Israel denies policy change over Gaza boats

By Yaakov Katz, December 11, 2008
Refused permission to sail: an activist waves a Palestinian flag in Jaffa

Refused permission to sail: an activist waves a Palestinian flag in Jaffa

Israel has denied that its decision to allow a fourth boat carrying international activists to sail into the Gaza Strip this week constitutes a change in policy with regard to the IDF blockade on the Palestinian territory.

On Tuesday, a boat called Dignity, operated by the Free Gaza Movement, was allowed by the Israeli Navy to sail into the Gaza port with 11 activists on board — including two Jewish professors from the London School of Economics — as well as one ton of medical supplies and baby formula.

The Free Gaza Movement started its operations two months ago, with other groups following its example.

Earlier this week, the Israel police prevented a ship filled with Israeli Arabs from leaving the Jaffa port for Gaza. Last week, the navy turned back a Libyan cargo ship, informing Qatar that it would do the same with a boat that it was planning to dispatch.

LSE scholars Jonathan Rosenhead, and Mike Cushman, both members of BRICUP, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, were intending to collect 16 Palestinian students who would otherwise be unable to take up university places abroad.

Mr Cushman said: “We hope to bring out a few students who have scholarships and to highlight the problems faced by the other 700 whom we can’t fit on the boat.”

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a media coordinator for Free Gaza, said that the movement was not in contact with the Israeli government and therefore did not have a clear explanation why its ships were allowed in while others were denied access.

“There is not a set policy on this issue,” a Defence Ministry official said in response. “Each case is evaluated on a personal basis by the Defence Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.” Officials said they would not allow foreign boats, particularly those from countries hostile to Israel like Libya, to sail freely into Gaza. The concern is that the ships may be carrying weapons and explosives for Hamas.

However, MK Aryeh Eldad said: “The country is making a joke of itself. Israel says it won’t allow supplies into Gaza and then allows boats to sail in. This is another example of how Israel is not really fighting Hamas.”

Last updated: 12:02pm, December 11 2008