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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2 Comments

  • November 5, 2011 - 2:13 am | Permalink

    Piracy in Mediterranean is alive and well.

  • Pingback: Freedom for Gaza : The Thing About Waves Is They Keep on Coming « KADAITCHA

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