The lead ship of a three-ship flotilla was stopped by the IDF as it approached the shores of Gaza in an attempt to challenge the security blockade Israel has established.
The flotilla left Palermo, Italy July 21 and the lead ship, Al Awda, sailing under a Norwegian flag, was stopped on Sunday afternoon by the IDF. A small amount of medical supplies was on board, though humanitarian aid including medical supplies is permitted to pass through the border crossings connecting Gaza to Israel. There were 22 people from several different countries on board Al Awda and a total of 40 people onboard all the vessels. The second boat is still several days from reaching its destination.
The organizers claim they are challenging the “Israeli occupation of Gaza” but Gaza has been an independent political entity devoid of any Israeli presence since August 2005 when the Israeli government unilaterally removed all Jewish residents from Gush Katif.
The IDF maintains the blockade in order to prevent military supplies from reaching Gaza and forbids foreign vessels from entering the port of Gaza. There have been several flotillas of this type and the Israeli navy has intercepted them all, towing the boats to the Ashdod port, where the people on board are detained for questioning and then deported from Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport.
In May 2010, a six-vessel flotilla challenged the Israeli blockade. After several warnings, Israeli commandos boarded the Mava Marmara and were attacked by the passengers who were armed with iron bars and knives. A passenger grabbed a gun from one of the IDF commandos. Nine passengers were killed including eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American. Ten of the commandos were also wounded, one of them seriously.