Gaza journey of MV Rachel Corrie
|Blockade of the
|Viva Palestina "Lifeline 3"|
The Cambodian-flagged Irish MV Rachel Corrie was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that sailed to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid in 2010. The ship was unable to join the other six ships in the flotilla because of mechanical problems that forced it to undergo repairs in Malta. The other six ships were confronted by a raid on 31 May 2010 during which nine activists were killed by Israeli naval forces.
The aid-carrying vessel got under way on 31 May 2010, with its crew insisting that they would go to Gaza. The governments of Israel and Ireland reached an agreement to unload the ships cargo in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod, but the group sponsoring the ship rejected the proposal. Israeli commandos boarded the ship from speedboats at around noon on 5 June 2010, in international waters about 30 kilometers from Gaza. The Israeli commandos seized control, and the ship and its passengers were diverted towards Israel, away from its original course. After an inspection, Israel delivered the entire cargo to Gaza, including cement, which is usually banned.
On 3 June, in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla raid, activists revealed there was another Gaza-bound aid ship, the MV Rachel Corrie: this was expected to arrive in the region early the following week.
The vessel is a former merchant ship owned and operated by the Free Gaza Movement. It was partially funded by the Perdana Global Peace Organisation, a Malaysian NGO headed by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. The ship is Irish-owned, and had the former Assistant UN Secretary-General Denis Halliday and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire on board. Halliday said that the ship would stop only when Israelis forced the ship to do so.
Passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie said that the purpose of their journey was to bring both humanitarian aid to the Gazan population and public attention to the Egypt-Israel blockade of the Gaza region; a blockade criticised by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for imposing "abject poverty" on 350,000 Gazans. Israel says the blockade of Gaza is needed to prevent the infiltration of weapons and militants into the coastal territory run by Hamas, which they and much of the international community have designated a terrorist organization. Israel has also called the campaign a "provocation intended to delegitimise Israel".
The ship was carrying humanitarian supplies, including 550 tons of cement intended to rebuild schools, homes and other building destroyed in Gaza, as well as 20 tons of paper, 100 tons of high-end medical equipment (including a CT scanner), fabric and thread, and educational supplies. Cement is one of the items which Israel has banned from entering Gaza as it worries that cement can be used to build bunkers, tunnels and rockets, but it has recently allowed some shipments for specific civilian building projects.
The aid-laden ship was checked for weapons in Ireland by customs officials and a senator from the Irish Green Party. No weapons were found. Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Brian Cowen called on Israel to allow the passage of the Rachel Corrie. Ireland later reached an agreement with Israel and made a proposal to the ship that it divert to Ashdod, where Israel offered to transfer its cargo to the Gaza Strip, under the supervision of passengers and Irish diplomats. The passengers of the ship rejected the proposal. Israel reported its troops had taken control of the ship on 5 June, about 16 nautical miles (30 km) off the coast. An IDF spokeswoman said there "was full compliance from the crew and passengers on board".
Former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Denis Halliday, aboard the Rachel Corrie, expressed concern that some of these humanitarian goods would likely be seized if the MV Rachel Corrie accepted "an offer of an escort to another port". The cargo, although it all falls within the remit of humanitarian aid as defined by the United Nations, "would be confiscated by the Israelis, given that they do not define this as humanitarian goods – in breach of the UN definition of same". 
Prior to the ship's last leg of its journey, Denis Halliday requested a final inspection of the cargo: "We are calling on the UN to inspect the cargo and escort us into Gaza, and to send a UN representative to sail on board before they enter the exclusion zone". Trade unions and government officials had previously inspected the cargo, "so we are 100 percent confident that there is nothing that is offensive or dangerous", he told Israel's Channel 2 Television.
Passengers and crew
There were eleven passengers on board the ship:
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maireád Corrigan-Maguire, former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday, film maker Fiona Thompson, husband and wife Derek and Jenny Graham and six Malaysian citizens.
The Malaysian members were: Member of the Parliament of Malaysia, for the Parit constituency, Mohd Nizar Zakaria; Perdana Global Peace Organisation representatives, Shamsul Akmar, Matthias Chang and Ahmad Faizal Azumu; TV3 reporter Halim Mohamed and TV3 cameraman Jufri Junid.
Pre-raid sabotage rumors
The IDF or the Mossad may have sabotaged three of the ships before the raid. According to the National Post, Israeli deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai hinted that Israel had exhausted covert means of stalling the vessels. He said: "Everything was considered. I don't want to elaborate beyond that, because the fact is there were not up to 10, or however many ships were [originally] planned." A senior IDF officer hinted to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that some of the vessels had been tampered with to halt them far from the Gaza or Israeli coast. According to UPI press coverage, the officer alluded to "grey operations" against the flotilla and said that no such action had been taken against the Mavi Marmara out of fear that the vessel might be stranded in the middle of the sea, endangering the people on board. Israel was accused of sabotaging activist ships in the past but no evidence has been found to back up these claims.
Three ships – the Rachel Corrie, the Challenger I and the Challenger II – suffered damage or malfunction. While the Challenger I was able to continue, the Challenger II had to turn back halfway through the journey and Rachel Corrie docked for repairs in Malta. Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said that electric wires may have been tampered with.
Interception and boarding
The Israeli military sent three warnings to the Rachel Corrie asking it dock in Ashdod, change course, or face a naval takeover. The ship was shadowed by two Israeli Navy vessels, and its radar was jammed. After trailing the Rachel Corrie for several hours, Israeli commandos boarded the ship from speedboats at around noon on 5 June 2010, in international waters around 55 kilometres (30 nmi) off the Gaza Strip, Preliminary reports indicated that there was no resistance. The boarding involved about 20 combat soldiers. All the crew were arrested by these forces  as reported by veteran war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai. The commandos forced the ship to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the crew were taken into custody by immigration authorities.
Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza group, said the takeover was "another outrage to add to the nine murdered" and denied an Israeli statement that troops had been invited aboard. The Gaza-bound vessel was addressed as Linda (an earlier official name) by naval officers during the air and sea operation.
- Israel – The government of Israel has been very opposed to the various blockade-running initiatives. One Israeli spokesman said: "These people are not supporting the Palestinians and they are not even supporting humanitarian causes. They are engaged in only one thing, and that is to create provocations and to collaborate with Hamas propaganda."
- Ireland – On 1 June 2010, the Irish Government issued a demand to the Israeli government to allow the vessel safe passage to Gaza. The Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD said "If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences", and called for the release of all Irish citizens detained in the previous raid. The demand for safe passage was reiterated by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin TD on 2 June 2010. Mr Martin warned the Israelis he would take "appropriate diplomatic action" if the ship was not allowed through. On 5 June 2010, the Irish Government made clear that it believed that the MV Rachel Corrie should be allowed to proceed to Gaza and to unload its humanitarian cargo. Those on board the vessel had previously indicated that they were ready to accept inspection of their cargo at sea, prior to docking in Gaza and had requested for a UN representative to accompany the ship. A proposal, put to them by the Irish Government, was declined "after careful consideration" whereby the ship would dock at the port of Ashdod and the vessel's cargo would be inspected under the supervision of both UN officials and the Irish Aid Division for the Department of Foreign Affairs. The proposal followed from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs reaching an understanding with the Israeli Government on Friday, through various contacts. As the MV Rachel Corrie continued on its original course, Minister Martin stated that he "fully respects their right ... to continue their protest action by seeking sail to Gaza" and reiterated again, if the Israeli government were to intercept the ship, "that it demonstrates every restraint" given that those on board the MV Rachel Corrie had "made clear their peaceful intentions". Again the Irish Government restated its "call on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Pending that, Israel should immediately facilitate the import into Gaza of all goods, other than weapons".
- United States – The US State Department and Irish Government were in contact on Thursday 3 June 2010; United States Deputy Secretary of State, Jack Lew, had an extensive conversation with the Irish foreign minister who in turn, were in contact with the individuals on board the Rachel Corrie.
Spokesperson for the US State Department, P. J. Crowley, hoped that the Rachel Corrie would "work with Israeli authorities to deliver these materials to Gaza."
Crowley went on to say
that's part of the conversation that we're having and how can we do this in a way where groups that have a vital interest in seeing the expansion of goods to the people of Gaza, have confidence that those materials will actually reach the people of Gaza and various groups that are working to help the people of Gaza ... And we hope in the meantime that everybody here will make responsible decisions and avoid unnecessary confrontations.
Dockworker unions in Sweden persuaded members not to service Israeli ships from 15 June – 22 June, South Africa has refused to handle Israeli ships, and the UK's Unite union has passed a motion to boycott Israeli companies.
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