Destination? Gaza!

The French-flagged ship, Dignit? ? al Karama, was halted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) en route to the shores of Gaza this morning. The small vessel was boarded and reportedly towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod. There were 16 people on the boat, with French, Greek, Tunisian, Canadian, and Swedish passengers among them. As coalition organizers stated, “It is now the representative of the entire Freedom Flotilla II.”

The ten passengers, three crew, and three journalists, including the respected Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, Greek coalition representative Vangelis Pissias, al-Jazeera television, and a French member of parliament, were in frequent contact with land teams until being cut off by Israeli forces.

The boat was stopped while still in international waters and before entering Gazan waters (let alone Israeli waters, which the flotilla has never planned to enter).

It became the sole representative of the flotilla to escape the clutches of the Greek coast guard when it was able to depart from the island of Kastelorizo late Saturday and head towards Port Said, Egypt on Monday.

The ship did not dock in Egypt (for fear of being trapped by yet another government bowing to U.S.-Israeli pressure), but rather anchored in international waters off the Egyptian coast overnight ? precluding the threat of another predawn raid like the IDF pulled last year ? to set sail in the morning for Gaza.

Before embarking on their final Tuesday morning run, the activists had previously sent messages from the Mediterranean exclaiming, “Morale here is like the sky and sea, very good ?. Gaza, off we go, stay connected!!!”

As Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon announced Monday, “If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law (sic!), and tries a provocative act — yes, we shall intercept it? But I assure you we shall try our best to make those on board very comfortable.” Clearly, the Israeli government is still smarting from the public relations drubbing Tel Aviv suffered last year in the wake of its state murder of 9 flotilla passengers. Yet so incongruous was the promise to be gentle that it was difficult not to read it more as some sort of ironic threat. When a mafia don offers you tea and biscotti, do you relax?

The Dignit? set off around 6 AM local time this morning. The French-flagged vessel would have been due to touch down on the sandy beaches of the Gaza strip around noon.

First contact by the IDF was made while the small craft was still some 50 miles out. Organizers lost contact with the boat at 10:10 AM, as the IDF began jamming the boat’s communications systems, while it was in international waters, north of Arish, Egypt. The boat was reportedly some 40 miles from Gaza and surrounded by four Israeli naval warships when communication was cut. The French vessel then received direct contact from Israeli forces initiated around 10:30 AM.

The Israeli naval tracking of the ship and initial radio encounter ? in which the Dignit? can be heard declaring their unwavering intention to sail to Gaza ? was recorded by the IDF.

Israeli naval authorities claim the boarding of the ship by Israeli commandos, known as the Shayetet 13, occurred when the Dignit? was some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Initial reports have thankfully not indicated abusive treatment thus far of the nonviolent activists.

Israeli authorities asserted that the area off the shores of Gaza was under “a maritime security blockade.” The leading Israeli establishment news site, YNet, reports that the Israeli government considers the Dignit? members to be “effectively entering Israel illegally.” Anyone who can contemplate how it is possible to illegally enter Israel for attempting entry into Gaza while also believing that Israel does not occupy Gaza is indeed a skillful practitioner of the Orwellian arts of double-think.

The Israeli commandos demanded to know if the boat full of peace activists was armed, maintaining the necessary ruse with presumably straight faces and appropriate earnestness. Doubtless the small pleasure craft was a grave security threat to the mighty warships flanking it.

In another IDF recording, commandoes can be seen boarding the ship from Zodiac boats. One must appreciate a power so smugly out of touch that it obligingly posts footage of its own misdeeds. Passengers were apparently escorted off their ship and onto a naval craft for the journey into detention ashore.

The AP notes that, “Israeli naval commandos? report[ed] no resistance during the takeover in international waters.” A great surprise, to be sure.

Israeli forces have since towed the Dignite to the port at Ashdod, Israel.

I was certainly not alone among the many passengers now returned to our home countries who avidly watched with great enthusiasm the progress of the little yacht, as it finally compelled the Israeli government to enforce its cruel blockade directly, rather than through hapless intermediaries.

Though English language television coverage was, to my knowledge, careful to studiously avert its gaze from the unfolding events, social media came to the rescue. Although I have been a casual user for some time, I confess to having never much relied upon Twitter for news. That changed last night.

As I mastered the finer points of hashtags and compulsively refreshed my #Dignit? browser tab, I was scarcely able to look away long enough to pour a new cup of coffee. I was filled with Twitter-fueled, anxious excitement for our Flotilla’s free boat. I relate these feelings only as an indication of the enormous bonds of solidarity we in the Freedom Flotilla have forged amongst ourselves.

A steady stream of updates began issuing forth in the early morning hours on the U.S. East Coast. Messages such as “3:36AM EDT – AthenianDemocra Athenian: #BREAKING #DIGNITE israeli Warships asked for destination-answer #GAZA RT #flotilla” fed the drama. A selected digest of the late-night tweets on the travails of the blockade-running French ship is available online. I reproduce some highlights of my own choosing below. Through one of the last communications with the outside from the boat, we were able to chart its position in the Mediterranean Sea at the time.

It would be a serious error to judge the success of the Flotilla simply by its movement through the Mediterranean. The true goal is to raise global awareness of the horror of the blockade upon the youthful population of Gaza, whether that entails physically reaching Gaza or not. Yet there was an undeniable element of emotional satisfaction to be had in seeing the Dignit? make a run for it.

“The Freedom Flotillas will keep sailing until the?illegal blockade of Gaza is?ended,” vowed Dylan Penner, a passenger from the Canadian boat, the Tahrir.

Nor is the detention of the Dignit? the end of this flotilla. The departure of the French boat, loaded with representatives from across the Flotilla coalition, “prov[es] that the will of global civil society cannot be intimidated.”

Moreover, organizers declared, “the remaining ships in Freedom Flotilla II: Stay Human are regrouping to fulfill our obligations to the besieged people of Gaza and to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world who funded and organized this act of solidarity. As long as the illegal blockade of Gaza remains in place, ships will sail to confront it.”

The call has already gone out for people to mobilize immediately at the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate to protest the stopping of the French boat. Protests were announced for later today in cities in Canada, France, and Greece almost as soon as the boat was seized.

Messages of support can be sent to the passengers of the Dignit? here (though, as they are now under detention, there is no telling when they will see them).

Meanwhile, the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, continues to languish in indefinite detention in a military port outside Athens ? punishment for challenging the Greek government’s complicity in Gaza’s collective punishment. As the Greek authorities are ultimately acting under instruction from the U.S. and Israel, we are calling for all citizens to apply continued pressure to Washington, through daily phone calls to the U.S. State Department.

The movement of international solidarity has emerged stronger from our time in Athens. And we’re only getting started!

What follows is a small sampling of tweets from today’s early morning hours.

2:57AM EDT
AthenianDemocra Athenian

3:05AM EDT
huwaidaarraf Huwaida Arraf
Now from Dignit?: Two Israeli army boats coming towards us; Dont know how long we can be in contact. We are at: 31 25 N 33 25 E #flotilla2

3:11AM EDT
AthenianDemocra Athenian

3:25AM EDT
AthenianDemocra Athenian
#Dignit?: 3Israeli navy boats on left 1on right @500 meters& closing 31.25 N 33.25 E #flotilla

3:25AM EDT
huwaidaarraf Huwaida Arraf
Israeli navy just made contact with Dignit?. Dignit? confirmed destination is Gaza. #flotilla2

3:34AM EDT
TahrirCanada Tahrir Canada
Lost contact with #BateauGazaFr #Digint? at 3:09 ET. Israeli Occupation forces: the world is watching! stay human #flotilla2

3:36AM EDT
postakutusu Berrak
French ship Dignite has been stopped and Israel declared it’s going to arrest the passengers on board. #dignite
postakutusu Berrak
Internet connection has been cut by Israel on #dignite.

3:41AM EDT
avimayer Avi Mayer
Channel 2: #IDF source says “We will not permit [the #flotilla2 boat] to deviate from its route and violate the maritime closure of #Gaza.”

3:43AM EDTIHHen Humanitarian Relief
4 Israeli ships and 1 big warship are following Dignite #flotilla2 @via IzzetShahin

3:53AM EDT
avimayer Avi Mayer
Haaretz: #Israel Navy ship has contacted #France #flotilla2 boat, asked it to identify itself and whether it is carrying weapons.

3:55AM EDT
avimayer Avi Mayer
Haaretz: #France #flotilla2 boat responds to #Israel Navy ship, says there are 13 passengers and 3 crew on board, no cargo or weapons.

3:55AM EDT
IDFSpokesperson IDF
First contact w/ #Dignite established; their answer: heading for #Gaza. It is illegal to breach naval blockade. #flotilla2

4:03AM EDT
SafaJoudeh Safa Joudeh
#Israel sources say if #Dignite does not turn back it will be towed to Ashdod port&activists arrested. 40-40 miles frm #Gaza. #flotilla2

4:07AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
The Israeli navy demanded to know of any weapons on board the #flotilla2 ship. The only weapon on board is Amira Hass’s pen.

4:15AM EDT
avimayer Avi Mayer
Haaretz: #Israel Navy has informed #France #flotilla2 boat “#Dignite” its current route will lead to area under maritime closure.

4:17AM EDT
huwaidaarraf Huwaida Arraf
Lost communication with the Dignite 15 minutes ago. Israeli navy was threatening to attack. #flotilla2

4:21AM EDT
IHHen Humanitarian Relief
15 min. ago we are informed that the Israeli forces threatening with attack #dignite #flotilla2
via @IzzetShahin

4:29AM EDT
sendbee jean
#Israeli naval forces open fire around French boat #Dignity in attempt 2 stop it #WTF #svpol
@hakansunar @danmike1 #Shiptogaza #flotilla2

4:37AM EDT
huwaidaarraf Huwaida Arraf
All communication w/Dignite lost. We can only assume ship has been attacked. Why is Israel afraid of 16 peace activists? #flotilla2

4:40AM EDT
SafaJoudeh Safa Joudeh
communication lost with #Dignite off #Gaza coast,reports of #Israel gunships opening fire,aftr threats to tow&arrest pasngrs #flotilla2

4:42AM EDT
HamzehLattouf Hamzeh Lattouf
RT @LumaQ: RT @atiatam: My heart is at: 31 25 N 33 25 E #flotilla2 #dignite #Gaza

4:42AM EDT
yrtRabia Rabia Yurt
rumours about gunfire sounds #flotilla2 I hope it’s just rumours

4:44AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
I hope that my assumation that Israeli navy seals are storming the unarmed #flotilla2 ship right now will not be realized.

4:47AM EDT
saminauk samina
French Navy ship #A758 is obligated to protect French boat #Dignit?.

4:49AM EDT
BritainIsrael BICOM
IDF talking with #Dignite. Offering options to dock at Egypt (El Arish) or Ashdod. #flotilla2

4:51AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
One of the IDF new media people is reporting that the army is in ‘dialogue’ with the crew of the French #flotilla2. This is unconfirmed.

4:53AM EDT
hamzah_1992 Hamzah Nurgat
Communication has been lost.. Anything could be happening, keep praying, and remain alert! We are all Palestinian! #Dignit?

5:03AM EDT
iheartNJonas Mrs. Nick Jonas
RT @IHHen: 15 min. ago we are informed that the Israeli forces threatening with attack #dignite
#flotilla2 via @IzzetShahin

5:06AM EDT
IHHen Humanitarian Relief
More Israeli navy ships surrounded Dignite all fully armed and ready to attack #flotilla2

5:10AM EDT
CNNAbuDhabi CNNAbuDhabi
The #IDF says their navy is in contact with crew on board the #Dignit? & attempting to dissuade them front continuing toward #Gaza #CNN

5:18AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
Here we go: The first video from the #flotilla2 at sea comes from the IDF spokesman just like last year

5:26AM EDT
IHHen Humanitarian Relief
IDF has not board on Dignite the negotiations still continuing #flotilla2

5:35AM EDT
IHHen Humanitarian Relief
AJE representative: IDF “if you don’t turn back we will take you back to the Mediterranean and arrest all the passengers” via @IzzetShahin

5:38AM EDT
nbeltov Nikolai Beltov
@IHHen @IzzetShahin They said: “We are going to board you, peacefully,We want you to work with us to do it with no violence.” #Dignite

5:48AM EDT
Daroff William Daroff
#Israel Navy preparing to take over #Gaza-bound French #flotilla2 ship (@jerusalempost)

5:53AM EDT
AmoonaE ~ Iman ~
12:35 local time IDF chief orders Israel Navy to raid Gaza-bound French ship (via @Haaretz) #flotilla2

5:54AM EDT
benwaxman Ben Waxman
#flotilla2 – all over, the army took control of the boats. no injuries/martyrs reported. better luck next time guys!

5:57AM EDT
julesjrobinson Jules J. Robinson
Reports of #Dignite boarding by Israeli Navy — no violence — #flotilla2

5:57AM EDT
SafaJoudeh Safa Joudeh
#Israel navy took over #Gaza bound aid ship #Dignite , towing to Ashdod port, earlier IDF said passengers will be arrested #flotilla2

5:57AM EDT
SafaJoudeh Safa Joudeh
#Israel navy took over #Gaza bound aid ship #Dignite , towing to Ashdod port, earlier IDF said passengers will be arrested #flotilla2

5:58AM EDT
AP The Associated Press
BREAKING: Israeli military says naval commandoes have boarded Gaza-bound French ship. -MM

6:10AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
The boat is apparently being taken to ashdod. No word on the condition of the passengers or soldiers sent to take it over #flotilla2

6:12AM EDT
avimayer Avi Mayer
Ynet: #Israel Navy’s takeover of the #France #flotilla2 boat took minutes, did not encounter resistance from activists on board.

6:15AM EDT
ECESG The European Campaig
by britain2gaza
In Paris, a rally is planned tonight at 18 pm at 30 Franklin Roosevelt subway via @BateauGazaFr

6:17AM EDT
CanadaBoatGaza Canada Boat to Gaza
Israel prevents even tiny pleasure boat from reaching Gaza. In Vancouver today protest against Israeli shipping giant ZIM. #flotilla2 #BDS

6:21AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
Haaretz reports that there was no resistance among the passengers of the #flotilla2

6:23AM EDT
sendbee jean
IDF will interrogate the #Dignite passengers by entering the country by illegal ways #flotilla2 #svpol #Shiptogaza @hakansunar

6:30AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
According to @AJEnglish , everyone is safe on both sides. This is the most welcome news of the #flotilla2

6:32AM EDT
IHHen Humanitarian Relief
Passengers of the Dignite- Al Karama were transferred to military vessels #flotilla2

6:34AM EDT
moyilmaz123 MoYilmaz
AJE: Should take 2-3 hours to reach Ashdod and 3 ships are taking the French boat there #flotilla2

6:36AM EDT
moyilmaz123 MoYilmaz
IDF: Following the boarding, the passengers’ health was examined and they were offered food and beverages. #flotilla2

6:38AM EDT
moyilmaz123 MoYilmaz
IDF: At the Ashdod port, the security authorities and the Israel Police will begin the process of questioning the passengers #flotilla2

6:41AM EDT
ibnezra Joseph Dana
Israel has stated openly and repeatedly that it will charge #flotilla2 passengers with ‘illegally entering Israel” if they sail to Gaza

6:48AM EDT
LumaQ LumaQ
#flotilla2 boarded in International waters – #DIGNITE #gaza RT @abulkury: @LumaQ yes international

6:51AM EDT
moyilmaz123 MoYilmaz
The Population and Immigration Authority say those on board will be banned for 10 years from Israel #flotilla2

6:56AM EDT
IHHen Humanitarian Relief
The 16 passengers on board are being brought back to Ashdod. Israeli censorship still going on via @BateauGazaFr

7:05AM EDT
axeasy Vangelis Makridakis
AlJazeera Intl:Crew of #Dignite will be treated by immigration personnel and will be searched for any illegal item on board. #flotilla2

7:06AM EDT
b9AcE b9AcE
All supporters of #Palestine & #HumanRights in general: Demand your Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially protest to Israel over #Flotilla2

7:27AM EDT
KShihabi Khaled Al-Shihabi
Be sure #Flotilla2 was not the first.. it will not be the last… There is good in this world… #Palestine will be free

7:59AM EDT
cherylbenson Cheryl Benson
@CanadaBoatGaza asking all Canadians to contact MP’s & start protest rallies across Canada #flotilla2

8:02AM EDT
IDFSpokesperson IDF
#IDF Spox: Dialogue w/ #Dignite reached dead-end; after all options exhausted, #Israel Navy boarded ship

Steve Fake was a passenger on the U.S.-flagged Audacity of Hope in Athens. He is co-author of The Scramble for Africa: Darfur ? Intervention and the USA (Black Rose Books). He currently lives in New Orleans.