A ship bearing pro-Palestinian activists intent on breaching Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip set sail from Naples, Italy for the Hamas-controlled enclave on Saturday.
The schooner Estelle’s passengers and crew include 17 activists from Israel, Sweden, the US, Canada and Norway. It is expected to reach the Gaza coast by mid-October. Since setting out from Sweden three months ago, the Estelle has docked at several Europeans ports, where passengers have held conferences to raise awareness of the situation in Gaza.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Israel’s stance on preventing ships from entering Gaza without permission remains unchanged, and that it does not intend to let the ship run the naval blockade, which is designed to prevent weapons from reaching the Hamas-run Strip.
In May 2010, Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish passenger ship participating in a flotilla to Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals were killed and nine Israeli soldiers wounded in the ensuing melee. The incident severely strained Israel’s relations with Turkey.
Dror Feiler, an Israeli flotilla participant, who also took part in the 2010 Free Gaza flotilla, told Ynet: “We bring with us 600 soccer balls, 41 tons of cement, theatrical accessories and musical instruments.”
“We are legion, perhaps not in number but in spirit,” Feiler added. According to Feiler, all the activists aboard the ship signed a “declaration of non-violence.”
“We do not yell, nor raise our hands in violence,” the activist continued. “If soldiers board the ship and seek to prevent it from entering Gaza, we will defend it with our bodies. We could chain ourselves to the dock or block passages.”
Feiler also commented on the Mavi Marmara incident, saying the bloodshed “makes no sense.”
“I myself was an IDF paratrooper,” he said. “I think they shouldn’t order soldiers to board civilian ships as they are not trained to behave in a dignified manner with civilians. If they must, they should send the police. At least policemen are trained to deal with civilians, it’s their job.”
Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris visited the Estelle on Friday. “This is not an initiative in favor of Hamas but in favor of Palestine, of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, and in favor of two states living as neighbors in peace and security,” he said according to AFP.
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