One story that managed to stay under the radar last week was the interception of another aid ship aiming to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Last Tuesday morning, The Irene, a catamaran with nine Jewish activists from Great Britain, Germany, America, and Israel, was boarded by Israeli commandos without major incident after it entered the waters near the Gaza Strip. The activists were part of a group called Jewish Boat to Gaza.
Israel's three-year-old naval embargo of the Gaza Strip became an international focal point in May when a flotilla of Turkish-led aid ships was raided by Israeli forces. On the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla's lead ship, Israeli forces were attacked by activists as they boarded the boat and in the ensuing bloodshed nine activists were killed and a number were injured. The incident caused an international furor and led to an Israeli relaxation of Gaza's land blockade as well as strained ties between Israel and Turkey.
Last week, news about The Irene made fleeting headlines in the Middle East, but international coverage of the incident was muted. The tragedy here is that all parties involved finally did what they were supposed to do and not many people heard about it.
Unlike the Mavi Marmara, The Irene did not have knives, metal rods, or other weapons in its cargo, only medicines, textbooks, therapeutic toys, and water purifiers meant for the suffering citizens of Gaza. The activists on board remained peaceful as advertised and did not swarm the Israeli forces as they boarded the ship. Instead the activists managed to protest the Gaza blockade to a logical end, garnered some regional attention, and then surrendered without endangering their lives or damaging their cause.
"We will not obey them, we will not help them," Captain Glyn Secker of The Irene said. "But we will not confront them physically. We will engage in no violence."
Likewise, the Israeli navy did not board the ship ill-prepared or without the tactics in mind to limit possible bloodshed aboard. Once The Irene was secured, it was taken to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod where the cargo was screened by security and then, according to Israel, the aid was sent to Gaza. While a few activists reported the use of tasers by the Israeli forces, none of the activists were seriously harmed.
With the Gaza blockade still in place, this likely will not be the last we hear of aid conveys attempting to break through to Gaza. In a recent development, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition -- the organizers of the first flotilla -- announced a plan to send at least eight ships in another attempt to reach Gaza in the coming months. With any luck, both parties will learn from the happenings on The Irene and future events in the Mediterranean will unfold peacefully.