WATCH: ‘Kidnapped by Israeli Occupation Forces’
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Johannesburg - South African former Olympian Leigh-Ann Naidoo, a Wits University academic and supporter of the #FeesMustFall student campaign, has been arrested and is being held incommunicado by the Israeli authorities.
Naidoo was arrested after she and a group of 12 other women were intercepted in international waters by Israeli naval commandos as they tried to sail to Gaza in an attempt to break Israel’s crippling siege on the coastal territory, Zeenat Adam, a spokeswoman from the Women’s Boat to Gaza (WBG) said on Thursday morning.
The 13 women, who were on board the WBG, and who are currently in Israeli custody, also include Mairead Maguire, the 1976 Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, Fauziah Hasan, a doctor from Malaysia, several parliamentarians and retired US army colonel Ann Wright.
WBG, part of the International Freedom Flotilla Coalition which has tried to circumvent Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza on several occasions by sailing into the coastal territory’s waters, was intercepted on Wednesday in international waters about 36 nautical miles from Gaza.
“We are extremely worried about Naidoo’s well-being and that of the other women, some of whom are in their seventies,” said Adam, who is also a member of SA’s Palestine Solidarity Alliance.
“The boat was intercepted in international waters. It was nowhere near Israeli waters and had no intention of entering there. What the Israelis did was illegal and in contravention of maritime law,” said Adam.
“The South African Embassies in Tel Aviv and in Ramallah are involved and said they are affording Naidoo the necessary consular assistance,” said Adam.
“We’ve also contacted the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and urged them to take urgent action.
“But we believe neither Dirco nor the embassies are putting sufficient pressure on the Israelis to ensure the safety and release of the women,” Adam told ANA.
However, Nelson Kgwete from Dirco said that the department was aware of the case and it had been reported to the SA Embassy in Tel Aviv.
“The embassy is liaising with Israeli authorities and requesting consular access to the detainee,” added Kgwete.
As the drama unfolded overnight, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, a high-ranking Israeli officer stated that the passengers on board the Zaytouna-Olivia had offered no resistance when the Israeli commandos took over the boat and redirected it to the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
The Israeli authorities subsequently reported that the women would be processed before being deported from Israel.
A second boat, the Amal 2, was unable to take part in the blockade-breaking attempt due to a technical malfunction.
However, some pro-Palestinian activists accused the Israelis of sabotage, stating that previous attempts by the Freedom Flotilla to send boats to Gaza had also been subjected to underwater attacks while docked in European ports on their way to Gaza.
The Freedom Flotilla coalition has made several previous attempts to break the blockade, with only one proving successful.
In 2010, during one of the attempts, Israeli naval commandos shot dead 10 Turks and one a dual Turkish-American citizen, after they stormed the Mavi Marmara in international waters before it was even close to Gaza’s coastal waters.
The men, although unarmed, had fought the commandos with iron bars and chairs as the Israelis boarded the Mavi Marmara.
The resulting political fall-out between Turkey and Israel led to a six-year freeze in relations.
However, in June the two countries signed a deal restoring full diplomatic ties as Israel paid out $20 million in compensation to the Turkish families of the men shot dead.
The establishment of joint energy projects in the Mediterranean was also purportedly behind the deal.
In a short video, sent out on Wednesday, Naidoo said: "If you’re seeing this video we’ve been intercepted and kidnapped by the Israeli Occupation Forces. I want to appeal to all my comrades, brothers, sisters and family in South Africa to put pressure on the South African government to insist that they release me as soon as possible.”
Before her departure Naidoo, who is a teacher, Olympian in beach volleyball and Wits PhD student active in the #FeesMustFall movement, said: “Even though we have a choice, to not hear and not see the injustices next door or far away, is not an option.”
Ex-intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and his wife Amina Frense sent a message of support.
“Please convey our message of support, solidarity and love to all aboard the WBG.
“They have the courage and conviction to face the Israeli navy’s criminal belligerence with a dignity that radiates as a light to all humanity. They may be hijacked, just as the land of Palestine has been stolen, but their noble voyage represents another milestone for freedom and justice.”
Israeli ambassador Arthur Lenk could not be reached for comment.
The Star and ANA