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Obama Administration Threatens to Jail 87-year-old Holocaust Survivor, Others – Updated X 2

10:17 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

In an announcement many will find stunning, the Obama administration has upped its threat level to Americans participating in the 2011 Gaza relief flotilla:

The U.S. State Department said Friday that attempts to break the blockade are “irresponsible and provocative” and that Israel has well-established means of delivering assistance to the Palestinian residents of Gaza. It noted that the territory is run by the militant Hamas group, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, and that Americans providing support to it are subject to fines and jail.

The Americans “providing support” include:

Hedi Epstein, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor

Alice Walker, beloved poet, writer and Pulitzer Prize winner

Ray McGovern, former CIA intelligence expert and staff member for seven presidents

Col. Ann Wright, 1997 recipient of the U.S. State Department’s Award for Heroism

Medea Benjamin, perhaps America’s most prominent peace activist

and over 30 other Americans.

Here’s a link to the U.S. State Department’s June 22nd warning in its entirety. Here is the pertinent part of the Wednesday announcement regarding flotilla participants:

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea. On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are not able to provide consular assistance in Gaza or on the high seas or coastal waters.

From December 27, 2008, through January 17, 2009, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza. Israel and Hamas, a State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that violently seized power in Gaza in June 2007, declared separate truces to end the fighting. Small clashes continue to occur along the boundary of the Gaza Strip. Rockets and mortars are still fired into Israel from Gaza, and Israel continues to conduct military operations inside Gaza, including airstrikes. Israel has also declared an exclusion zone inside Gaza along its boundary with Israel and has taken lethal measures against individuals who enter it.

The State Department web site has no link to the Friday announcement yet.  I’ll post it when it appears.

Updated – Saturday early morning:

On facebook, Max Blumenthal has linked to an article by his colleague Joseph Dana.  Dana reports the Greeks are responding to safety complaints made against three of the 10 boats scheduled to leave Greek waters toward Gaza.  The MV Audacity of Hope is one of the three:

Early this morning, I discovered that a ‘private compliant’ had been filed against the US boat to Gaza. The compliant, it is still unclear who filed it, stated that the US boat to Gaza is not ’sea worthy’ and requires a detailed inspection.The harbor master where the boat is in port has declared that until the compliant is resolved the boat is not permitted to leave. Currently, lawyers representing the US boat are looking into the origins of the compliant and weather it was filed as a result of Israeli economic or diplomatic pressure on the Greek government. The boat is US flagged and registered in the United States.

10 ships are expected to sail as part of the Gaza aid flotilla. Currently three ships, including the US boat, have had complaints levied against them.  US boat organizers believe that Greece will attempt to delay the ships indefinitely by using a serious of bureaucratic measures such as endless safety checks and cargo inspections. Despite the setbacks, organizers are continuing with their nonviolence and safety training. They are hopeful that the Greek government will allow the ships to sail next week as initially planned.

 

Updated – Saturday Afternoon:

ATHENS  – A group suspected of being linked with the Israeli foreign intelligence agency the Mossad was reported to have tried to thwart the sailing of a Greek ship slated to join the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla II due to set sail sometime next week.

The elements tried to sabotage the ship’s engine, but a crew discovered the men while checking the equipment, Quds Press said, quoting sources from the flotilla’s organizing body, on Saturday. The sources added that the men fled the scene.

Since the incident, participants have been taking turns watching guard in anticipation of another shot at foiling the mission to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

The flotilla, which will include some 15 ships and hundreds of notable passengers, has insisted on heading for the Strip despite Israel’s open threats to use military force to stop the ships short before landing at the said destination.

Egyptian Navy Refuses Entry to Port of El-Arish to Spirit of Rachel Corrie

11:16 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

According to Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, the Egyptian navy is ordering the MV Spirit of Rachel Corrie to leave the port area:

EL-ARISH (Egpyt), May 19 (Bernama) — An Egyptian navy gunboat has ordered aid ship MV Finch (Spirit of Rachel Corrie), which has been at anchor for three days, to leave the waiting area at El-Arish Port.

“They are preventing the ship from berthing,” said Bernama journalist, Mohd Faizal Hassan, who is one of the 12 passengers and crew on board the MV Finch, in a SMS note to Bernama’s headquarters here Thursday night.

According to Mohd Faizal, the MV Finch has been ordered not to come within a three nautical mile radius of the port.

If this is what it appears to be – a rejection by Egyptian authorities of the request by the ship to unload about 7.5 kilometers of PVC pipe to be hopefully used to help rebuild destroyed Gaza sewer lines – it is a serious setback for this small freighter, which was fired upon at least four times on Monday by Israeli gunboats, which succeeded in keeping it from docking in Gaza.

Global Research, which is in satellite phone communication with the freighter wrote this morning:

The decision by Egypt to prevent the boat from docking in the port and enabling the mission to proceed by land to Gaza is deliberate.

Global Research which is a partner in the PGPF mission has been in communication with the ship by satellite phone. At 2.30am EDT, the Spirit of Rachel Corrie mission informed the Egyptian authorities that if it continues to prevent the mission from transporting the humanitarian cargo by land, it will have no other choice but to lift anchor and direct itself by sea to the Gaza coastline, transiting through the Palestinian Security Zone.

We may know soon whether or not the vessel will leave port. It does not show up as a transponding unit on Live Ships Map’s Vessel Traffic and Position report.

Did Israeli Patrol Boats Flee Off Gaza When the Egyptian Navy Showed Up Monday?

9:52 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Early reports of the Israeli interception of the Malaysian-owned, Moldovan-flagged small coastal freighter, MV Finch (renamed recently, The Spirit of Rachel Corrie) on early Monday morning didn’t give a lot of detail:

Israeli naval forces fired warning shots at a Malaysian aid ship as it approached the Gaza Strip on Monday, forcing the vessel to retreat to Egypt, organisers and the Israeli military said.

“The MV Finch, carrying sewage pipes to Gaza, had warning shots fired at it by Israeli forces in the Palestinian security zone this morning at 6:54 am (0354 GMT),” said Shamsul Azhar from the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

“The vessel was in the Palestinian security zone, about 400 metres from the Gaza shoreline, when they were intercepted by Israeli naval forces,” he told AFP, adding it was now anchored 30 nautical miles away in Egyptian territory.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that the vessel, flying a Moldovan flag, had been intercepted as it sailed from Egypt’s El-Arish port, where it had been docked for several days.

“A navy patrol boat contacted the vessel, which claimed to be heading for the Gaza shores. Once it crossed into Israeli naval territory and didn’t answer calls to turn back, warning shots were fired in the air and it returned to El-Arish,” she said.

The Perdana Foundation is helmed by former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad, an 85-year-old firebrand who was a strident critic of the West and Israel over the treatment of Palestinians during his two decades in power.

The organisation was also involved in the first “Freedom Flotilla”, a May 2010 attempt to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, which ended in disaster when naval commandos raided the aid ships, killing nine Turks on board one of the vessels.

Perdana Foundation officials said the MV Finch left Greece on May 11, carrying plastic pipes to help restore the “devastated” sewage system in Gaza.

Most of the sparse news reports throughout Monday were based on the same information in the above one.  Around mid-day Gaza time, more details emerged from the Perdana Foundation:

The Perdana Global Peace Foundation (PGPF) condemned in the strongest possible terms the act of aggression by the Israeli Naval Forces when they fired on the humanitarian mission bound for the Gaza Strip. The Spirit of Rachel Corrie ship, a humanitarian cargo vessel, officially known as FINCH came under attack one nautical mile inside Gazan waters at 6.35, this morning. We urge the international community to join with us in condemning this illegal, barbaric and uncivilised act.

The cargo ship was inside the Palestinian territorial waters and had broken the siege when the Israeli Naval Forces intercepted the ship and ordered the Captain to retreat. The first shot was fired across the bow and followed by several more shots. One of the shots almost hit a crew member, Mohd Jaffrey Ariffin, causing others to panic and hide for safety.

During the ordeal all those on board feared for their lives. The inhumane behaviour by the Israeli Naval Forces continued, despite the ship already turning towards the Egyptian waters.

In the communication between the Captain and the Israeli Forces it was clearly stated that the ship was unarmed, and only carrying humanitarian aid.  Despite that, the Israeli Naval Forces were not dissuaded and continued to shoot directly at the ship when it was leaving.

As far as PGPF and the anti-war activists are concerned, we had ‘Broken the Illegal Israeli Siege’ by being one nautical mile inside Palestinian territorial waters. The Gazan fishermen and other locals witnessed the event from the shoreline as they had gathered to welcome the siege breaking vessel and receive the aid mission.

PGPF acknowledge the sensitive manner in which Egyptian authorities have dealt with the situation. The vessel, under the guidance of the Egyptian navy has made its way to the port of El Arish. PGPF are currently being assisted in making arrangements for the transfer of the aid to Gaza by land via the Rafah Crossing.

We left the scene and entered Egyptian waters when the lives of unarmed civilians on board were endangered by this act of violence. Mindful of Israeli’s numerous killings of civilians at yesterday’s Nakba commemorations, the vessel withdrew to protect those on board from becoming victims of another act of terrorism by Israel.

Late Monday, more details emerged, including what is being reported as the conversations between the crew of the unarmed vessel and the intercepting Israeli boats:

According to Faizal, after the Israeli navy fired the first shot, the ship’s Captain Jalil Mansor was heard telling the Israelis through radio: “This is a violation of law against unarmed civilians”.

The following exchange then took place.

Israeli army: “This is a warning shot. Turn around.”

Captain Jalil Mansor: “We are unarmed civilians on a humanitarian mission to Gaza”.

Israeli army: “This is a closed military zone. It’s a violation. Turn around.”

Captain Jalil Mansor: “We will continue (the mission)”.

The Israelis then headed to the back of the aid vessel and released a second warning shot into the air.

Derek Graham: “This is a violation (of international law). We are on a peaceful mission and unarmed.”

Israeli army: “Turn around. We will fire again”.

Derek Graham: “You are firing towards unarmed civilians”.

Israeli army: “We didn’t fire towards unarmed civilians”.

Derek Graham: “Looks like firing towards us.”

Israeli army: “We didn’t fire towards you. That is only a warning shot”.

Following that conversation, the Israeli army fired two more shots and threatened: “Next time, we will land on your ship”.

Then the Egyptian navy was heard telling the Israelis on the radio: “Stop firing. They are in the Egyptian waters”.

Upon realising the presence of Egyptian naval forces, the Israelis departed. [emphasis added]

This is new.  Last year, I made a number of suggestions as to how the spring 2010 flotillas might have done things differently.  This vessel, having embarked from Greece early in the month, appears to have sought the seam between Egyptian and de facto Israeli zones of sea control, perhaps intending to test whether the Egyptians might react differently than they did in 2010.  If the description above is accurate, it appears the Israeli Navy has backed down in the face of Egyptian intrusion into an ongoing seizure or attempted boarding, as in – “Next time, we land on your ship.”

This past weekend, the Israelis killed dozens of Palestinians and others on territory Syria has not relinquished, in spite of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. And they fired across the border with Lebanon, into territory Israel has occupied so many times in the past, but isn’t theirs.  And they fired once again into Gaza, which is on Egypt’s border, and mere miles from Monday’s maritime standoff.

The Egyptian military is not that of Syria or Lebanon, however.  Their officers and troops have been indoctrinated that Egypt, not Israel, prevailed in the 1973 October (or Yom Kippur, or Ramadan) War.  In a sense, they did, as the strategic consequence of the war was the withdrawal of the Israelis from  the Sinai Peninsula, and the re-opening of the Suez Canal, which had been closed since the Israelis occupied its eastern banks in June, 1967.

The Egyptian Navy is larger than the Israeli.  Their largest surface combatants, six former American frigates, displace 4,200 tons.  The largest Israeli surface ships, the three Saar 5 corvettes are slightly more than half as large.  The Israeli navy is assumed to be far better trained, and its coordination with land and air forces is regarded as a model of efficiency.

The last time the two forces met, was on October 8-9, 1973, in the Battle of Baltim, an Israeli victory, in which six 400-ton Saar class corvettes encountered four Egyptian 200-ton Osa class patrol boats, sinking three of the Osas, in return for slight damage to one of their corvettes.  But before that incident, in October 1967, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the Egyptian Navy sank the INS Eilat, a 1,700 ton destroyer, with missiles fired from very small patrol boats.

The Egyptian demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula has created a military vacuum there, which has benefited Israel enormously, allowing it to invade Lebanon time and again since the Camp David Accords were signed.  But the Egyptian Navy maintains its country’s sovereignty right up to the Gaza border.

Monday’s encounter might not signal a change in Egyptian policy regarding the sea zone abutting Gaza’s southern border, but it shows an Israeli Navy less than eager to act as it did last summer, in the presence of foreign military vessels whose crews identify with Palestinian aspirations.

The summer flotillas are watching.  So are the Turkish, Syrian and American navies.

The Amalthea Nears Gaza – Flotilla 2010, Round Three

4:10 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The Libyan-chartered, Moldovan-flagged freighter, Amalthea, is about 95 miles due north of Alexandria, traveling at 8.5 knots, on a course of about 106 degrees. It is about 250 miles from the Gaza shore. At course and speed, that should put it near the area where the Rachel Corrie was seized by the IDF last month in about 24 hours.

Antiwar.com‘s news wire reports:

A pair of Lebanese NGOs are already raising funds for a trip, which will carry a large number of journalists and even a few European MPs. A small Jewish group from Germany is also planning to send a small aid ship.

These are just the groups farthest along in their efforts, and other groups across the Muslim world and indeed, the world in general, are looking to challenge the long-standing blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s pledges to stop them all notwithstanding, they look to have an uphill battle in contending with so many aid groups, and so much international pressure.

Al Jazeera English’s Powerful Documentary on the Gaza Flotilla Seizure

4:43 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Al Jazeera‘s 45 minute-long documentary on the seizure of the ships and boats of the Gaza flotilla concentrates on events aboard the MV Mavi Marmara. This is because most of Al Jazeera‘s team (one of whom spent election day 2008 with my wife and I in Wasilla, covering the results in Palin’s home town) was on the small cruise ship, and footage smuggled out by members of Cultures of Resistance came from that vessel. In the documentary there is evidence of war crimes by the IDF.

For instance, the very straightforward skipper of the Mavi Marmara states:

At around 6:30 in the morning [after the IDF had seized the bridge of the MVMM and bound all crew there but the captain], we were asked to start the engine and turn to the route 130 degrees. No matter how many times I asked the Israeli soldiers to provide first aid to the injured, until our doctors intervened, they kept on insisting that as long as the engine was not started and the route was not turned to 130 degrees, they would not provide first aid.

There are so many instances of Israeli soldiers letting injured people or sick people just fucking die. The most pathetic recent incident occurred late last week, as Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem opened fire on the husband of an American citizen in his car. When he got out and sought to distance himself from the car in which one of his American daughters was cowered down, they shot him, let him bleed, then shot him again. Then, according to numerous witnesses, they danced around his body, in triumph.

Please watch this powerful Al Jazeera documentary. I doubt you will see such comprehensive reporting on the flotilla on any American TV network.

Will any American network provide coverage of the next Euro-American-Asian flotilla later this month, or in July?

I had friends on the last one, and several will be on this one. Yesterday evening, I got word that members of the London-based group Jews for Justice for Palestinians will participate in the Jewish boats that will attempt to break the blockade. JfJfP produced the 2005 performance of my work about Rachel Corrie, The Skies are Weeping, in London (after Alaska and New York performances had been canceled), and hosted my wife and me. I brought 20 pounds of Copper River Sockeye salmon I had smoked myself from Wasilla to London for my friends, and for the Israeli-Palestinian-people-from-all-over reception we had after the concert. We drank Palestinian and Israeli and British beer, even pouring suds from the three countries together into the same glasses.

Some of the Jewish peace activists on the German boat will be bringing musical instruments, which have been banned in Gaza.

The Al Jazeera documentary embedded here fairly clearly shows the benign intent of the vast majority of participants in the Memorial Day weekend flotilla. How will the Israeli press handle the European Jewish boats? What if the Jewish boats and the supposed Iranian boats meet up and exchange gifts, food, musical instruments, hugs?

This flotilla movement is more fascinating every day.

Firedoglake Live Blogs a Major Turning Point in Middle East Conflict

10:38 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Beginning May 16th, I wrote a series of diaries here that sought to heighten awareness of the renewed and refreshed strident militance being shown by the Israeli government toward critics, and sought to bring more attention to the flotilla of boats and ships determined to lift the illegal siege of Gaza.

Saturday evening, as the flotilla was leaving the vicinity of Cyprus, I began a live blog post here. Sunday afternoon, as the flotilla neared the Levantine coast, Siun took over. Her firedoglake post ended up collecting information almost in real time, as the most serious attack by a foreign power in history on a collection of boats flagged by NATO members unfolded.

The blogs mondoweiss and Daily Kos also contained posts which sought to live blog the crime as it played out.

On May 16th, I noted that the freighter, MV Rachel Corrie, was leaving Irish waters, to join vessels already in the Mediterranean.

On May 20th, in light of Elvis Costello’s cancellation of an Israel concert tour, I speculated that it might be time to consider gathering artists together to create a 2010 version of the pivotal protest album from 1985, Sun City. That album helped galvanize resistance to the South African government policy of Apartheid.

On May 22, I noted the absence of mainstream media, especially in the USA, toward the gathering of vessels for the flotilla, and wondered how the approach of the the small fleet to the Gaza coast might be covered.

On May 25, I wrote about the assembly of boats, their problems, and the mounting evidence that the IDF would forcefully attempt to commandeer the vessels. I was concerned.

On Saturday May 29, I began the live blog, which was passed on to Siun yesterday, during her regular Sunday afternoon slot.

Others have also contributed diaries at firedoglake on this.

I’ve learned a lot from the process of writing about this. Foremost, perhaps, is that in spite of the stated IDF intention of isolating the vessels from being able to emit real time information during the attack, they were unsuccessful. As in the demonstrations in Iran in the wake of their farcical election last year, people managed to bypass jamming and blackouts, through workarounds or through discovery that government jamming had holes in it.

Twitter, through hundreds of cell phones on board the vessels, described the attacks in terse tweets from bloodstained decks. These tweets were passed back and forth between twitter sites throughout last night, as they aggregated incoming news from many early sources.

The Turkish video feed from the large cruise ship, where most casualties occurred will become iconic, even as the IDF releases their night vision videos that seek to purport the IDF was responding to a "lynch mob" as it opened fire on dozens of unarmed civilians, attempting to defend themselves from a brazen, illegal act in international waters.

Norman Finkelstein’s 2009 book about the 2008-2009 Gaza invasion is titled This Time We Went Too Far. It is an apt title. Many of us have experienced how friends or relatives finally stopped straddling the fence over how Israel conducts itself, as we and they witnessed the barbarity of the IDF assault on schools, hospitals, clinics, fire departments, bakeries, dairies and houses in the besieged Gaza enclave.

This time, the IDF went too far in ways that may be pivotal. Juan Cole, writing this morning, observes:

It is worth noting on Memorial Day that the Israeli attack deeply complicates the task of the US military in the region. It is a propaganda boon for Sunni extremists and Shiite activists such as Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, and for the Taliban in Afghanistan. It undermines the authority of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, which have US-brokered peace treaties with Israel, treaties that are deeply unpopular with ordinary people in both countries. That some demonstrations are being held in front of US consulates and not just Israeli ones tells us who will get the blame for Netanyahu’s machismo.

Turkish-Israeli relations, already in an abysmal state, might never recover. Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel. The attack on several NATO-related vessels, in international waters, and without provocation, as noted above, is unprecedented. Turkey will be right to bring this before the NATO North Atlantic Council, which meets about once per week. The United Nations Security Council is meeting right now about the attack, with the Secretary General having already made a harsh statement.

As I noted in Siun’s live blog diary last night:

If the flotilla was actually moving away from the coast when boarded, after having responded to IDF enquiries regarding intent and course, this is a lost cause for the Israelis to defend. They have no claim that their response was appropriate.

Some, if not all, of the vessels were giving out position reports up to the boarding. The record of these is indelible. The Turks will surely bring this fact up to the North Atlantic Council this week, and it may have been brought up today at the UN Security Council.

A Daily Kos Diary, analyzing NATO responsibilities regarding Turkey in this matter, has hundreds of comments, Here is the key part of NATO doctrine that might pertain directly to actions after this attack:

Israel’s attack on the MV Blue Mamara, a Turkish vessel, means they just attacked a member of NATO. According to the NATO Charter, Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

If you think there is wiggle room in that definition, you would be mistaken. Article 6 is explicit about where attacks will trigger responses. Vessels in the Mediterranean Sea are mentioned explicitly.

The Israeli Prime Minister has cut short a North American trip that was to conclude with a White House meeting Tuesday. He’s had to return home to prepare for the Third Intifada, and to attempt to salvage diplomatic relations with a number of counties besides just Turkey.

Within the American progressive community Israel has always had and still has staunch supporters of every action by the IDF or Israeli government. But those numbers were severely diminished by this highly criminal attack. But, as a commenter at Mondoweiss observed this morning:

There are now 4 diaries on the rec list at Daily Kos condemning the Israeli piracy. Even during Cast Lead, this didn’t happen.

Other lefty blogs that generally avoid discussing Israel/Palestine issues at all will, should they continue to blind themselves in this matter, lose readers and influence.

A very important article recently appeared in the New York Review of Books. In The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, by Peter Beinart, the author explains in detail how the large family size and emigration into Israel of ultra Orthodox inhabitants and their growing influence on internal Israeli politics will inevitably force young American Jews who are liberal to forsake support for the Zionist state and its brutal expansionist goals. The article has caused quite a stir, to say the least.

Israel has succeeded, in last night’s attack, in further isolating itself as an increasingly rogue nation. Some are even predicting an implosion there, similar to those of Apartheid South Africa, or of the Warsaw Pact communist governments.

Two things are certain though. Twitter, as a driver of non-MSM instant information has come of age.

And firedoglake, thanks to Siun and our commenting community, has once again led the way in live blogging a pivotal moment.

Live Blogging the Gaza Flotilla’s Run to the Gaza Coast Or ….

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

It will soon be dawn on the Eastern Mediterranean, and unless the Israeli Navy has ventured far out into international waters to intercept the boats and ships, the run to the coast should begin soon:

The live streaming isn’t at a host that I can download to The Seminal, but here’s the link.

Here is a link to freegaza.org’s twitter page.

The live video feed went blank about four hours ago. For a while, there was test pattern, then blank screen with the little round logo on it. The twitter feed has not been updated in over seven hours. Maybe everyone is just asleep. Hopefully, there are very active watches at the rails and on the radars.

It is 5:05 a.m. in Cairo and Tel Aviv right now. First light comes at just before 6:00 a.m. there.

I’ll bring more information to this post as comments, as the day there unfolds. I’ll try to remain here until the vessels either run the blockade or are intercepted and captured.

The best articles to have appeared on Saturday did not come from the American Press. BBC did a video scene that shows they have reporters in Gaza, on a ship in the flotilla, and near the detention facility the Israelis have set up in the port of Ashdod.

The most recent story, posted minutes ago in the Jerusalem Post, by Yaakov Katz, reports the following:

The Israel Navy was gearing up on Saturday night for what could become a dramatic showdown with five protest ships on their way to test the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Technical difficulties held up the fleet, which was initially scheduled to arrive off the Gaza coast on Saturday but is now expected on Sunday. While eight ships were initially scheduled to sail to Gaza, in the end a total of five ships were reported to be on their way after three suffered technical malfunctions.

One of the highest profile figures on the ships is Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, who said she was proud to do her part to end what she called a siege on Gaza. Right-wing MKs called for Zoabi’s arrest and ouster from the Knesset.

“Zoabi is working together with Israel’s enemies to encourage terrorism and harm Israel’s image internationally, and these acts constitute treason,” Likud MK Danny Danon wrote to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein in his request for him to order Zoabi’s arrest upon her arrival in Israel.

Part of the delay was caused by difficulties the organizers encountered in trying to have two dozen more would-be passengers, including 19 European legislators and a Holocaust survivor, join the ships anchored in international waters off Cyprus. The Cypriot government did not allow smaller boats to ferry the group to the flotilla.

Authorities in Cyprus said the decision was made to protect the island’s “vital interests,” including economic ties with Israel.

Organizers then appealed to the Turkish government to get the group out via a Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus port. Turkish Cypriot officials have said they want to help the group as much as they can.

In addition to encountering diplomatic obstacles and mechanical problems, the ships reportedly lost their satellite phone connections twice.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Friday that Israel would not allow the protest ships to violate its sovereignty, and that they would be stopped.

Let’s hope and pray nobody gets hurt.

The MV Rachel Corrie Has Set Sail for Gaza

12:32 pm in Culture, Foreign Policy, Politics by EdwardTeller

The 1,200-ton cargo vessel, MV Rachel Corrie, laden with a hold full of "much-needed reconstruction material, medical equipment, and school supplies, " has untied from a dock in Dundalk Ireland, and has now faced its bow toward the Straits of Gibraltar. It will be joined by seven other vessels, with their similar cargoes, and about 600 passengers, including some of the world’s leading peace and human rights activists.

Two navies, the two most powerful in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, are likely to get involved in the last leg of the voyage to the Gaza coast – The Turkish Navy and, of course, the Israeli Navy. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyib Erdogan, recently expressed his support for “breaking the oppressive siege on the Gaza Strip…which is at the top of Turkey’s list of priorities." His belief that the blockade should be broken may be reinforced by the resolve of a proud government that was intentionally humiliated by Israeli diplomats back in January, "torpedoing" Turko-Israeli relations, as the web site Tikun Olam then put it.

Earlier in May, "John Ging, the Director of Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, …. called upon the international community to break the siege on the Gaza Strip by sending ships loaded with desperately needed supplies to the beleaguered territory. "We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organizations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible."

But the Israeli Navy is training for a confrontation of a far larger scale than what they have crudely dealt with in past open attempts to break the illegal and cruel blockade:

ISRAEL IN TRAINING TO BLOCK FREEDOM FLOTILLA
May 13, 2010 by irishingaza
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israel’s naval forces are allegedly in training to prepare to seize eight boats scheduled to dock in the Gaza Strip on 24 May from Europe, Arabic-language media reported on Wednesday.

“About half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation that was approved by the cabinet. [Israeli] Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation,” an Israeli official told the Arabic-language satellite TV station Al-Hurra.

An Israeli security source told Ma’an that authorities will prevent the arrival of the boats “at any price.”

The Freedom Fleet is scheduled to set sail from the UK, Greece and Turkey. The European Free Gaza campaign said Israeli authorities informed them that the flotillas would be prevented from docking in Gaza.

The boats will be loaded with prefabricated homes, cement, and medicine and will be accompanied by 600 individuals in a bid to break the siege on Gaza.

On Sunday, Jamal Al-Khudari, head of Gaza’s Popular Committee Against the Siege, said Israeli threats to open fire at the boats reveal Israel’s weakness.

“Such threats reflect the occupation’s failure and embody state terrorism against peaceful individuals who come to support a people under siege and aggression,” a statement issued by Al-Khudari said.

Under international law, the activists attempting to dock in Gaza have the right to participate in breaking the siege, Al-Khudari added, saying the threats will not deter participants from arriving in Gaza.

The popular committee organizer said the group was coming well-equipped, and would be ready should the Israeli navy surround them for a long period of time.

The Freedom Flotilla announced plans in late April, saying a group of ships would depart from several corners of the Mediterranean and gather in international waters with the intent to deliver some 5,000 tons of building and medical supplies to the population under siege.

According to flotilla organizers, 600 activists will sail three cargo ships and five passenger boats for Gaza in what a statement called the “biggest internationally coordinated effort to directly challenge Israeli’s ongoing occupation, aggression, and violence against the Palestinian people.”

I’ll be following this story closely. I was informed last week, that some of the crew loading the MV Rachel Corrie, have been playing MP3s of The Skies Are Weeping as they work.

My heart, along with my music, is with all the hundreds of peace activists who are involved in this humanitarian effort.