Israeli activists on Gaza-bound ship appeal remand

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)
Three Israeli activists from the Estelle, a ship that attempted to sail to Gaza, will appeal their two-day remand in the Beersheba District Court Monday morning.
On Sunday, the Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court remanded them to police custody for an additional two days after they attempted to break the Gaza naval blockade by sailing to the Strip aboard the 53-meter Swedish ship, which carried a Finnish flag.
They were held on the grounds that they “violated a lawful order” and that they might try to obstruct the investigation.
The Israel Navy forcibly boarded the ship on Saturday after it refused calls to change its course away from Gaza. It also refused an Israeli offer to allow the ship to dock in Ashdod instead, where it would transport its cargo from the city to Gaza through a land route.
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority said that another 27 foreign activists on board were arrested and taken to a PIBA detention facility. Of the foreigners, 11 are from Sweden, four from Norway, two from Finland, five from Greece, three from Spain, and one each from Canada and Italy.
By Sunday evening, nine had already been deported after giving up on their right to argue their case before a judge. The others remain in custody as the law allows them to see a judge after being held in detention for 72 hours, said PIBA spokeswoman Sabine Haddad. She added that the rest of the activists will likely be deported after their hearings.
Attorney Gaby Lasky, whose firm is representing the foreign and Israeli ship activists, said that one of the Swedish participants was former Israeli Dror Feiler, who gave up his citizenship 30 years ago. He was initially treated as a foreigner, she said, but then the authorities changed their mind.
“He was shackled and handcuffed and brought to the Ashdod police station,” she said. From there they brought him to court in Ashkelon for a criminal hearing, she said and added that she did not know what the results of the hearing.
She noted ironically that she represented him in a separate case in which he had been denied entry to the country to visit his elderly mother on the grounds that he was not Israeli.
A police representative said the state might bring charges against the three Israeli participants – Yonatan Shapira, Reut Mor and Elazar Elhanan – for incitement to rebellion, knowingly assisting the enemy and violating a lawful order. On Sunday, the Ashkelon Magistrate’s 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. But 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 charge of knowingly assisting the enemy 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 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, and some even in international waters.
Without extra time to investigate, the police argued, 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 on its own merits. It said it could not throw out all court precedents simply because the police had closed few cases against past flotilla suspects.
A Swedish group Ship to Gaza organized the Estelle’s voyage. The ship spent close to three months with 20 activists traveling around Europe, stopping in 20 ports, including nine in Sweden, before heading toward Gaza on October 7.
Toward the end of last week, 10 additional activists took a speed boat from Greece and boarded the ship on the open sea, including the three Israelis.
Lasky alleged that when the navy boarded the ship, it excessively used taser guns against the activists. She noted that the navy had confiscated all electronic equipment belonging to the activists, so that it was impossible to document the claim at this moment. She added, however, that she hoped that it would be possible to provide documentation soon, because activists were able to attach SIM and camera cards to homing pigeons who had been on the ship.
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.