Wednesday 21 March 2018

Irish Gaza activists held in Israel to be home by weekend

Irish human rights activists detained by Israeli authorities as they tried to break the naval blockade on Gaza will arrive home over the next two days.

Seven members of the Irish Ship to Gaza (ISTG) campaign will touch down in Dublin tomorrow, with the final seven expected on Friday - a week after their vessel the MV Saoirse was intercepted by Israeli military in international waters.

Campaign spokeswoman Claudia Saba said the delay in releasing the group was a cause of distress, but should not be the focus of the mission.

She maintained the group travelled as part of the Freedom Waves, with the Canadian vessel Tahrir, to show solidarity with the ordinary people of Gaza.

"While 14 Irish citizens were languishing in prison in Israel for the crime of coming to their aid, the population of Gaza continues to languish in what is, in effect, the world's largest open air prison," she said.

"This latest of 11 attempts to break the blockade of Gaza via the sea demonstrates once again that Israel is able to act with impunity when it comes to the welfare of the Palestinian people and anyone trying to help them.

"It is because of the continuing inaction of governments around the world, including the Irish government, that ordinary people feel compelled to act."

Irish consular staff in Israel provided assistance to the group, who did not want to participate in a trial in the Israeli courts which has added to deportation delays. They have been charged with illegally entering Israel.

Former rugby star Trevor Hogan, ISTG national co-ordinator Fintan Lane, People Before Profit councillor Hugh Lewis, SIPTU activist Mags O'Brien, Sinn Fein councillor Patrick Fitzgerald, university lecturer Zoe Lawlor and crew member John Mallon will be on the first flight.

Meanwhile, five TDs have accused Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore of double standards over the detention of the activists in Israel.

Socialist MEP Paul Murphy was among those held in Givon prison awaiting deportation. Others include former Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews, artist Felim Egan, and Sinn Fein councillor John Hearne.

Members of the United Left Alliance have written to the Labour leader calling for the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Boaz Modai to be expelled over their arrest at sea.

The TDs, Independent Seamus Healy, Socialists Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, and People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett and Joan Collins, said the Tanaiste must demand the activists' release.

"If any other country acted in this fashion against Irish citizens, the pressure on you to condemn outright such an action would be considerable," the TDs told the Tanaiste.

"However, different standards seem to apply to Israel in the world of international diplomacy.

"Frankly, the response of the Government has been disgracefully lacking and you personally must take a large share of the responsibility."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has also demanded the immediate release of the passengers.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs insisted the Tanaiste had spoken out strongly against the detention.

"We are providing all possible assistance we can. We are seeing the detainees on a daily basis. The Tanaiste has been very strong in what he said," the spokesman insisted.

Mr Gilmore discussed the group's detention direct with the Israeli Embassy in Dublin.

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