London Professor Detained by Israeli Government
A French and linguistics professor from the University of Western Ontario remained in an Israeli prison Sunday, two days after being taken into custody off the Gaza Strip.
David Heap, 45, of London, was working with the Canadian Boat to Gaza — a humanitarian group aiming to stop the Israeli-backed naval blockade of the strip — when he and about 20 others were taken captive. He was aboard the Tahrir, which means “freedom” in Arabic.
“They captured the boat in international waters, which is a violation of international law,” said Wendy Goldsmith, one of Heap’s colleagues and a member of People for Peace.
Israelis say the blockade, enacted in 2007, is designed to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Mediterranean port. Goldsmith and others believe the government is using the mandate to keep humanitarian aid from reaching the Gaza Strip.
“We’ve repeatedly said, ‘We’re unarmed, non-violent peace activists,’ and we’ve invited people to inspect our ship independently,” Goldsmith said. “No one’s taken us up on the offer.”
After repeated requests to turn back or dock in Egypt, the Tahrir was deluged with water cannons and then boarded by Israeli forces. All the activists on board were taken into custody.
During a visit with lawyers in his prison cell, Heap managed to draft a letter informing people of their ordeal. The letter was posted on the Canadian Boat to Gaza website, Tahrir.ca.
It is rumoured that the activists will be released after 72 hours. Goldsmith is reluctant to believe that.
“I don’t trust the Israeli government or the Israeli military one bit, so I think they’ll release them when they feel like it, and we won’t know until it happens,” she said.
In his letter, Heap requested that the activists receive “adequate reading and writing material, regular phone calls” and information about the safety of their female colleagues, who are being held separately.
– With files from The Canadian Press