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Gaza activists fly home - on El Al

    Setting off on the voyage
    Setting off on the voyage

    The British captain of a boat carrying Jewish pro-Palestinian activists who planned to break the blockade of Gaza has described how Israeli naval forces intercepted and boarded the vessel.

    Glyn Secker, 66, a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), said that the voyage had "succeeded beyond expectations" despite failing to reach Gaza and the crew members' immediate deportation from Israel.

    Mr Secker, now back home in south London, said: "There was enormous international media interest. I know the publicity in the UK was much less and the BBC showed its usual reticence, but we made big headlines in Israel for days."

    The boat, named Irene after Irene Bruegel, the late founder-secretary of JfJfP, left Cyprus on Sunday last week and was boarded by the Israeli navy two days later. It was redirected to the port of Ashdod, where peace activists had gathered to protest against its interception.

    Mr Secker was questioned by Israeli authorities and held overnight, but was deported and arrived back in Britain only 24 hours after the ship had been boarded.

    In a lengthy testimony recalling the time at sea, Mr Secker wrote of the moment the Israeli forces appeared on the horizon: "It was surreal, it was like an action movie. I had to remind myself this was actually happening - this overwhelming force for a 10-metre, 40-year-old boat, the majority of its Jewish occupants over 60 years old, with no weapons and a publicised policy of passive resistance."

    He explained how Israeli commandoes boarded the vessel and struggled with the activists. Two Israeli crewmen were separated from the others. One was shot with a Taser gun before the pair were taken off the ship.

    While the Israelis towed the boat to Ashdod, Mr Secker made a "gesture of defiance". He wrote: "I decided to cook lunch. Not easy in the circumstances but I managed to produce omelette sandwiches. While in the galley I took the opportunity of chucking out of the window the carving knife, the bread knife, a chisel and two hammers from the tool box, remembering that similar items had been photographed as evidence of weapons on previous boats."

    Mr Secker was flown back to Britain on an El Al plane and met at Heathrow by eight JfJfP supporters displaying "boycott Israeli goods" banners.

    In a statement the IDF said: "Prior to boarding the yacht we transmitted two warnings to its captain, making him aware that they were in danger of breaking both Israeli and international law. These warnings were ignored.

    "The IDF regrets that it must divert the Israel Navy's attention from its regular operational activity defending Israel and its citizens because of acts of provocation such as this."

    Israel has said it would deliver the ship's cargo, which included fishing nets, musical instruments and school textbooks, to Gaza.

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