Israel Seizes Another Aid Ship, Carefully This Time
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In the eastern Mediterranean Sea this morning, an Israeli naval ship seized another humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza. Israeli military says naval personnel executed a nonviolent boarding of the aid ship Rachel Corrie after it became clear the ship was attempting to breach Israel's three-year blockade of Gaza. At Gaza's main port, Palestinians gathered to hear news of the ship. And that's where we found NPR's Peter Kenyon.
Peter, thanks for being with us.
PETER KENYON: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: And what's the latest on the boarding of the Rachel Corrie?
KENYON: Well, the Israeli military says its vessels began tracking the ship as it approached several hours ago, issued numerous warnings to change course, head for the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the humanitarian cargo would be inspected and all permitted goods would be driven into Gaza.
But the activists didn't like that option. They refused those requests and continued south. I'm told the boarding eventually took place than 22 miles off the coast of Egypt. According to the military, the ship is now under Israeli control. It's being led back to Ashdod, where the cargo will be offloaded and the activists presumably handed over the authorities.
SIMON: Did each side make their point? I mean, the Israelis by boarding it, albeit in a nonviolent way, and the aid ship by refusing to turn back?
KENYON: Well, I'd say the I'd say there were points made on both sides, yes. The Israelis say this is a matter of national security. They're very concerned about the Islamist Hamas movement using building materials, steel, cement and certainly other things that could be turned into weapons or used for military purposes.
And the humanitarian activists say that they are proud that they managed to ignore the voluntary offloading in Ashdod and continue to try and break the siege, as they put it, which is really their main point, even more so than the aid.
I mean, I have to say, it's as if the aid itself is the McGuffin in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. You know, it's the thing that keeps the plot moving, but at the end of the day it's not what you remember about the film.
What the activists say, and what Gazans say, frankly, is what's important is that somebody out there cares enough to keep sending these flotillas, because the point to them is to focus attention on this policy that the critics consider ineffective and an extreme and unjust hardship on the one and a half million people who live here.
SIMON: What's the scene there in Gaza's main port?
KENYON: Well, it's quieted down quite a bit now, Scott. Earlier this morning there were quite a few TV crews here hoping to get a shot of the Rachel Corrie, just in case it did make it to Gaza. Hamas officials were also here, calling on the international community to lift the three year blockade.
The port's covered with Turkish flags. There's posters all over the city of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. And there's a tented area here that was built to receive the international activists. That tent is still sitting empty, as you can imagine.
SIMON: The killing of nine activists aboard the Turkish aid ship, as you note, Peter, has really sparked criticism from around the world and, as you note, calls for Israel to lift the blockade. Does that seem any more or less likely to you following events of this week?
KENYON: Well, you know, Gazans aren't known for being overly optimistic on things of this nature, given their history. But they do seem very grateful for a rare chance to tell their story, a chance when the spotlight is shown on their plight.
Whether this actually becomes the international uproar that makes these changes happen remains to be seen. There's talk both in Washington and in Jerusalem about alternatives to this siege, alternatives to the blockade, and whether they can find some other mechanism that will allow certainly reconstruction of some of the shattered infrastructure here. I think that would go a long way towards giving people the feeling of some sort of optimism.
SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Gaza. Thanks so much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Scott.