Johannesburg - There was a high possibility of South African Olympian Leigh-Ann Naidoo being arrested by members of the Israeli naval forces on Wednesday morning while on board a humanitarian boat to Gaza.
Naidoo has been sailing for a week on the al-Zaytouna with other international woman activists as part of the Women’s Boat, a human rights initiative that seeks to challenge the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian territory.
The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported on Sunday that the Israeli naval forces had received instructions to intercept the boat and arrest the activists as soon as they reached Gaza’s shores, according to the Palestinian Information Centre. This was scheduled to happen this morning (Wednesday).
The boat was reportedly then to be towed to the port of Ashdod, one of Israel’s two main cargo ports. The activists - including Northern Ireland Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and former US army colonel Ann Wright - were expected to be deported if the interception happened.
Naidoo is a teacher, Olympian in beach volleyball and Wits PhD student active in the #FeesMustFall movement. She has a 7-year-old daughter with her partner Kelly Gillespie.
The Embassy of Israel had not responded to The Star’s request for comment by the time of publication.
The Women’s Boat is one of several maritime attempts to break the blockade on the Palestinian coastal enclave.
Maguire stated that “we are not a threat to Israel. We are a threat to this blockade”.
On Tuesday Naidoo sent this message to The Star: “We will reach the 100 mile from Gaza mark at 6am tomorrow morning (Wednesday). The Israeli Occupation Forces could intercept us at any stage from then. If we are not intercepted it will take about a day to sail the 100 miles to Gaza so we will be doing that if all goes well.
"However, if we are intercepted, it is likely that military boats will surround us and then either come on board and take over the boat or take us off our boat and on to one of theirs. We have two peace activists on board who are over 70 years old who have both been on multiple flotilla missions to break the illegal blockade of Gaza.
“We will likely spend the day being searched, interrogated, then transported to prison or a detention facility, and finally deported.
“We remind ourselves constantly that while we are sacrificing a small amount on this mission to bring a message of hope and solidarity to especially the women and children of Gaza. Palestinians are under the watch and confronted and intercepted daily by the IDF. And they dont have international media attention as we do.
“So while we are cautious and at some level afraid of facing one of the most well-funded military operations on the planet, we are clear that this small act of solidarity is the least we can do to continue to highlight the plight of occupied Palestine.
“We are in high spirits. And I am particular aware of the use of police and military forces to resolve disputes and disagreements. Using force against an occupied people, or using excessive force for example against protesting students at universities as is happening right now in South Africa, is not going to get us to a place of justice and peace.
“People in power, especially the men who dominate our governments, universities and military must stop being afraid of disagreement and difficulty. They must learn to refrain from acting violently to try and quickly resolve impasses. My hope is that women, queer people, and other marginalised communities will start leading us differently into a more just future.
“Please keep your attention on the Zaytouna as we sail our final day tomorrow. And lets hope the powerful israeli forces are not so intimidated by a message of peace brought on a 15-metre yacht by women from around the world that they attack us.”
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