pic by AFP
IN EXACTLY a couple of weeks, it would mark the day, 11 years ago, when Israeli commandos forcefully boarded a lone, aid-laden ship that was bound for Gaza and commandeered it to Ashdod, the port city of Israel.
The ship was named the Rachel Corrie after an American youth who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while she was protesting against the demolition of a Palestinian home in 2003.
Ms Corrie was 23 when she was killed and she will always stand as a reminder to the rest of the world of Israel’s brutal and murderous regime that has no regards for anyone, regardless of race, religion or creed, who stand against its Zionist agenda which include the annihilation of Palestinians and grabbing all of their land.
But back to the MV Rachel Corrie, which had Malaysian and Irish activists on board including notable personalities — Nobel Peace prize winner Mairead Maguire, former assistant United Nations (UN) secretary general Denis Halliday, a Malaysian MP, a senior lawyer and members of the media — were transporting desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gaza.
By then, Gaza, which had since 2006 been placed under an illegal Israeli blockade, was dubbed the largest open prison where its populace was restricted from moving outside its boundaries be it through land, air or sea.
While under blockade, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) continued pummelling Gaza for the minutest of reason – most times when the Palestinians, who had voted for Hamas to represent them in the administration, retaliated against Israeli provocations.
Hamas is the IDF’s main justification in attacking the Palestinians — that Hamas is a terrorist outfit and its retaliation against IDF’s provocations are conveniently labelled as terrorist acts.
Lest the world forget, Hamas only became the de facto government of Gaza strip in 2006, while Israel had been terrorising Palestinians since 1948.
And it should also be noted that the UN General Assembly had rejected a US resolution condemning Hamas as a terrorist organisation in 2018.
Place this background alongside the latest 200-odd pages of Human Rights Watch report — A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution — if there’s any lingering doubts of Israel’s crimes against humanity, they should be completely erased and in turn, be convinced of their atrocities many folds.
Before the MV Rachel Corrie was commandeered to Ashdod, there were numerous communications on satellite phones between the activists on board and international media outlets and the communications mostly centred on accusations by the Israelis that the vessel was carrying weapons, making it justifiable for the Israeli forces to seize if not attack the Rachel Corrie.
The activists pointed out that the vessel and its cargo were inspected in Ireland before being declared free of weapons or other illegal material and sealed.
Despite that, the activists were willing for the Israeli authorities to inspect again, provided they were accompanied by an independent party from the UN, the media or other recognised bodies.
Obviously, the invitation was not entertained and a few days later, the IDF jammed the vessel’s entire communication system, sent its commandos who were armed to the teeth on board and commandeered the Rachel Corrie, which was only 30km away from Gaza, to Ashdod.
In Ashdod, the activists were interrogated and were told to sign a document admitting that they had entered Israel’s territory illegally, which they refused, pointing out that they were on their way to Gaza and that they were forced into Israel’s territory.
One of the Malaysian activists, before all of them were sent to a detention centre, was asked a specific question by an interrogator: “So, Dr Mahathir hates Israel?” To which the activist replied: “Why don’t you ask him yourself.”
It was obvious why the question was asked — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who helms the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, had raised the funds to finance the purchase of the MV Rachel Corrie and work with the Free Gaza Movement and later on the Gaza Freedom Flotillas.
It was not a spur of the moment initiative. A year before the MV Rachel Corrie sailed, Dr Mahathir himself had travelled to Cyprus to meet up with the Free Gaza Movement leaders, who had prior to that launched vessels to challenge the Israeli blockade on Gaza, on launching a large-scale flotilla to have a greater impact on the international psyche.
A year later, the Gaza Freedom Flotillas, involving several vessels including the Rachel Corrie, was deployed from several different locations to converge in the Mediterranean heading towards Gaza. The Rachel Corrie was delayed due to technical problems, with many suspecting sabotage by Israeli operatives.
Another vessel, the Turkish funded Mavi Marmara which sailed earlier, was attacked and saw nine activists on board killed by the Israeli forces.
It is, therefore, no surprise that today, when Palestine is under Israeli attacks, Dr Mahathir commands much attention from the international community. It is not just about having the courage to condemn the Israeli and hypocritical West, it is about walking the talk.
Some in Malaysia had questioned why Dr Mahathir or any other Malaysian is so passionate when Palestine is attacked by Israel and protests and condemnations do not result in anything concrete.
When a nation and its people have been placed under siege for years on end, and then the occupiers decide to up the ante and the rest of the world remains silent as making a din would not change anything.
The protests and mounting the challenge on the blockade as initiated by Dr Mahathir go a long way with the Palestinians and their sympathisers. So that they know that they are a matter of concern to people with conscience.
Indeed, the Palestinians are close to their hearts and never forgotten.
Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.