Middle East

Australian journalist home after Israeli detention

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An Australian journalist who was detained by Israeli authorities for being part of the latest attempt to break the Gaza blockade has arrived home.

Australian journalist Chris Graham has returned home four days after the Israeli navy intercepted the Gaza-bound activist boat he was travelling on.

The editor of the New Matilda boarded the Al-Awda, a fishing boat leading the “freedom flotilla”, in Italy about a week earlier to report on the activists’ journey and the plight of Palestinians trapped in Gaza.

“It’s an amazing story. Undeniably, a group of activists sailing towards a group of naval warships is a compelling story,” Mr Graham said.

He never expected to reach the destination.

The Israel Navy said it boarded the Norwegian-flagged ship on Sunday informing passengers they were breaking a legal naval blockade.

It was towed to an Israeli port in a process the navy said “ended without exceptional events”.

Mr Graham tells a different story.

“If that’s peaceful I’d hate to see their idea of not peaceful.”

He said the captain and engineer were beaten and several activists were tasered in the face and neck.

“They’d put most of the passengers on the back of the boat and the bridge was at the front of the boat. We could hear the beating and we could hear the tasering and we weren’t sure where the engineer was.”

Mr Graham does not blame the soldiers, who he says were young and most likely carrying out their mandatory national service.

Israeli military naval boats sail in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod
Israeli military naval boats sail in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod.
AP

But he said one older soldier appeared to be deliberately trying to stir up trouble.

“He actually sat on the deck for probably half an hour and tried to incite different activists to do different things."

Israel has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008.

Previous attempts ended in disaster

Mr Graham was relieved the latest attempt to breach the blockade was not met with the same level of violence as previous attempts. 

In 2010, Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they raided a six-ship flotilla trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of the blockade. Another activist died years later.

The botched raid angered Turkey and saw it cut off ties with Israel until 2016.

Other attempts to run the Israeli blockade included a 2016 women's boat with 13 passengers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

New Matilda Editor, Chris Graham.
New Matilda Editor, Chris Graham.
SBS News

Their sailing boat was halted by the Israeli navy and taken to Ashdod, about 30 kilometres north of Gaza, and the women were detained before being deported.

Sunday's interception comes with tensions especially high between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Mass protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30. 

At least 157 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since then.

One Israeli soldier has been killed in the same time period. 

There have been two severe military flare-ups between the two sides in recent weeks as well.

- With AAP

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