All of the Irish activists who were aboard the Gaza-bound MV Saoirse , seized by Israeli commandos on Friday, remained in Israel last night awaiting deportation. The 14 Irish nationals were issued with deportation orders on Saturday morning and sent to Givon prison in Ramle, in the centre of the country.
The activists refused to sign a visa-waiver form, which would have allowed the Israeli authorities to deport them immediately, claiming they were brought to Israel against their will.
The 72-hour period they have to appeal their deportation expires tomorrow morning and it is expected they will be put on flights home by tomorrow at the latest. Sabin Hadad, a spokeswoman for the Israeli interior ministry, said the activists wanted to remain in jail because “they came to Israel to cause a provocation”.
Over the weekend Israel deported five foreign activists who were part of the flotilla, including the two Greek captains, and allowed an Israeli Arab activist to return home.
Irish Embassy staff have been in contact with the Irish activists and all are reported well. They were given back their personal belongings at Ashdod port but the Israeli authorities confiscated all laptops, cameras and phones, which they have promised to return at an unspecified date. The boat itself, which was not registered as an Irish vessel, was towed to Ashdod port and its fate is unknown.
The Israeli military expressed satisfaction over the interception of the MV Saoirse and the Canadian vessel Al-Tahrir without injuries to either the troops or activists. It claimed that a thorough search of the two boats revealed no weapons or humanitarian aid, despite claims by the organisers that the boats were transporting $30,000 (€21,700) worth of medical supplies for Gaza residents.
The Israeli military said the boats were attempting to break the maritime security blockade that is in place in accordance with international law.
The Irish Ship to Gaza campaign raised concerns over the welfare of the crew and passengers of the MV Saoirse . Spokeswoman Claudia Saba said there had been no contact from anyone on board since it was hijacked, apart from one text message. “Once again, as with the flotilla of June 2010, Israel has managed to gain a monopoly on the narrative of what happened when the Gaza-bound boats were hijacked by Israel at sea,” she said.
“The footage released by Israel of the boarding of the boats is vague and lacking in detail. Since we have no direct contact with our fellow citizens, and since they are not allowed to communicate with the outside world, we do not know exactly what happened or how those aboard were treated.”
Campaigners called on the Government to suspend Israel from the Euromed agreement, end all arms trade with Israel, and take steps to ensure no State-funded institution engages in any cultural, academic or economic co-operation with the Israel or its associated institutions.