The SS Dignity, the chartered ship the Free Gaza Movement has repeatedly used to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip is no stranger to Israeli threats. Still, despite being condemned as “provocateurs” by an Israeli government that has threatened the use of force against the ship, the Dignity has always managed to find its way to the strip safely and without incident. Until today.
The latest voyage, laden with three and a half tons of medical aid at a time when Gaza hospitals are running dangerously short on them, ran afoul of an Israeli naval patrol boat in international waters. One of the ships passengers, 2008 US Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, reports the ship was rammed three times by the Israelis. Others report shots were fired at the Dignity, though this has not been confirmed.
After the attack, the Dignity’s captain was radioed by the Israelis, who accused the ship of “being involved in terrorist activity.” The ship began to take on water; passengers were ordered to put on life vests and the lifeboats were readied, but the ship managed to reach the Lebanese port city of Tyre safely.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor defended the move, saying it was because the ship refused to respond to radio contact. His story was not without its flaws however. Though he claimed the “physical contact” was because they refused to respond, he condemned the report that the ramming was intentional as “absurd.” He likewise claimed the ship was escorted by the patrol boat back to Cyprus waters, yet the ship reported after the attack that it didn’t have the fuel to return to Cyprus and is now docked in southern Lebanon, far from Cyprus. The Cypriot government will reportedly demand clarification from the Israeli government about the incident.