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
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • 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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing