Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire last night insisted she did not fear confrontation with Israeli forces as the aid ship she is travelling on inched closer to the Gaza coast.
The Northern Ireland woman and her 19 fellow activists on board the MV Rachel Corrie are hoping to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza today.
In the aftermath of the shooting of nine activists on another aid ship bound for Gaza on Monday, the crew of the Irish vessel vowed to keep going towards an almost certain confrontation with the Israeli military. By 7pm last night the MV Rachel Corrie was 100 miles off the Gaza coast.
The vessel is expected to reach the Israeli-imposed exclusion zone in the early hours of this morning.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mrs Corrigan Maguire said she and her fellow activists would gather together as night fell on the MV Rachel Corrie and await the conclusion of their three-week journey.
She said: “I do not feel nervous and I am not afraid. I feel very calm. We feel very well and are in good form. We are determined to keep sailing. It is still daylight here, the sea is a bit choppy, but it is very beautiful. When night falls we will stay together on the deck and hold a vigil.”
Despite the obvious danger, Mrs Corrigan Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, remained steadfast in her goal to reach Gaza.
She added: “I must say, I feel very hopeful. Should the Israelis not allow us to enter we will sit in international waters. They might come onboard and commandeer the ship.
“Although, we don’t think they will come on board. If they do, there will be no resistance from us — we will go quietly.”
Yesterday it was reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would not allow its Gaza blockade to be breached. “No ship will reach Gaza. The Rachel Corrie will not reach Gaza,” he told Israel Radio.
Ahead of the MV Rachel Corrie making landfall, the activists refused to accept a deal brokered between officials from the Irish and Israeli governments.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he fully accepted the decision to continue with the journey.
“If, as is their stated intention, the Israeli government intercepts the Rachel Corrie, the government demands it demonstrate every restraint,” Mr Martin warned.
The MV Rachel Corrie is carrying 1,000 tonnes of cement, educational materials, toys and medical equipment, totalling an estimated €1m in aid. On board the 1,200-tonne vessel are 19 people — five Irish and six Malaysian, along with a crew of eight.
Mrs Corrigan Maguire, who lives in Strangford, helped set up the Peace People organisation with fellow Laureate Betty Williams.
She last night said that if she was arrested by the Israelis, it would not deter her from reaching the people of Gaza.
“There are just 19 of us aboard this ship and we have become very good friends over the past few weeks. We intend to continue in our efforts to break the blockade on Gaza. We have asked President Obama to ensure us a safe passage and for this reason we are happy for an independent body, like the UN, to come on board and inspect the cargo.
“The people are suffering very much in their collective punishment by the Israeli government’s policy. If we make it to Gaza tomorrow we will be the first cargo boat ever to break the blockade in 42 years.”
The Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, also lent his support to Mrs Corrigan Maguire’s efforts and condemned the Israeli blockade of Gaza.