The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the interception by Israeli naval forces of the Swedish ship, the ‘Estelle’, on Sunday, 21 October 2012, while it was in international waters.Under the auspices of Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the ‘Estelle’ was carrying 30 international activists to the Gaza Strip in an effort to break the naval blockade imposed by Israel and send a universal message of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

PCHR welcomes the activists’ efforts and calls upon the international community to put pressure on Israel to immediately release the international activists who are currently in detention.

PCHR has been following the progress of the ‘Estelle’ on its journey, which set sail from the port of Napoli, Italy, on Monday, 8 October with 30 international activists onboard, including 5 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) and a former Canadian Member of Parliament (MP).

The ship was also carrying some humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

Sources associated with the Gaza Freedom Flotilla said that a number of warships of the Israeli naval forces approached the ‘Estelle’, which was flying the Finnish flag, while it was in international waters and still several days’ travel away from the Gaza Strip.

At approximately 10:30, on Saturday, 20 October 2012, Israeli naval forces surrounded the ship, took control of it, arrested its passengers, and transported the ship to Ashdod Port in Israel, where the passengers were detained.

International activists have reported to PCHR that 9 of the international activists – 5 Greek activists, 3 Spanish activists and 1 Italian activist – were deported to their countries by the Israeli Department of Immigration, after signing a document declaring that they had entered Israel illegally.

The remaining activists refused to sign such a document.

The Department of Immigration transferred 3 members of the convoy to the Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court because they hold Israeli citizenship.

Media sources report that the Israeli police representative submitted a secret report to the court, ‘requesting the court to detain the suspects for an additional five days to allow the police sufficient time to conduct six separate investigations’.

The police representative ‘called for the suspects to be charged with incitement to rebellion, knowingly assisting the enemy and violating a lawful order’.

The first two charges were rejected but the suspects have been remanded to police custody for an additional 48 hours to allow for investigation into whether they violated a lawful order, and to prevent them from obstructing the investigation.

One of the three suspects, Swedish activist Feiler Dror, refused to appear before the court. Dror emigrated from Israel 40 years ago, renouncing his Israeli citizenship in protest against the occupation and its policies.

PCHR holds that the closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is illegal and constitutes a form of collective punishment, prohibited under Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. It is also a war crime, the recurrence of which must be prevented by all parties, including the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This view is maintained in legal opinions issued by many international legal experts and UN bodies concerned with human right and international humanitarian law.

In light of the above, PCHR:

– Calls upon the Israeli authorities to release the detainees immediately and unconditionally;

– Calls upon Israel to bring an end to the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, which constitutes a form of collective punishment, prohibited under Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War;

– Calls upon Israel to respect the right to freedom of movement of international humanitarian organisations and human rights defenders; and

– Calls upon the international community and the High Contacting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their legal and moral obligations, apply the rules of international law, and put a just end to the suffering of the Palestinian people.