The flotilla led by Swedish Christian-Zionist Stefan Abrahamsson arrived in Israel last night, 48 days after it set sail to protest this summer's pro-Palestinian Freedom Flotilla and show "solidarity" with Israel.
The ships docked in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, yesterday evening after setting sail from Gothenberg, Sweden, on 25 August. The flotilla was headed by Abrahamsson's yacht – named Elida – and was manned by 50 passengers and crew.
Upon arriving in Israel, Abrahamsson said that: "It's great to be here at last. It was wonderful to see all the boats that accompanied us with the flags and music. We will be here for 11 days, we came here because Sweden's image in Israel is very bad and we are here to express our sorrow over this," Arutz Sheva reported. Abrahamsson added:
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East that is built upon ideals which are central throughout the western world, such as equality. However, Israel is the only country which my country condemns. We are here to tell Israelis: 'We love you,' we are standing behind you and want to show our solidarity with you.
Abrahamsson was likely referring to the strong pro-Palestinian activism undertaken by Swedish organisations and individuals over the years. Abrahamsson announced his decision to sail to Israel in response to months of media coverage of the pro-Palestinian Freedom Flotilla, which tried to break Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip this summer.
The Freedom Flotilla was comprised of two ships from Norway and Sweden which were intercepted in international waters in August. The ships – called Al-Awda and Freedom – were carrying dozens of pro-Palestinian activists, as well as vital humanitarian aid and medical equipment to be given to residents of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Israel intercepted the Freedom Flotilla and the activists on board were met with violence from Israeli naval forces. They were eventually deported from Israel. Prominent Swedish activist Divina Levrini spoke about her experience after arriving back in Sweden, explaining that Israeli prison guards "didn't let us sleep. Every hour a guard would come and force us to stand up before subjecting us to psychological abuse."
"I wasn't allowed access to medication after having been struck in the head when they seized the ship," she added.
Abrahamsson on the other hand was able to dock in Herzliya without being intercepted and without facing violence from Israeli forces. He also plans to remain docked in the Israeli port for 11 days to allow "visitors looking to meet with the Swedish delegation" to board the ship, Arutz Sheva added.
In September it emerged that Israel plans to sell four of the boats it sieged from the Freedom Flotilla and distribute the funds to two settler families. Senior Israeli navy and intelligence officials told the Israeli Central Court that the boats' ownership would have been transferred to Hamas if it had reached Gaza, claiming this provided justification to sell the boats and give the proceeds to the illegal settler families.