Mairead: My terror as Israelis seized aid boat
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire has spoken from behind bars of her terror after the aid boat on which she was travelling was seized by Israeli soldiers.
Ms Maguire is currently being held in an Israeli prison and is waiting to hear when she will be deported by the authorities.
Speaking from her cell at Givon prison in the city of Ramala she told the Belfast Telegraph of the moments when Israeli gunboats surrounded her vessel as it attempted to deliver medicines and other supplies to Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.
“We were threatened by the Israeli navy when we were in |international waters and during the night they told us they would shoot if we didn’t turn back to Cyprus,” she said.
“They cut off all our satellite communications and our lives were very much in danger,| because we could have strayed into Israeli waters.
“We sailed on and they kept threatening that they would shoot if we didn’t turn back.”
In the early hours of Tuesday navy boats pulled up to Mairead’s ship and special forces troops began to board it.
“They were fully armed and wore balaclavas,” she said.
“They took all our equipment off us and handcuffed several people. They took me into a separate place and forcibly took our ship to Israel.”
The 21 passengers and crew were taken to a detention centre before being moved to prison in Ramala.
“I was taken handcuffed in a military vehicle and I’m here in the prison in the clothes I arrived in,” said Ms Maguire.
“At the moment there are |19 of us still being held here after two Palestinian women were released.
“They have said we are going to be deported, but deportation orders aren’t appropriate for us, as we were taken to Israel against our will. We want to leave Israel, but with our friends and all the belongings that were taken from us.”
The contested Gaza territory is currently under blockade from Israel with only limited supplies being allowed in to Palestinians living there.
“Physically I am very well, but I think more of the Palestinians who are denied the ability to cross the border and see their loved ones,” said Ms Maguire.
“It gives us a reflection of how tough it is for the Palestinian people and the way that they are treated.
“It is a complete blockade of Gaza and collective punishment of 1.5m people which breaks the Geneva Convention. We have |to highlight how desperate |that is.”
A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that six Britons were among those detained. “Consular staff have visited them and are providing consular assistance,” she said.
“We are seeking further clarity on the incident from the Israeli authorities.”
Two Irish citizens, including Ms Maguire, are also being held. The Republic’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said his department was “closely following the situation...and has been in ongoing contact at a senior level with Israeli |authorities, both through the Israeli Embassy here and our own Ambassador and Embassy in Tel Aviv”.
Israel has said that the boat was attempting to enter the Gaza Strip illegally.
Ms Maguire was a founder member of the Peace People, which campaigned against violence during the Troubles.
She was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace alongside co-founder Betty Williams in 1976.