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Nobel peace laureate jailed in Israel for Gaza activism

Jonathan Lis | Ha’aretz

6 July 2009

A Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former U.S. congresswoman are among eight people to be released today and expelled after having sailed on a protest ship heading to Gaza from Cyprus, the Israeli Interior Ministry says.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her peace campaign in Northern Ireland, has been in prison in Israel since Tuesday after being removed from the ship.

Israel has imposed a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, so the ship, which flew a Greek flag, was intercepted by the navy. Among the passengers detained was former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

When the crew of the Greek ship failed to respond to the navy’s order to stop, the vessel was boarded by Israeli forces, but no weapons were fired. The ship was taken to the port of Ashdod. “Free Gaza,” the organization that organized the attempt to sail to Gaza, has said Israel’s navy used electronic devices to scramble the ship’s navigation equipment.

This was not the first foray into Middle East politics for Maguire, who shared her Nobel Prize with Betty Williams for their efforts at conciliation between Catholics and Protestants. In the past, she has also advocated awarding the Nobel Prize to Mordechai Vanunu for his anti-nuclear activities. Vanunu was jailed by Israel for leaking details of Israel’s nuclear program to the press.

McKinney released a statement contending that the ship was a civilian vessel that was unarmed and carrying humanitarian assistance in international waters.