Deported Rachel Corrie activists arrive home


Five Irish citizens deported from Israel after their boat was seized in international waters landed at Dublin Airport this morning.

Former UN assistant secretary-general Denis Halliday, Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire, ship captain Derek Graham and his wife Jenny, from Mayo, and Dundalk film-maker Fiona Thompson were greeted with a cheer as they passed through the doors at arrivals.

Friends, family and supporters had gathered to await the arrival of the five, who were removed from the MV Rachel Corrie on Saturday morning by Israeli Forces. They were attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza when the boat was intercepted. It was the last remaining vessel of the Gaza Freedom flotilla, a 40-nation effort to break through Israel's illegal blockade. Nine people were killed last week when Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, one of the vessels taking part.

Flags flew and for a few moments the five stood still at the entrance for photographs and supporters chanted "Boycott Israel". Then family members rushed forward to embrace the group.

Mr Graham spoke of the minutes before the Israeli army boarded the ship. He said his responsibility was to look after everyone's safety so he got the crew and passengers into one position.

"I was ordered to stay on board the bridge," he said. "You have to realise the guy from the Mavi Marmara was basically executed by the Israelis, so I am standing there on the bridge by myself with no protection so at that stage you start to get worried."

He said he thought the soldiers might have been thinking "take him out and everybody else will be subdued", so he was worried.

"All I did was kept my hands to the windows and kind of looked out until they told me to get down," he said.

"They shouted at me to get face down on the floor, hands on the back of your head. Once I done that and they cable tied my hands behind my back at that stage, I realised I was pretty safe."

They made him kneel at the back of the ship for a half an hour facing the door, but he knew at that stage he was ok.

Asked if he would attempt to bring aid to Gaza again he said "Oh Jesus ye, straight away".

He said he intended trying to get his ship back.

"This ship was taken in international waters; we didn't violate Israeli waters, Israeli laws or maritime laws," Mr Graham said.

Earlier Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said he was “relieved” that the Israeli interception of the MV Rachel Corrie on Saturday had passed off without violence or injury to any members of the crew.

He paid tribute to those onboard, who included several Irish activists, for “demonstrating in no uncertain terms their peaceful intentions”. He said the Government had “relentlessly” communicated this to the Israeli authorities in the days leading up to the interception.