, email and phone number

John Baird:
House of Commons: Telephone: 613-996-0984, Fax: 613-996-9880
Email: john.baird@parl.gc.ca

Constituency Office:
Telephone: 613-990-7720 Fax: 613-993-6501
E-Mail: bairdj1@parl.gc.ca

2:15am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: Here is the report exclusive video report from Democracy Now from earlier in the evening just before the Tahrir and Saoirse boats were boarded by the Israeli military. Shortly after filing the report, Democracy Now, like us, lost all contact with the Tahrir. There is some good footage of our delegate Michael, who talks about why he’s on board, and his experience taking part in the Freedom Flotilla 2 earlier this year.

1:56am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: First images of the Tahrir and Saoirse as they are being boarded by force in international waters off the coast of Gaza. These images come from George Hale, an editor at Maan News Agency, and they were supplied to him via email from the IDF Spokesperson.

1:42am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: We have contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Australia to update them on the situation with our delegate Michael. We have advised DFAT that the Israeli military had boarded the boat and planned to hand activists over to local police and immigration authorities upon arrival at the Israeli port.

We first contacted DFAT on Thursday as Michael set out on board the Tahrir from Turkey bound for Gaza. They told us: “In the event he is detained by Israeli authorities, the Government of Israel is well aware of Australia’s expectation that we would be granted early access to him to offer consular assistance.”

They also said “DFAT is committed to providing a high level of consular service to all Australians in difficulty overseas,” so we expect that DFAT will make prompt representations to Israeli authorities to ensure Michael receives useful and timely consular support.

1:30am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: The IDF reports in a statement it has boarded the Tahrir and Saoirse and is forcing them to Ashdod board.

A short while ago, Israel Navy soldiers boarded the vessels which were en-route to the Gaza Strip, attempting to break the maritime security blockade that is in place in accordance with international law.

The boarding was carried out in line with directives from the Israeli Government and after all attempts to prevent the vessels from reaching the Gaza Strip were made, but to no avail.

The boarding was carried out following numerous calls to the activists onboard and during different points at sea. Following their unwillingness to cooperate, and after ignoring calls to divert to the port of Ashdod, the decision was made to board the vessels and lead them there.

The Israel Navy soldiers operated as planned, and took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels as well as themselves.

Upon arrival of the vessels at the Ashdod port, the activists will be transferred to the custody of the Israel Police and immigration authorities in the Ministry of Interior.

1:12am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: Dylan Penner who is working with the Canadian team (but is not on board the Tahrir) has reported that they have “just got the emergency message from our friends aboard the Tahrir that they’re about to be boarded”.

1:00am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: The IDF have uploaded a video of part of their communication with the Tahrir. They ask the Tahrir to go to Israel’s Ashdod port instead of continuing to Gaza.

The IDF spokesperson has reported that if Israeli requests are not complied with the Israeli navy will board the vessels. We expect therefore that the IDF will be imminently (or currently) boarding the Tahrir and Saoirse as our unarmed activists are committed to peacefully resisting the IDF and determined to reach Gaza.

12:10am (Saturday 5 November) Sydney time: The IDF Spokesperson reports that the Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff has ordered the Israel Navy board the vessels (Tahrir and Saoirse).

The IDF Spokesperson claims “all attempt to contact them failed” but our delegate Michael Coleman confirmed to us in a phone call at around 10pm Sydney time (2 hours ago) that activists on board the Tahrir had responded to communication from the Israeli military via radio.

11:50pm Sydney time: Unconfirmed report via the Canadian team that the two boats Tahrir and Saoirse have not yet been captured by the nearby Israeli military, but that the boats have been instructed to go to Egypt or to turn around.

Ali Abunimah author and co-founder of Electronic Intifada said: “Israel claims Gaza waters are “closed military zone” but that it “withdrew” from Gaza in 2005,” he asks, “Which is it?”

Democracy Now report they have lost communication with their correspondent Jihan Hafiz who is on board the Tahrir, last communication indicates the Tahrir was around 48 nautical miles from Gaza.

11:30pm Sydney time: Australian delegate Michael Coleman sent through this photo of himself on board the Tahrir shortly before reports of Israeli military closing in and all communication with the two boats to Gaza were lost.

He said he was prepared for possible boarding by the Israeli military and is wearing protective goggles, ear plugs, carrying a camera and wearing a Kafiyyeh. (Click image for larger size, please feel free to share and republish)

Michael on the morning of Friday 4 November, in protective gear. Image via Michael Coleman on board the Tahrir.

11:25pm Sydney time: We are awaiting communication from any journalists or delegates on board either the Irish or Canadian boats to Gaza about the current situation.

Home teams operating from shore suspect Israel has or will imminently board the vessels with the goal of preventing the boats from reaching Gaza.

The two boats were in International Waters headed toward Gaza at the time of last communication just over an hour ago.

11:23pm Sydney time: All contact has been lost with the Irish and Canadian boats. Last updates said that the Israeli military ships were heading closer toward the Freedom Waves to Gaza boats.

Amy Goodman reporting for Democracy Now reports that they are unable to reach their journalist on board one of the boats.

11:10pm Sydney time: The Canadian team has said: “Communications may have been jammed by Israeli military. Please keep communicating our message and spreading #Freedomwaves

10:40pm Sydney time: Our Canadian friends have noted that they have lost communication contact with their delegates on the Tahrir .

We share the Canadian team’s fear that the Tahrir has been illegally intercepted by Israeli forces.

10:30pm Sydney time: The Irish Boat to Gaza, MV Saoirse, which has been travelling closely alongside the Canadian boat Tahrir (which Australian delegate Michael is on board) has released a media statement. It says in part:

At 10.58 am (Irish time) we received an urgent call from Dr. Fintan Lane, National Coordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza aboard the MV Saoirse, to say that two Israeli ships are rapidly approaching the Irish and Canadian boats.

The MV Saoirse and Tahrir are 48 nautical miles from Gaza’s shores. We have since received news (at 11:12 am Irish time) that Israeli forces have made radio contact with the Tahrir and are requesting their final destination. The situation is developing rapidly.

10pm Sydney time: Australian delegate Michael Coleman on board the Tahrir phoned in an update. He said that Israel had made radio contact with the bridge. They had asked the Tahrir for its final destination to which Canadian peace activist Ehab Lotayef on board the Tahrir responded with, “the conscious of humanity”. When asked a second time by Israeli military to confirm the Tahrir’s final destination, Ehab responded to the “to the betterment of mankind”.

Michael said he could see two Israeli warships to the left of the Tahrir, about 12 nautical miles away.


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Flotilla News

Open Letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard

This is the letter we sent on Tuesday 7 November to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and copied to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd:

Dear Prime Minister Gillard

Many people in Australia have been organising an Australian contingent to join the Freedom Wave to Gaza initiative which left Turkey late last week. As you would be aware, two boats full of unarmed civilians carrying solidarity messages, medical aid and extending the hand of friendship were attacked by Israeli military in an act of piracy in international waters.

Sydney youth worker Michael Coleman was on board one of these boats and was forcibly transported to Israel and detained. Along with other Freedom Waves activists, he was assaulted, hand-cuffed and shackled. As we write, Michael remains in an Israeli gaol. He has been charged with no offense and has been permitted only a one minute telephone call to his family.

In recent days we have received messages of support from a number of prominent Australians. A full list of messages and supporting comment are on our website: http://freegazaoz.org/message-for-michael/

At present, Israeli authorities are refusing to immediately release the Freedom Waves activists from prison and deportation unless they sign a voluntary deportation agreement (waiver of right to see a judge). This waiver states that they came to Israel voluntarily and entered

the country illegally. The Israeli authorities are trying to pressure Michael and the other political prisoners to sign a false declaration. It seeks to absolve the Israeli government of responsibility for its illegal abduction of foreign nationals in international waters.

We understand Michael and others are refusing to sign the waiver as at no point did Michael or anyone on board the two boats, or organising the mission, ever intend to travel to Israel. On the contrary, the boats were illegally intercepted and forcibly transported to Ashdod.

We demand the Australian Government takes immediate action, to:

1. Pressure the Israeli government to unconditionally release and facilitate the safe return of Michael Coleman and all political prisoners.

2. Demand the release of the Tahrir and Saoirse along with all personal property, as well as compensation for damages incurred by the act of piracy that the Israeli government committed on the high seas.

3. Ensure that Israel ends its illegal blockade of Gaza to enable freedom of movement for people and goods.

Yours Sincerely

James Godfrey
for
Free Gaza Oz

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