As Israel readied itself for the early-Monday morning arrival of the first of four civilian vessels bound for the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Sunday prepared a letter for the activists aboard the flotilla. The communique stated Israel’s position concerning the naval blockade of the Strip — designed to prevent Hamas’s import of weapons — which the IDF will prevent the activists from running.
According to reports on Channel 2 Sunday evening, the first boat in the flotilla was expected to approach the shore of the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Monday morning. A Channel 2 reporter aboard the lead ship said that the Swedish-registered Marianne of Gothenburg’s sonar has detected another vessel trailing theirs by about 20 miles, which they suspect is an Israel naval craft.
Israeli officials have said that the boats will be stopped and boarded by naval commandos before they reach the Gaza Strip, then towed to the Ashdod port. The activists aboard will then be whisked to Ben Gurion Airport and deported, Channel 2 reported.
There are some 50 activists on the four ships in all, with 18 on the Marianne, including the former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki. Israel is wary about Marzouki’s presence, concerned that there may be protests in Tunisia if he is arrested, Channel 2 said.
Also on board the Marianne is Arab-Israeli Knesset member Basel Ghattas. The activists are vowing not to use violence against the IDF forces, but to practice “passive resistance” when the boat is boarded, according to a Channel 2 reporter who is sailing with them.
The Prime Minister’s Office shared a translation of the original Hebrew letter that it prepared to hand out to the flotilla activists. The communique slams what it describes as the hypocrisy of the group’s humanitarian mission to Gaza.
“Welcome to Israel!” the letter reads. “It appears you’ve made a mistake along the way. Perhaps you meant to sail somewhere not far from here — Syria. There, Assad’s regime is massacring his own people every day with the help of the murderous Iranian regime.
“In contrast, here in Israel, we are dealing with a situation where terrorist organizations such as Hamas are trying to harm innocent civilians. In the face of these attempts, we are protecting the citizens of Israel in accordance with international law,” the letter says.
The statement calls attention to Israel’s transfer of 1.6 million tons of humanitarian aid to the coastal enclave, while it struggles to be rebuilt after the war last summer. The letter said that Israel facilitated the transfer of the supplies, which, it noted, amounts to approximately one ton for each Gaza resident.
Israel, continued the letter, regularly assisted in humanitarian projects benefiting Palestinians, but would not tolerate the import of weapons for terrorist groups. “Only a year ago, we thwarted an attempt to smuggle by sea hundreds of weapons intended for use against innocent civilians.
“There is no blockade on the Gaza Strip, and you are invited to transfer humanitarian supplies through Israel. Preventing access through the sea is done in accordance with international law, and we even received backing from a committee of the UN secretary-general.
“If human rights really interested you, you wouldn’t sail in solidarity with a terror group that executes Gazans without trial, and uses Gazan children as human shields,” the prime minister’s letter says.
The communique concludes by lamenting that the activists chose not to visit Israel, as they would have been “impressed” by the democracy upheld by the Jewish state that affords equality and religious freedoms for all its citizens.
Flotilla organizers, who say the campaign aims to shed light on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, called upon the international community to provide protection from the Israeli military, which intercepted two previous flotillas in 2010 and 2011. They insist that the group is unarmed.
In May 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched to Gaza by the Turkish relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), and were violently attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when the commandos opened fire in what Israel said was self-defense, and one more died last year from injuries sustained in the incident.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after the Islamist Hamas group wrested control of the Strip in a bloody coup, ousting the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Both countries say the blockade is meant to prevent Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry into Gaza. Hamas is avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel.