The human rights activists who traveled to Gaza in an effort to defy the naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled coastal strip departed for Cyprus on Thursday afternoon. The activists say seven Palestinians, including
five children, are also on board. It's unclear if the IDF will attempt to stop the boats.
The Palestinians on board included a father and his 16-year-old son, who hopes to be fitted with an artificial leg abroad. The activists earlier claimed they would also take with them Palestinian students who were denied exit from Gaza on security grounds. The activists assert Israel does not have the right to prevent the exit of Palestinians from the Strip.
The boats arrive in Gaza (Photo: AP)
The activists sailed into Gaza last weekend to protest Israel's blockade, imposed after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the Strip in a bloody coup.
Hawida Araf, a law professor at al-Quds University and one of activists who sailed to Gaza, told Ynet that she and her group are prepared for the possibility of Israel forcibly preventing their journey. "They have no other way to keep us from leaving here with Palestinians who have already received visas and who have been accepted into European schools. It is their right," she said.
The activists said they waited for an answer from Cypriot authorities, as some of the Palestinians do not have entry visas to the country.
'Only civilians can break the siege'
The only Israeli in the group, Minnesota-born Jeff Halper, said taking the Palestinians out would prove the true test of the activists attempt to break the siege. Halper, who was arrested upon his return to Israel, was released on bail.
"We have no objection to Israel inspecting these ships, and we are aware of Israel's security concerns. But so long as Israel doesn't put forward the evidence proving why the Palestinians can't leave, it cannot deny people freedom of movement. That is a human rights violation, not to tell someone what he is being suspected of. Otherwise it's a totalitarian regime," said Halper.
Halper decided not to return to Cyprus with the rest of the activists. "I realized that the State is apparently planning to indict me, and so therefore I can't sail back to Cyprus. I took this into account when I did what
I did. I wanted to say that peace, and the connection between peoples, cannot be restricted by a military order."
Halper noted that peace activist Abie Nathan, who died at the age of 81 on Wednesday, was also taken to court for his actions. "Abie met with Yaser Arafat, and was jailed twice. Today the president and the prime minister are eulogizing him. So the situation then was exactly as it is now. Nathan believed that as a citizen, he had do get up and do something, even if he had to pay a price for it. If people had listened to him then, maybe the occupation could have been prevented, or there would have been peace with Egypt and Israel could have been spared thousands of fatalities.