Woods Hole woman detained in Israel
By: Elise R. Hugus
A summer resident of Woods Hole is in Israeli detention after the boat she and 20 other people were sailing to Gaza was seized by the Israeli Navy on Monday.
Katherine E. Sheetz of F.R. Lillie Road was taking part in a mission to deliver medical supplies, children's toys, and olive trees to Gazans with the international human rights coalition, Free Gaza.
A press release from the organization, released on June 30, said that the converted ferryboat, the "Spirit of Humanity," departed from Cyprus on the morning of June 29, after an inspection by the Cypriot Port Authority. The release states that Israeli warships surrounded the vessel and jammed its Global Positioning System after the crew refused to turn around.
Israeli officials boarded the ship 23 miles off the Mediterranean coast of Gaza, according to the release, and dragged the boat, its cargo, and passengers to port in Israel against their will. The passengers were later brought to the city of Ashdod by bus, where they are being held in detention. International boundaries begin three miles off the coast.
This was Ms. Sheetz's third trip aboard a Free Gaza ship since the group's maiden voyage in August, which marked the first time an international vessel had docked in Gaza in 41 years. The group's last voyage, in December, was allegedly rammed by an Israeli ship, and went to Lebanon for repairs.
In an interview in January, the registered nurse and documentary filmmaker said that she joined Free Gaza in order to contribute her skills to lifting the Israeli-imposed land, sea, and air blockade, which has been in place since the Israeli army pulled out of the territory in 2005.
Four Americans were among the passengers, including former US Congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia), and Adam Shapiro, a filmmaker and founder of the International Solidarity Movement. Irish Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Maguire was also on board, as well as several journalists and doctors.
Her daughter, Courtney Sheetz of New York City, who accompanied her mother on the first Free Gaza voyage, said that the purpose of the mission was to bring supplies to the people of Gaza. In phone calls to state department officials, Courtney said she was told that her mother had been arrested for "an immigration violation" and had signed a voluntary deportation order barring her from Israel for 10 years.
Yesterday morning, Courtney said that she received a phone call from her mother, who said she was safe but still in detention. The 21 detainees, from 11 countries, said they would refuse deportation unless every passenger was released at the same time. Courtney said she was relieved to hear from her mother, who she expects will return to the United States by Monday.
"I'm not worried about the well-being of my mom. They are safe. But thousands of Palestinian prisoners are not," said Courtney. "This is why they were going, to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza."
Unemployment, power outages, and a lack of basic supplies are rampant in the 25-square-mile territory, which is home to 1.5 million Palestinians. The border between the territory and Israel and Egypt is frequently closed, making it difficult for residents and supplies to enter or exit.
Yesterday, Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, called Israel's treatment of the Free Gaza activists "unlawful" and said its blockade of the territory constituted a "continuing crime against humanity," according to Reuters reports.
Ms. Sheetz's son, Jonathan Sheetz, lives on F.R. Lillie Road with his wife and two young daughters. Her daughters, Courtney and Jennifer Sheetz of San Francisco will wait for their mother in Woods Hole over the weekend.
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