While we still await a full accounting of the passengers on the initial Freedom Flotilla given persistent reports of 19 dead and up to 14 missing, the MV Rachel Corrie carrying five Irish and six Malaysian passengers has announced its intention to continue a humanitarian voyage to Gaza. The ship carries a large cargo of aid including medical supplies, toys, paper for printing schoolbooks and cement for rebuilding the homes of Gazans destroyed during Operation Cast Lead.
The Rachel Corrie was planned to be the first boat in the flotilla attacked this weekend by Israeli commandos but suffered mechanical problems apparently caused by Israeli sabotage as suggested by the comments of the IDF’s Col. Itzil Turgeman:
A senior officer in the Israel Defence Forces hinted that the IDF sabotaged the engines of five ships, saying ”they took care of them”, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. Colonel Itzik Turgeman told the paper the army decided not to sabotage the largest ship, Mavi Marmara, fearing it would become stranded in the ocean and a humanitarian crisis would emerge.
At the time this post was composed (11:00 p.m. CT, June 1, 2010) there is not conclusive word on the location of the MV Rachel Corrie. While earlier reports placed it off the coast of Libya and suggested a planned landing in Gaza Wednesday afternoon, the latest updates say:
IRISH SHIP: The delayed Free Gaza Movement’s cargo ship Rachel Corrie yesterday assumed a holding position in the eastern Mediterranean, poised to make a fresh attempt to reach Israeli-blockaded Gaza.
Organiser Greta Berlin said the ship was waiting for Challenger II , a small passenger boat which suffered failure of its steering gear while preparing for the passage.
The ship is expected to pick up additional human rights activists and journalists before sailing to Gaza.
A representative for the Malaysian passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie, Perdana Global Peace Organisation (PGPO) chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, noted today that:
the ship was going to sail through Gaza waters and it had nothing to do with Israel.
“They are not going to Israeli waters. Why is it that these Israelis are going to block people going towards Gaza and not using Israeli’s territorial waters at all? They have no right,” he said.
And tonight, the Irish government declared their full support for their citizens aboard the Rachel Corrie:
The Irish taoiseach, Brian Cowen, warned Israel tonight that he expected no violence against those on the Rachel Corrie.
“If any harm comes to any of our citizens it will have the most serious consequences,” he said, calling on Israel to guarantee the vessel safe passage through the military blockade of Gaza…
“I’d say the mood on board is resilient and steadfast. When people signed up to this they knew what might happen,” said [organizer] Moloughney. “We expected we would be confronted and there would be a stand-off, but no one expected this. But there’s never really been a question of the boat turning back.”
…Speaking on the boat’s satellite phone, Maguire said she was determined the boat should continue on its course.
“We’re not frightened, no, we hope the Israeli government will allow us to go freely in and we know the international community are calling for our safe passage,” she said.
Halliday said he had spoken to Ireland’s foreign minister, Micheál Martin. “He was very reassuring that the government was behind us and he gave us a complete green light to do what we’re doing and he’ll protect us as much as he can,” Halliday said.
Martin himself told parliament: “We will be watching this situation very closely – as indeed will the world – and it is imperative that Israel avoid any action which leads to further bloodshed.”
It’s important to note that while earlier today, there were numerous reports which seemed to represent hopeful news – of Turkish naval escorts for additional humanitarian sailings and an Egyptian border crossing, you should never underestimate the potential for heartbreak in news of Palestine.
There is no confirmation or even direct reports that Turkey will support the Rachel Corrie – and the Egyptian “opening” is merely a decision – in light of Egyptian people’s outrage – to potentially allow daily aid shipments into Gaza via the Rafah crossing (with no specific word on what conditions will be imposed on that aid) and to allow ill Gazans and students to cross at Rafah on their way to and from treatment and schools. Egypt has not announced when this easing of the blockade will end – and certainly has not said the easing is permanent.
Meanwhile, we have word that Sydney Morning Herald reporter Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty are still being held by the Israelis. They were offered immediate deportation but only if they would sign confessions stating they had illegally entered Israel and subjected themselves to a 10 year ban on re-entry. The Herald’s editor has demanded their immediate release and return of all of their equipment and film. McGeough intends to fight the deportation.
And, while there are multiple reports coming out from passengers deported over the last day, there has yet to be a confirmed, independent death count from the attack or list of those who suffered injuries. For all the official international outrage – and tepid McChrystal-ite “regrets” from Obama, Israel has still not been forced to release even this most basic information. Reporters San Frontieres is demanding a full accounting of the journalists seized during the attack and lawyers representing Free Gaza have filed a habeas brief for information on all passengers including those killed and injured.