Israel holds Gaza blockade Britons

Israeli authorities boarded a British yacht, took down its flag and "almost strip searched" its crew as they attempted to break the blockade to Gaza, a Briton on board said today.



Vish Vishvanath was one of nine people travelling on the British-flagged catamaran Irene when it was intercepted.



The freelance photo-journalist from Twickenham, south west London, said the vessel had been "hijacked" in international waters and surrounded by about eight boats whose crew trained machine guns on them.



The armed Israeli authorities who came on board took down the boat's British flag, he said, "which is something you're not supposed to do".



The 36-year-old was one of two Britons on board the yacht. The other was Irene's captain, Glyn Secker.



Both men were detained in Israel prior to deportation.



Arriving at Luton Airport this morning, Mr Vishvanath said he had been "almost strip-searched" and that the Israeli authorities had confiscated all his camera gear and his phone.



The group set sail earlier this week from Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus, with a consignment of medicines, toys and water purifiers.



But the catamaran was seized yesterday around 20 miles from Gaza by Israeli naval forces, with nine people and aid for the territory on board.



Mr Vishvanath said: "We had some intelligence that we wouldn't be intercepted until we got to the edge of the Israeli territorial waters, which would have been yesterday around noon.



"We had a decent night's sleep but at about 9am or 10am we saw a frigate and a gun ship.



"The frigate followed us for quite a way. Then about another four speedboats appeared and another gun ship. In total there were about eight boats."



The boats approached the British yacht and told it to stop, he said.



"They said if we acted calmly no one would get hurt," he added.



But the captain ignored their warnings to turn back.



One of two former Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) members on board Irene repeatedly read out a statement telling the naval forces that "the occupation is illegal", Mr Vishvanath said.



He went on: "All the passengers and crew were in agreement it would be positive resistance. We weren't going to do what they told us, they would have to do it themselves.



"The captain didn't give up the helm easily."



Men who he believed were special forces commandos then boarded the boat and Tasered one of the ex-IDF men, who was putting up a struggle, he said.



"I saw both men get dragged into a support boat and taken away," the photo-journalist said.



"About three commandos ambushed me and took all my camera gear. They confiscated my cell phone because it had a camera on it.



"There was a lot of resistance - people just weren't going to play ball - but there was no violence," he added.



The captain then cut the fuel lines so the Israeli authorities had to tow the boat for two to three hours to the Israeli port of Ashdod, he said.



They removed the yacht's satellite phones and shut down all its communications, he added.



According to a spokeswoman for the activists, the non-Israelis on board were transported to an immigration centre in Israel, where they were temporarily detained.



Five Israelis, one US and one German citizen were also on the boat.



Mr Vishvanath said he was not an activist but was there to document events.



He said he was the only non-Jew on board and that all had been prepared to be intercepted by the Israeli authorities.



"The others were pointing out that it's not in their name," he said. "That all Zionists are Jews but not all Jews are Zionists."



A Holocaust survivor among the group lectured the commandos at length for about four hours, he added.



"They were engaging in conversation. They were friendly enough," he said.



Israeli military officials said Irene was taken over after the captain ignored two warnings to turn back.



"No violence of any kind was used," they said.



London-based activist group Jews for Justice for Palestinians organised the mission - called Jewish Boat To Gaza - and said its last contact with Mr Secker was at 10.37am British time yesterday.



The incident comes four months after a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-led international flotilla aiming to break the blockade. Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists sparking a major international incident.



Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza three years ago in a bid to stop Islamic militant Hamas from building up an arsenal of weapons, but the move has proved inflammatory ever since.



Pro-Palestinian activists have sailed a string of blockade-busting boats to the coastal strip over the past two years, although few have reached Gaza.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living