TNI contributor, former UN official Denis Halliday returns home after Israel's Flotilla Raid

Supporters clapped, cheered and chanted as the five erstwhile sailors returned to Dublin
14 June 2010
In the media

Denis Halliday spent two days in an Israeli jail after the MV Rachel Corrie, part of the aid flotilla which sought to break the illegal blockade of Gaza, was intercepted in international waters by the Israeli military on Saturday, 5 June 2010.

A CHEER to lift the spirits of any weary traveller greeted the five Irish citizens who landed at Dublin yesterday after being deported from Israel.

Former UN assistant secretary-general Denis Halliday, Nobel laureate Maireád Maguire, Derek and Jenny Graham from Mayo and Dundalk film-maker Fiona Thompson had been on board the MV Rachel Corrie when it was seized in international waters by Israeli forces on Saturday.

Flags flew and for a few moments the five stood still at the entrance to arrivals so photographers could snap them. Supporters clapped, cheered and chanted “Boycott Israel”. Then family and friends rushed forward to embrace the group.

Among supporters were members of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the Free Gaza group, of which the Grahams are members.

Jack Maguire held his wife Maireád in a warm embrace. He hadn’t worried too much about her safety, he said. “I felt a little concerned, but I knew from the past they would all be calm – they are pacifists,” he said.

Ms Maguire said she was delighted to be home and thanked the Irish people for all of their support.

Halliday told DemocracyNow!: "The outrage of taking Irish citizens prisoner in the international waters, that is an outrage of a huge dimension. Armed men, heavily weaponed, threatening Irish citizens and Malaysian citizens, who have bought this boat for us, and the crew, excellent Filipino guys, and the captain is from Scotland—you know, we were all rounded up and treated like animals. I mean, it was not acceptable."

A calm but tired Mr Halliday said they had just had “two pretty lousy days in prison”. “They took our clothes away, so showering without clean clothes wasn’t much fun,” he said. He praised Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, whom he said was very supportive and phoned him while he was aboard the ship. “It’s nice when you are sitting behind bars and feeling a little ‘is this really me’, knowing everyone was behind us,” he said.

“I expected to be scared. I worried about my courage, but when you are faced with it the anger and the outrage makes you courageous. The arrogance of these characters threatening Irish citizens on the high seas; it was a hijack and a kidnap, it was bizarre.”

Ms Thompson, met by her father Gerry, aunt Marion Lennon, sister Emma and 18-month-old nephew Ephrim, was surprised at the large media turnout at the airport. Her family said they had worried when they lost contact with the ship and were relieved to get her home safely. “I’m so proud of her,” Mr Thompson said.

Ms Thompson admitted to being frightened on the ship. “When I looked through the camera lens and there was a warship beside me with a big machine gun pointing straight back in to the camera lens, your hand starts to shake a little bit,” she said.

Asked whether she would be willing to go back, Ms Graham said there was no doubt about it. She would probably be afraid but she would stay determined, she said.