JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel on Monday deported a former U.S. congresswoman, a Nobel peace prize laureate and other activists who were arrested and jailed after trying to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli navy commandeered their boat last week as it tried to sail from Cyprus to Gaza. It was the latest in a series of trips by activists trying to bring attention to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the territory after the Islamic militant Hamas seized power there two years ago.
There were 21 passengers and three tons of medical aid on board, and most of the activists were quickly expelled. But Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, along with six other activists, remained in Israeli custody while the government arranged flights for them, according to Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad. They were deported by late Monday afternoon, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Israel says the embargo is a response to Hamas’ hostility toward the Jewish state, including attacks by Gaza militants against crossings used to deliver cargo into the coastal strip.
The blockade has caused significant economic hardship in Gaza, sparking widespread criticism and growing international calls to ease the closure. Gaza suffers shortages of many basic items, such as cooking oil, diapers and construction materials needed to rebuild the area following an Israeli military offensive early this year.
McKinney is a former representative from Georgia and was the Green Party’s candidate for president in 2008. Long a controversial figure in U.S. politics, McKinney drew fire for suggesting the administration of President George W. Bush might have known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks and profited from them.
The Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. Jewish anti-racism group, decried anti-Semitic comments made by some of her supporters after her defeat in a 2006 Democratic runoff election. The ADL criticized her for not distancing herself from those statements or from a statement by her father blaming Jews for her congressional defeat in 2002.
In a statement written in jail and posted over the weekend on the Web site of the Free Gaza movement, the sponsors of the ship, McKinney complained that she had been arrested “because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza.”
“If Israel fears for its security because Gaza’s children have crayons then not only has Israel lost its last shred of legitimacy, but Israel must be declared a failed state,” she wrote.
Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel peace prize for her work among Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, has long been a pro-Palestinian advocate. She was wounded by an Israeli rubber bullet during a protest against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier in 2007.
Israel has allowed several of the protest boats to dock in Gaza but has blocked others. Last year, one of the boats was damaged in a collision with an Israeli naval vessel.
Israel says the aid supplies on board the most recent boat will be transferred to Gaza after being cleared by authorities.