MK Basel Ghattas told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening that he would join a protest ship headed for Gaza this week and that the activists have no violent intentions.
“If the IDF wants to kill, then shoot!” the Balad Party/Joint List MK said.
Ghattas said that the Marianne av Göteborg trawler would likely depart from Athens in the next day or two and that he does not expect any violence, as “we activists decided not to resist violently.” Three or four other ships have plans to join the Gaza “flotilla,” but only the Marianne av Göteborg is currently approaching Israel.
The trawler set off from Sweden at the end of May and docked at Palermo in Sicily earlier this month. The crew brought with them a solar panel and medical equipment.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Sunday that the Foreign Ministry is working around the clock through all possible diplomatic channels to ensure that the ship does not reach Israel’s territorial waters.
The participation of Ghattas in the flotilla is a case of “serving the enemy with parliamentary immunity,” she said.
Contrary to the picture the Palestinians are trying to paint, Israel allows humanitarian aid, food and construction supplies into the Gaza Strip, Hotovely said.
“Flotillas like the one making its way to Israel are the handiwork of provocateurs who only want to make Israel look bad,” she said.
“The IDF will not allow any vessel to reach Gaza and to cross the maritime border of the State of Israel,” an IDF spokesman said. “Up to date intelligence exists on everything that takes place on the marine front.”
The flotilla is expected to arrive and mainly cause provocation. The navy intends to treat the ships just as it would any vessel that tries to enter Israel’s territorial waters without authorization.
Ghattas said the flotilla is legal.
Asked if violence could break out if the IDF intercepted the Marianne av Göteborg, he replied, “If the IDF wants to kill, then shoot, but we will not shoot or have any weapons whatsoever of any kind or any violent intention.”
If the ship is not hampered, it should take four days to arrive to the Gaza Strip.
“I know the IDF might stop us,” however, “our intention is to get as close as possible to Gaza,” he added.
Asked about the flood of criticism he is receiving from other MKs, Ghattas responded that this is expected and that he has no intention to respond to his critics.
“The only question that should be asked,” he said, is why no other MK, especially a non-Arab MK, “is joining me on this flotilla.”
Ghattas went on to argue that repeating wars in Gaza every few years is not a solution.
He wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Sunday saying that he would be joining the Gaza-bound flotilla and that there is “no reason” to prevent it from reaching its destination.
“I will be on deck together with many participants including dozens of members of parliament and public figures from around the world,” Ghattas wrote in the letter.
The “Flotilla of Peace” seeks to break the siege of Gaza and turn the world’s attention to the 1.8 million Palestinians who are living in “prison conditions,” he continued.
Israel is imposing collective punishment on the Palestinians, which is “a flagrant violation of humanitarian law,” he claimed.
“There is no reason to prevent us from reaching Gaza and delivering the aid we will be carrying,” Ghattas said, adding that the prime minister should order the security forces to “stay away” and allow the ships to reach Gaza.
He warned that any action to take over the vessel would “complicate Israel with another international crisis.”
Jerusalem has made clear in the past that there are numerous channels to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza, and these types of flotillas are meant solely as provocations.
The Zionist Union said: “Just as the flotilla to Gaza is not humanitarian, rather it is a political act to legitimize the Hamas regime and bring terrorism to Israel, so too MK Ghattas’s participation is unfortunate and not humanitarian, but political and will bring conflict and quarrels within Israel.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said, “Ghattas’s planned participation in the flotilla is further proof that the Joint List is one big terrorist vessel, which is only meant to harm the State of Israel and use Israeli democracy to try to destroy it.”
MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu) said that Ghattas is joining the “terrorist flotilla” because he is an “extremist and hates Israel.”
“The time has come to learn that our policy of containment is understood by our enemies as weakness, whether they have an Israeli ID card and live here or if they are part of terrorist organizations and live in the Palestinian Authority’s territory,” Gal said.
“We need to wake up and take care of these phenomena with an iron fist.”
Gal called the Joint List a fifth column, pointing out that Ghattas has called for boycotts of Israel.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) said Ghattas’s behavior would get him hanged if he lived in Gaza and acted in a similar toward the authorities there. “As someone who was born and raised under a dictatorship,” said Jelin, who emigrated from Argentina, “I am proud that in Israel, our minorities take part in our democracy, but I find it unfortunate that MK Ghattas takes advantage of that for provocations, instead of fighting for equality for Arab citizens of Israel.”
Meanwhile, nongovernmental organization Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center on Sunday sent a warning letter demanding that the Swedish bank Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB (SEB) “cease providing financial services” to the groups Free Gaza and Ships to Gaza, which are “helping to arrange a flotilla to breach Israel’s lawful naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.”
In particular, the NGO wrote that “SEB holds a maritime lien on the Marianne av Göteborg, the lead ship in the planned Gaza flotilla.”
Next, the letter said the bank issued a mortgage to the owner of the boat, Charles Bertel Andreasson, whom it called “a veteran anti-Israel provocateur who has engaged in illegal efforts against the Jewish state in the past.”
In the letter to SEB’s president and group chief executive, Annika Falkengren, Shurat Hadin’s president, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, wrote that the flotilla ship “might be destroyed or confiscated” by the IDF and that the Stockholm-based bank “is at serious risk of losing its collateral: The boat.”
Israel has told organizers of previous Gaza protest flotillas that they are welcome to dock at Ashdod Port, where their cargo can undergo a comprehensive security check, and that any humanitarian cargo will be sent to Gaza by land.
In 2010, Balad MK Haneen Zoabi jointed the MV Mavi Marmara flotilla that sought to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel Navy commandos boarded the ship, were attacked and killed nine of the attackers. A 10th Turk died four years later from his injuries.
Earlier this month, a Madrid court shelved a five-year-old investigation into the 2010 flotilla, though the probe could be reopened if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ever visits Spain.Yaakov Lappin and Reuters contributed to this report.
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