Flotilla Diary / Sailing on a Bucket, Surrounded by Commandos

Amira Hass reports from the last sole survivor of the Gaza flotilla as it sets sail from Greece towards Gaza.

Three battle ships and seven commando boats of different sizes and types were scrambled yesterday to intercept a small bucket named Dignite –Al-Karame (Respect), three nautical miles from the shore.

At least 150 soldiers were sent to sea early morning in order to carry out the mission: to prevent ten citizens of the "Freedom Flotilla," alongside three crewmen and three journalists, from reaching the port of Gaza.

Tuesday morning, for a short while, the activists made the mistake of believing the Israeli Navy might abandon the expensive operation, which comes out of the Israeli taxpayers' pockets, and allow them to reach Gaza. An AFP reporter in Jerusalem told the activists that he called the Defense Ministry and asked what Israel intends to do. He was told that if the activists do not cause a provocation, they may be allowed to pass. The activists wondered, what would be considered a provocation?

Flotilla - IDF spokesperson - July 19, 2011
IDF spokesperson

A full account of life on a flotilla boat – Wednesday on Haaretz.com

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the IDF chief of staff Tuesday evening and congratulated him on the successful interception of the French yacht Dignite –Al-Karame. Netanyahu praised the Navy soldiers and other forces for ending the operation without violence and without casualties.

"Israel will continue to allow merchandise and goods into Gaza, yet will enforce the naval blockade in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons and rockets that are being launched almost daily on Israeli citizen by the Hamas regime."

The French yacht was intercepted by the Israel Navy on Tuesday after it refused to obey an Israeli demand to change course as it sailed for a Gaza port.

Elite troops from Israel's Shayetet 13 naval commando unit boarded the yacht minutes after Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz issued the order to intercept. The commandos quickly took control of the vessel, with no resistance from those aboard.

Hamas condemned on Tuesday the seizure of the ship, with its spokesman Ismail Rudwan describing it as "piracy, a war crime and a violation of the principles of human rights."

Earlier this month, Hamas criticized Greece for blocking the departure of several flotilla ships to Gaza, and accused Greece of playing into Israel’s hands.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said the Dignite-Al Karame had previously declared Alexandria, Egypt, as its destination so it could slip out of Greece, and then changed its route to Gaza. This, she said, was a legal act.