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"I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him,” said Dr. Martin Luther King as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. These words will guide me and other passengers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a fleet of nine boats scheduled to set sail for Gaza on June 25 from various Mediterranean ports. While the Israelis try to label us provocateurs, terrorists and Hamas supporters, we are simply nonviolent advocates following the teachings of Dr. King. We refuse to sit at the docks of history and watch the people of Gaza suffer.

The U.S. boat, which will carry 50 Americans, is called The Audacity of Hope. It is named after Obama’s bestselling political autobiography in which he lauds our collective audacity of striving to become a better nation. But I prefer to think of our boat as part of Dr. King’s legacy. He, too, talked about audacity, about his audacious faith in the future. “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him,” Dr. King said.

Our intrepid group has its moral compass aimed at the way things ought to be. Our cargo is not humanitarian aid, as some of the other ships are carrying, but thousands of letters from the U.S. people, letters of compassion, solidarity and hope written to people living in the Gaza Strip. We travel with what Dr. King called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

We focus on Gaza because since 2007 the Israeli government has enforced a crippling blockade on its 1.5 million residents. Inflicting collective punishment on civilians is morally wrong and is a gross violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet the world’s democracies do nothing to stop Israel’s extraordinarily cruel behavior, and in fact did nothing for 22 days in 2009 while the Israel military unleashed a tidal wave of carnage that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. They continue to sit by while the people of Gaza remain isolated and unable to secure access to building materials and basic living supplies, and while Israeli soldiers shoot at Gaza’s farmers trying to till their land along the border and attack fisherman trying to make a living in waters off their shore. And in the case of the United States, our government is not simply sitting by, but supporting the Israeli military with $3 billion in military aid a year.

The Palestinians’ plea for help has been ignored by world governments, but it has pricked the conscience of civil society. Caravans have crisscrossed Europe and Africa, carrying tons of aid. Boats have braved Israeli war ships and tried to dock in Gaza’s ports. Over 1,000 people joined the Gaza Freedom March, an attempt to break the siege that was brutally stopped by Egyptian police during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

In May, 2010, seven ships and nearly 700 passengers carrying humanitarian aid tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade. The Israeli military violently intercepted the ships, killing nine passengers aboard the Turkish boat, including a 19-year-old American citizen. The rest of passengers were roughed up, arrested, thrown in Israeli prisons, and deported.

For a brief moment, this tragedy in international waters focused the world spotlight on Gaza. Israel said it would ease the draconian siege, allowing more goods to enter the beleaguered strip. But just this month, the health authorities in Gaza proclaimed a state of emergency due to an acute shortage of vital medicines and also this month, a report from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, found unemployment in Gaza at a staggering 45.2 percent, among the highest in the world. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the number of abject poor living on just over one dollar a day has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed in 2007. “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Gunness said.

Hopes inside Gaza were buoyed by the Egyptian revolution. A groundswell of grassroots solidarity by Egyptians pushed the new government to announce that it would open its border with Gaza. But that promise remains elusive, as thousands are still blocked from crossing, and all imports and exports must still pass through the Israeli side. Israel remains the warden for the world’s largest open-air prison. It continues to decide what goods can enter, what exports can come out, and which people can get exit visas. It continues to control Gaza’s electricity, water supply, airspace and access to the Mediterranean.
Although the Israelis know that our boats will not carry arms and we, the passengers, are committed to nonviolence, they have nonetheless vowed to stop us with a dizzying array of force­water cannons, commandos, border police, snipers, and attack dogs from the military’s canine unit.

Equally astonishing is the U.S. government’s reaction. Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls 'the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.

This pressure is having an impact. At the urging of the Turkish government, our flagship, the Mavi Marmara, the same ship that was so violently attacked last year, recently announced that it will not be joining the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was going to carry 500 people; its absence cuts our numbers in half. And there may be more ships forced to drop out.

All this bullying, however, only strengthens our resolve. We may be fewer boats, we may have fewer passengers, we may be threatened with violence, but we will sail. And if the Israelis intercept our boats, we call on people around the world to gather at Israeli embassies and consulates to express their outrage.

Like the inexorable rhythm of the ocean, the Palestinians will continue to lap at the shores of injustice. They will keep coming back, wave after wave, demanding the right to rebuild their tattered communities, the right to live in dignity. Shoring them up will be the international community, including activists like us who join their nonviolent resistance. The real question is: How long will the Israelis, with U.S. backing, continue to swim against the tide?

Medea Benjamin | June 22, 2011
[reposted with permission]

Originally posted to WashingtonPeaceCenter on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 10:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Adalah — A Just Middle East.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Attacks on the flotilla (7+ / 0-)

    Israel is doing everything it can to attack the flotilla:

     - Sabotaging the ships
     - Making phony videos of people supposedly excluded from the flotilla
     - Threatening journalists
     - Accusing the protesters of planning violence.

    "How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." - Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.

    by weasel on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 11:01:05 AM PDT

  •  There is tide in the affairs of men and this time (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ubertar, Mortifyd, JonathanInTelAviv

    the tide has passed the second flotilla by.

    Since the first flotilla, Israel has relaxed its import restrictions and, as always, had an established portal of goods to Gaza that met with Israel's security requirements (yes, all nations can take steps to insure the safety of thie citizens).

    Instead of a second PR effort that probably will fall short since the Israelis are not stupid and have learned from the first flotilla, where is the concentrated effort for a united Palestinian party so Israel has a legitimate partner to hold peace talks with?

    •  I still cant believe the Israelis were that stupid (0+ / 0-)

      the first time.  I mean how much intelligence does it take not to attack your allies ship in international waters?

      I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

      by Futuristic Dreamer on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 03:04:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Paid for by antisemitism. (5+ / 0-)

    To raise funds for San Francisco area passengers, USTOGAZA held a benefit featuring Gilad Atzmon, a noted jazz musician and antisemite.  The voyage literally is being paid for by antisemitism.

    (I regret reproducing any of Atzmon's swill, but some people apparently need convincing.  Here are three examples, available with many others through this link.

    1. "We must begin to take the accusation that the  Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously.... American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the elder of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant.  American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least."
    2. "Jewish texts tend to glaze over the fact that Hitler’s March 28 1933, ordering a boycott against Jewish stores and goods, was an escalation in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership."
    3. "I'm not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act."

    Meanwhile, breaking the Israeli blockade is unnecessary to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the Gaza Strip, as Ha'aretz, for example reports, because Egypt has agreed "that the ships taking part in the Gaza flotilla will be allowed to unload their cargo in the Egyptian port of El-Arish, where it will be checked and then transferred to the Gaza Strip via land."  Americans seeking to break the blockade may, however, be violating U.S. law.

    President Obama's State Department views the attempt to break the blockade as potentially unlawful and unnecessary, while also supporting its military justification:

    We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration.
    Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
    Recent seizures by Israel and Egypt of advanced military systems, weapons, and ammunition bound for terrorist groups in Gaza, as well as periodic rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians, highlight the continuing problem of illicit arms smuggling to Gaza. These seizures underscore the vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.

    (Personally, I'm inclined to think it unwise for Israel to bar all ships from reaching Gaza.  IMHO, if they do not want to unload in El-Arish for inspection and transhipment to Gaza, an arrangement should be made available for them to be inspected, either at sea or in an Israeli port, and, if no contraband is found, allowed to proceed to Gaza.  But the present issue isn't the wisdom of the Israeli government; it's the wisdom of USTOGAZA in using an antisemite to fundraise and the failure of the boar's passengers to repudiate it.)

    Re-elect the President
    Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

    by another American on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 01:32:13 PM PDT

  •  Has the WPC dissociated itself from (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fizziks, yaque

    the US Campaign to End the Occupation's support for a Palestinian right of return (to Israel), which, as Americans for Peace Now, among many others, recognize "is tantamount to a demand that Israel cease to exist as a Jewish state"?

    The Washington Peace Center identifies the US Campaign as one of the "organizations we work with and support."  RoR is central to the US Campaign: " If groups take a position that is actively against . . . the right of return, then this would become grounds to review their membership with the Campaign."

    Indeed, does the WPC support the continued existence of Israel?  The US Campaign purports to be agnostic, but it is clear that the question -- one state or two -- is not one in which it would allow Israelis a say:  "The US Campaign does not endorse either a one-state or a two-state solution, but rather upholds the Palestinian right to self-determination. We believe the Palestinians must be empowered to exercise this right[.]"

    President Obama, of course, clearly stated in his May 19th speech at the State Department that "everyone knows":

    a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

    It would be unfortunate, indeed, were a self-described "peace center" to oppose the achievement of the only possible peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Re-elect the President
    Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

    by another American on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 01:56:46 PM PDT

  •  "world’s largest open-air prison" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Really? How many prisons do you know of that shoot missiles at neighboring cities?

  •  More BS: "violently intercepted the ships" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    No, violence was only used on one ship, and only as a defense against violence.

  •  More BS 2: "with U.S. backing" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Not just the US. Other countries back the Israeli stance.

  •  More BS 3: "collective punishment on civilians... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is morally wrong"
    But shooting missiles at Israeli cities is OK.
    By breaking the blockade, you are accessories to that.
    I guarantee you two things:
    1. Your cargo will get to Gaza after our inspection
    2. You WILL NOT break the blockade.

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