Israel compensates Canadians for a boat that was seized while trying to break a Gaza blockade

The Tahrir, a Canadian-registered ship, that attempted to beat the Gaza blockade in 2011. (Twitter)

A Canadian pro-Palestinian group is claiming victory after Israel settled a compensation claim for seizing a civilian boat that attempted to break the Gaza blockade a decade ago.

It took 10 years but Israel has paid a settlement of $185,647 (CDN) for seizing the boat Tahrir on Nov. 4, 2011, along with its cargo of medical aid destined for Gaza.

The vessel was part of a campaign by the group Canadian Boat to Gaza to break Israel’s blockade of the territory and bring medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to its two million inhabitants. It also reportedly intended to transport exports from Gaza.

Along with the Irish-flagged ship Saoirse, the Tahrir was boarded by Israeli naval commandos in international waters off the Gaza coast, and seized.

Israel’s recent payout “was not a result of a court proceeding, but rather a monetary settlement offered by Israel due to the fact that the vessel’s condition made it difficult to be returned to the owners,” an Israeli source told The CJN. The settlement included a waiver of legal claims by the owners and was completed “some months ago.”

Israel seized the ships after they refused to heed calls to change course, prompting then military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to order their interception.

“Following their unwillingness to co-operate, and after ignoring calls to divert to the port of Ashdod, the decision was made to board the vessels and lead them there,” the Israeli military said in a statement on Nov. 5, 2011.

The Canadian vessel was carrying six activists— three of whom were Canadian citizens—a captain, and five journalists, as well as cargo valued at $30,000 in medical and other humanitarian aid. Those aboard were detained in Ashdod and charged with entering Israel illegally. An immigration judge later ordered them deported.

In June 2012, Toronto lawyer Hadayt Nazami wrote to Israeli officials saying the Tahrir was “illegally seized” in international waters and asking that the ship and cargo be returned to its owner.

David Heap, a spokesperson for Canadian Boat to Gaza, told The CJN the cargo never made it to its intended recipients. He said his group understood that the Tahrir itself was impounded in Haifa and “apparently allowed to deteriorate until it was no longer seaworthy. Thus the cash settlement,” Heap said.

Canadian Boat to Gaza said the settlement from Israel amounted to about half the vessel’s total costs.

Heap said the settlement has been disbursed to the organization through its Israeli legal representatives, and will be used “to keep challenging the illegal blockade of Gaza.”

A portion of the settlement has been used to fund one of 27 new ambulances that arrived in Gaza on Nov. 8, Heap said.

The Tahrir, (Arabic for “Liberation”) was part of the “Freedom Flotilla” movement of cargo and passenger ships that attempted to breach the Gaza blockade.

The Tahrirs registered owner was Sandra Ruch, a self-described “kohenet,” or Hebrew priestess, who lives in Toronto and officiates at interfaith and LGBTQ+ weddings.

Ruch called the compensation “a victory for us and for the entire Freedom Flotilla movement, as well as for all organizations and individuals who contributed time and money to ending the blockade of Gaza.”

In 2016, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the release of the Swedish-owned ship Estelle, which had been seized in 2012 attempting to deliver aid to Gaza. Jim Manley, a former NDP MP and father of former Green MP Paul Manley, was aboard. He was arrested and released five days later.

In 2010, 10 activists aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmarawere killed when Israeli commandos stormed the vessel about 130 kilometers off the Gaza coast.

Israel and Egypt imposed a land, sea and air blockade of Gaza in 2007, saying it was needed to stop weapons reaching the Hamas-controlled territory.