Angela Godfrey-Goldstein reports that the SS Free Gaza, one of the Greek-registered boats that broke the Gaza siege on Saturday, today joined six Palestinian fishing boats 8 miles off the coast of Gaza. Though these ships were being circled by three Israeli Dabur naval vessels, no warning shots were fired across their bows, which ordinarily would happen if they ventured out so far. The fishing boats are exercising their right to fish up to 20 miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip, as stipulated by the Oslo Accords. Recently the Israeli Navy has enforced an arbitrary 6- mile limit for security reasons, so the Free Gaza Movement has breached that naval blockade, too. The Israeli authorities seem to be purposefully pussyfooting around the confrontational tactics of the peaceniks, mindful of the propaganda risks of manhandling publicity-seeking westerners, and reportedly intend to let them all leave port, as long as they do not attempt to smuggle out the Gazan engineering students who cleared US security checks but are stranded in Gaza because their exit permits were denied by the IDF.
Professor Jeff Halper, an Israeli peace activist, now is aboard one of the fishing boats.
His exuberant interview with Haaretz newspaper about landing in the Gaza Strip ran on the front page yesterday:
"We proved that ordinary people can do something and succeed," he said. "Even Tony Blair can't go to Gaza, but ordinary people with drive can. The welcome was amazing. There were tens of thousands of people. People came out in boats and on windsurfers to meet us. Children swam out to sea and flashed the victory sign. I feel like we're fresh air entering a prison where a million and half people are living.
"I tell myself: We're in the modern world, the 21st century, and yet such excitement - over what? Over something we take for granted, that two boats arrived. Here it's a national holiday. Their isolation is so complete," he said.
Halper said that Gazans were eager to speak Hebrew with him, and to reminisce about the years they spent working in Israel. "Our impression that Gaza is Hamas, that there is only hatred there, is mistaken," he said, adding that he learned that "we are more of an obstacle to peace than the Palestinians."
Professor Halper chose not to dine with the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyeh, who does not recognize Israel's right to exist. However, it was widely reported that he did, because his doppelganger, a white-bearded lawyer from Zigzag, Oregon named Tom Nelson,
accepted a medal from Hamas and kissed Haniyyeh three times. Cheeky. Check out the two grisly activists below (Halper is on the left)