Activist considers legal action against Israel

 

An Irish-American who took part in the Gaza aid flotilla has denied he is involved in terror activity, writes MARY FITZGERALD, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

AN IRISH-AMERICAN activist caught up in Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last week says he is considering legal action after Israeli authorities included him on a list of alleged “active terror operatives”.

In a statement, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) alleged that five passengers onboard Turkish boat Mavi Marmara were “known to be involved in terrorist activity”. Nine Turkish activists died when Israeli commandos stormed the ship last Monday.

Irish passport-holder Ken O’Keefe (41), was, the IDF claimed, a “radical anti-Israel activist and operative of the Hamas terror organisation”. It alleged that O’Keefe, a California-born former US marine, had attempted to enter Gaza “in order to form and train a commando unit” for Hamas.

The statement erroneously described Mr O’Keefe as “an American and British citizen”. Mr O’Keefe, who lives in London, has carried an Irish passport since 2003 due to his grandmother, from Listowel, Co Kerry. He has never taken British citizenship and says he renounced his US citizenship in 2001.

Speaking to The Irish Timesfrom Turkey, where he has stayed since he was transferred from Israel last week, Mr O’Keefe said the Israelis had made a “massive mistake”. He said he feared the allegations could endanger his life by making him a target.

“There is no evidence to support this idea that I was going to train a commando unit in Gaza . . .Who the hell came up with that one? Suing them is definitely an option. Not only is this slanderous, but if they are really serious, am I on a hit list now? Will a Mossad hit squad come and get me? They did that recently in Dubai, and look what they did with the flotilla last week.”

In 2004, Mr O’Keefe was arrested for attempting to enter Gaza. He says he wanted to visit Gaza to discuss with representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad a plan to bring 10,000 international observers to the Palestinian Territories. “I told [the Israelis] during interrogation that I had met with people they deem terrorists. I spent 20 days in jail before they deported me as a security threat and barred me for 10 years,” he said.

Two years ago, Mr O’Keefe took part in the Free Gaza Movement’s first attempt to break the Israeli blockade. That year he met Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other senior Hamas figures. Those meetings, he says, were to “make an introduction for the government of Hawaii (where Mr O’Keefe’s mother lives) and discuss a dialogue initiative”.

Asked whether he met people from other militant groups in Gaza, Mr O’Keefe said: “I’m sure I met people who would be in that category. I met so many people there that I couldn’t possibly know all their connections or backgrounds. I don’t ask for people’s CVs when I meet them.”

Mr O’Keefe, who was beaten by Israeli security personnel while awaiting transfer from Israel last week, said he knew only one other person – Fatimah Mahmadi – on the IDF list. He said he had met Ms Mahmadi, a US resident of Iranian origin, once before.

Mr O’Keefe is due to travel to Ireland later this week.