Court extends remand of Israelis aboard Gaza ship

Yonatan Shapira, Reut Mor and Elazar Elhanan may have "violated lawful order" onboard Gaza-bound 'Estelle' ship, court says.

Estelle being borded (photo credit: Courtesy IDF)
Estelle being borded
(photo credit: Courtesy IDF)
An Ashkelon Magistrate Court on Sunday remanded three Israeli citizens to police custody for an additional two days who were passengers on a ship attempting to break the Gaza blockade on the grounds that they "violated a lawful order” and might try to obstruct the investigation.
Most of the flotilla participants were foreigners who are in the process of being deported, but the police representative contended that the state might bring charges against the three Israeli citizens, Yonatan Shapira, Reut Mor and Elazar Elhanan, for incitement to rebellion, knowingly assisting the enemy and violating a lawful order.
The court rejected the first two charges as a basis for detaining the three suspects, but ultimately ordered their detention for an additional two days on the basis of violating a lawful order plus the concern that releasing them from custody would obstruct the investigation’s progress.
The police representative had asked to detain the suspects for an additional five days to perform six different investigative actions proposed to the court in a secret report.
The judge decided that only two of the six investigative actions required being in complete police custody, while the others could likely be performed while the suspects were under house arrest or some other alternative.
The court found the lawful order violation convincing as a partial basis for remanding the suspect to custody, since it referred to violating legislation relating to the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza.
In its opinion, the court noted that so far the suspects had stuck to their right to remain silent, refusing to cooperate.
Those actions plus the ideological nature of the activities they are suspected of, made the court highly concerned about obstructing the investigation.
In contrast, the court found the evidence brought in support of the incitement to rebellion charge to be weak.
The court essentially dismissed the knowingly assisting the enemy charge as baseless in light of its reading of the relevant statute as applying only to IDF soldiers.
None of the suspects are currently serving in the IDF.
The court also rejected the police argument that they needed more time to investigate based on the experience of past flotillas where all Israeli citizens had been set free without bringing any charges.
According to the police, the reason no charges were brought in the past was not because the suspects were innocent, but rather because the nature of flotilla-based crimes makes collecting evidence and conducting an investigation take longer, since most of the events are taking place by sea, some even in international waters.
Without extra time to investigate, the police argued that all flotilla suspects will get away with breaking the law without charge.
The court was unconvinced, stating that regardless of the challenges presented to the court, it was still the court’s duty to review each case before it on its own merits and it could not throw out all court precedents regarding grounds for extending suspects’ remand simply because the police had closed a few cases against past-flotilla suspects.
The Israel Navy on Saturday took control of a Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists toward Gaza, including the suspects before the court on Sunday, who were trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and towed the vessel to Ashdod.
Despite earlier claims by activists that they were bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza, no such items were immediately found on board the Estelle, the IDF said. But it added that it was still unloading the ship’s cargo.
But Mikael Lofgren, a spokesman for the Swedish group Ship to Gaza that organized the voyage, told The Jerusalem Post that the vessel carried musical instruments, theatrical equipment, wheelchairs, children’s books, 600 soccer balls and 41 tons of cement.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised the IDF operation to enforce the blockade on the Gaza Strip, reiterating that it was in keeping with international law.
The 53-meter ship set sail in mid-June in the north of Sweden with some 20 activists aboard, Lofgren said.
It then spent close to three months traveling around Europe, he said. It stopped in 20 ports, including nine in Sweden, before heading toward Gaza on October 7, he said.
A few days ago, 10 additional activists took a speed boat from Greece and boarded the ship on the open sea, Lofgren and Adam Keller of Gush Shalom said. The new group included the three Israelis. Five parliament members from Sweden, Norway, Spain and Greece also boarded the Estelle with them, he said.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office stressed that anyone seeking to pass on humanitarian aid to Gaza is able to do so legally at any time via land crossings to the Strip in coordination with Israel.
In July 2011, the UN’s Palmer Commission published a report on the IDF’s interception in May 2010 of the Turkish protest flotilla, and ruled that Israel’s security blockade on Gaza “is both legal and appropriate.”
Since 2001, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 10,000 rockets at southern Israeli cities, towns and villages, leading Israel to impose the blockade to prevent the entry of weapons and material that could be used to build weapons.
Yaakov Lappin and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.