JERUSALEM – Israel has deported a former U.S. congresswoman, a Nobel peace prize laureate and other activists who were arrested trying to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said Monday.
The Israeli navy commandeered the boat last week as it tried to sail from Cyprus to Gaza. It was the latest in a series of trips by activists trying to bring attention to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the territory after the Islamic militants of Hamas seized power there two years ago.
There were 21 passengers and three tons of medical aid on board. Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, along with six other activists, remained in Israeli custody until Monday, when the Israeli government arranged flights for them, according to Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad.
They had been deported by late afternoon, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
McKinney is a former representative from Georgia and was the Green Party's candidate for president in 2008. Long a controversial figure in U.S. politics, McKinney drew fire for suggesting the administration of President George W. Bush might have known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks and profited from them.
The Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. Jewish anti-racism group, decried anti-Semitic comments made by some of her supporters after her defeat in a 2006 Democratic runoff election. The ADL criticized her for not distancing herself from those statements or from a statement by her father blaming Jews for her congressional defeat in 2002.
Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel peace prize for her work among Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, has long been a pro-Palestinian advocate. She was wounded by an Israeli rubber bullet during a protest against Israel's West Bank separation barrier in 2007.
Israel has allowed several of the protest boats to dock in Gaza, but has blocked others. Last year, one of the boats was damaged in a collision with an Israeli naval vessel.
Israel says the aid supplies on board the most recent boat will be transferred to Gaza after being cleared by authorities.