Update: Despite a threat from an Israeli judge that they could face 2 months in prison, Freedom Waves to Gaza activists David Heap and Ehab Lotayef are being released and deported back to Canada today. They will arrive on Thursday, November 10.
On Tuesday, November 8th, Freedom Waves to Gaza activists detained in Israel — including Canadians David Heap and Ehab Lotayef — came before a judge and were told they could be held in prison for two months without charges or trial.
To avoid this, the judge told them, they must sign a statement that they entered Israel “voluntarily” and “illegally” despite being violently kidnapped from international waters and taken to Israel against their will while trying to reach Gaza. While a handful of Freedom Waves to Gaza participants have been deported — including Canadian Karen DeVito — 18 activists and journalists have now been in Israeli prison for five days with no end in sight.
The Israeli military forcibly commandeered the boats Tahrir and MV Saoirse that journalists and activists were travelling on as part of the Freedom Waves initiative and brought them to Ashdod port in Israel.
American journalist Jihan Hafiz was on the Canadian boat Tahrir, and was among those detained by Israel despite her press credentials. Israeli authorities ordered her and others not to talk about “anything negative or political” during their brief phone calls to home from Israeli detention. This censorship explains why some details are only just coming out now. She reported Tuesday about her experience during the Israeli takeover of the Irish and Canadian boats:
“There were three warships […] four Zodiacs, four water cannon boats, as well as four regular gunboats. All of the commandos on all of these boats were heavily armed. It looked like they were taking on an army of a foreign country.”
She added: “Two water cannons started to pour lots of water into the Irish boat, which flooded it, blew their sockets, and cut off all the electricity. And so, at that point, the Irish delegates I spoke to said they told the Israeli army, ‘We’re taking on water. We’re sinking. We’re going to go down at sea if you continue with the water.'”
Hafiz went on to describe the violent takeover during which guns were pointed at the heads of the boats’ passengers, how they were roughed up, mistreated, strip-searched, and filmed naked. She also tells of how the journalists’ equipment was confiscated, in a bid to silence any reporting that might contradict the sanitized Israeli account of what happened during the hijacking of the Tahrir and the MV Saoirse.
For the full video interview and transcript, click here .
“Our friends have been assaulted, tasered, beaten, kidnapped, robbed, and imprisoned. Now Israel is threatening to illegally detain them for two months. What is it going to take for the Canadian government to actually do something about another country kidnapping Canadian citizens and refusing to let them go?” demands Wendy Goldsmith, an organizer with the Canadian Boat to Gaza.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by the inaction of [John] Baird and [Stephen] Harper,” said Canadian Boat to Gaza organizer Dylan Penner. “In its failure to speak out against Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the Canadian government is condoning Israel’s disregard for the human rights of the citizens of Gaza and giving it impunity for its refusal to comply with its international obligations. It is this silence that compels citizens of good conscience, like David and Ehab, to act where our government has so consistently failed to do so.”
Organizers of the Canadian Boat to Gaza are demanding Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird step down for failing to do his job to stand up for the interests of Canadians.