The next flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza officially got underway on Friday, as activists set sail from the coast of Crete towards the coastal enclave.
“Finally, we are aboard the Swedish freedom boat the Marianne, and we are on our way to Gaza,” MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) announced on his Facebook page before the flotilla left the coast of Crete, according to the AFP news agency.
The Marianne of Gothenburg is part of the so-called Freedom Flotilla III – a convoy of ships carrying pro-Palestinian Arab activists including Ghattas, a former Tunisian president and at least one European lawmaker.
The Marianne of Gothenburg last month sailed from Sweden to waters off Crete, where it was to be joined by a number of other vessels carrying around 70 people, according to the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine.
Another activist on the Marianne, Israeli-born Swede Dror Feiler, had claimed on Thursday that one of the flotilla’s ships had been sabotaged by “professionals”, and that a propeller had to be fixed before setting off.
“There are dark forces that are trying to stop us,” he was quoted as having told Israeli Arab Radio Ashams, without elaborating.
The so-called “Freedom Flotilla 3” has been backed by the European Campaign to Break the Siege on Gaza. Members of the European Parliament, journalists, athletes, artists, as well as radical leftist Israelis will be on board.
Arutz Sheva has exclusively revealed that the flotilla is indirectly funded by the French government via a pro-Palestinian NGO.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely last week called the flotilla “the work of provocateurs whose aim is to blacken Israel’s face”.
The ministry had been working “through diplomatic channels night and day” to prevent it from reaching Israeli waters, she said.
A statement Friday from the flotilla’s media team said its goal was “to highlight the violation of the rights of 1.8 million Palestinians living in the world’s largest open-air prison.”
The newest flotilla is the latest in a series of attempts by activists to break the naval blockade on Gaza, imposed by Israel after Hamas violently took control of Gaza from rival Fatah in 2006.
The most famous of the flotillas was the 2010 one involving the Turkish Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be providing “humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.”
The ship repeatedly defied orders to turn around and dock at the Ashdod port and ignored repeated warnings to change course, forcing IDF troops to board the vessel – only to be attacked by Islamist extremists on board wielding knives and metal bars. The wounded soldiers had no choice but to open fire, resulting in the deaths of ten of Islamists on board.
After an investigation, Israeli authorities discovered the vessel to be carrying no humanitarian aid – in fact, no aid supplies at all – indicating how the true goal of the provocative move was to open Gaza to free naval access, which it has consistently used to smuggle in weapons to be targeted against Israel.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he believed “a flotilla will not help to address the dire situation in Gaza,” but reiterated his call on Israel to “lift all closures, with due consideration of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”
MK Ghattas, meanwhile, has been blasted by Jewish MKs – spanning parties on both sides of the political spectrum – for his participation in the flotilla. The MKs have branded his behavior an act of treason and are pushing for him to be stripped of his diplomatic immunity as a result.
His move has also triggered a new proposed bill, which would ban from election any MKs who advocate violence against the State of Israel.