The Israeli navy boarded a ship headed for Gaza and took it to the port of Ashdod. The Estelle was a project of European activists and included five members of European parliaments and a former Canadian lawmaker. The passengers will be turned over to police once the ship reaches its destination.
The boarding proceeded without incident, unlike the last time activists tried to run the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip. In 2010, 9 pro-Hamas Turks were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos aboard the ship Mavi Marmara. The incident soured relations between Turkey and Israel.
An Israeli military spokesman said that the ship had been seized without incident and taken to the port of Ashdod, in southern Israel, and that those on board would be turned over to the police.
A statement from an organization affiliated with the mission said that late Saturday morning, “Israeli warships surrounded the Estelle, and the assault on the peaceful ship started.” David Heap, an activist connected to the movement who was attending a conference in Gaza, said he had no information about what had happened aboard the Estelle as it was intercepted.
“The last contact we have from our people on board was that they were going to be boarded,” Mr. Heap said. “We have no confirmation from them of how they are, and we may not for some time hear directly from them.”
Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza in early 2009, saying it was needed to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the Palestinian enclave, which is governed by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israeli officials were also worried about weapons being smuggled to other militant groups.
Mr. Heap said the Estelle was the latest of more than a dozen ships that had tried to break the blockade since 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists after encountering resistance during a raid on a six-ship flotilla led by the Turkish vessel the Mavi Marmara.
After the Mavi Marmara raid, a United Nations panel found that Israel’s naval blockade was “legitimate self-defense and that Israel’s decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law.” Activists have disputed the panel’s conclusion.
The IDF issued a statement that said, in part, “It should be stressed that any organization or state who wishes to transfer supplies or aid to the Gaza Strip can do so via the existing land crossings and in coordination with Israeli authorities.” Yes, but then, that wouldn’t be dramatic enough, nor would it garner any international headlines.
The purpose, of course, is not to help the Palestinians but to embarrass Israel. In this, the activists have failed. They have only embarrassed themselves.