Gaza Blockade: Israel Deports Activists From the Rachel Corrie Aid Ship

Israel began deporting activists from the Rachel Corrie on Sunday after boarding the ship trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and forcing it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The Rachel Corrie set out for Gaza after nine activists were killed Monday when Israel raided an aid-laden flotilla headed for the impoverished Palestinian territory.

This time, no one was killed or injured when Israeli commandos boarded the ship and took its crew and activists into custody. But last week’s incident continues to have far-reaching consequences as thousands protest Israel’s actions across the world, and Turkey threatens to cut relations with Israel.

Al Jazeera reports that Israel has begun deporting the 19 activists and crew members arrested on the Rachel Corrie Saturday. Six of the Malaysian crew members were released into Jordan, and a Cuban activist injured in the boarding of the Mavi Mamara last week was also released.

The Rachel Corrie, named for an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 while protesting, was taken to the port of Ashdod, where Israel is inspecting its cargo.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that its cargo included concrete needed for reconstruction in Gaza after Israel’s devastating offensive there last year, medical equipment, wheelchairs, and school supplies. An Israeli naval commander said that any cargo that could not be used by Hamas for weapons or defense would be sent into Gaza by land.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the commandos who boarded the Rachel Corrie used the same techniques as those who raided the Mavi Mamara, and said the differing outcomes were a result of the different responses of the activists on board each ship.

“Today we saw the difference between a flotilla of peace activists – with whom we disagree, but whose right to a different opinion we respect – and a flotilla of hate organized by violent, terrorism-supporting extremists,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday following the takeover.

Even as the Rachel Corrie was intercepted, the wave of vessels attempting to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza will apparently continue.

Israeli news site YNet reports that two Lebanese organizations have announced they will send another ship as early as next weekend. The effort is organized by the Free Palestine Movement and Reporters without Borders. The organizations said the ship would attempt to carry aid and reporters to the Gaza strip.

Meanwhile, a preliminary autopsy report released by Turkey on Saturday shows that all but one of those killed in the May 31 raid had multiple gunshot wounds.

The nine were shot a total of 30 times, reports the Associated Press. Israel says the activists attacked commandos as they boarded the ship, and has released video of them beating the soldiers as they descended ropes from helicopters onto the ship.

The AP also reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will move to launch an international investigation of the raid, despite Israel’s protests. His move comes as the incident has provoked renewed criticism of the Gaza blockade around the world.

Israel closed the borders to Gaza when the Islamist group Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. But The Christian Science Monitor reports that Israel is now considering relaxing the siege as pressure mounts from all corners.

[T]he intensified foreign calls against the blockade in the wake of Israel’s flotilla raid has strengthened domestic critics who had already been arguing for a rethink of Israel’s three-year-old policy. Under the policy, only humanitarian food and medical supplies – less than what the UN recommends – are allowed into Gaza.

Yossi Alpher, former adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, says that Monday’s raid takeover is evidence of his claim that Israel needs to define a new strategy for dealing with Gaza’s Hamas-controlled government. He says the blockade is backfiring, and the so-called quartet of peace process mediators – the US, Britain, Russia, and the United Nations – need to realize that.