Stephen Zunes / CommonDreams – 2011-07-03 00:50:29
Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed US Ship
Stephen Zunes / CommonDreams
(June 30, 2011) — The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists — including a vessel with 50 Americans on board — bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”
Clinton did not explain why a country had “the right to defend themselves” against ships which are clearly no threat. Not only have organizers of the flotilla gone to great steps to ensure are there no weapons on board, the only cargo bound for Gaza on the US ship are letters of solidarity to the Palestinians in that besieged enclave who have suffered under devastating Israeli bombardments, a crippling blockade, and a right-wing Islamist government. Nor did Clinton explain why the State Department suddenly considers the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the port of Gaza to be “Israeli waters,” when the entire international community recognizes Israeli territorial waters as being well to the northeast of the ships’ intended route.
The risk of an Israeli attack on the flotilla is real. Israeli commandoes illegally assaulted a similar flotilla in international waters on May 31 of last year, killing nine people on board one of the vessels, including Furkan Dogan, a 19-year old US citizen. Scores of others, including a number of Americans, were brutally beaten and more than a dozen others were shot but survived their wounds.
According to a UN investigation, based on eyewitness testimony and analysis by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, Dogan was initially shot while filming the assault and then murdered while lying face down with a bullet shot at close range in the back of the head. The United States was the only one of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council to vote against the adoption of the report. The Obama administration never filed a complaint with the Israeli government, demonstrating its willingness to allow the armed forces of US allies to murder US citizens on the high seas.
As indicated by Clintonâ€™s statement of last week, the administration appears to be willing to let it happen again.
Last year, 329 out of 435 members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter that referred to Israel’s attack that killed Dogan and the others as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.”
A Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”
But not everyone in Congress believes the assaulting and killing human rights activists on the high seas is legitimate. Last week, on June 24, six members of Congress signed a letterto Secretary Clinton requesting that she “do everything in her power to work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the US citizens on board.” As of this writing, they have not received a response.
Earlier in the week, the State Department issued a public statement to discourage Americans from taking part in the second Gaza flotilla because they might be attacked by Israeli forces. Yet thus far neither the State Department nor the White House has issued a public statement demanding that Israel not attack Americans legally traveling in international waters. Indeed, on Friday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland implied that the United States would blame those taking part in the flotilla rather than the rightist Israeli government should anything happen to them.
Like those in the early 1960s who claimed civil rights protesters were responsible for the attacks by white racist mobs because they had “provoked them,” Nuland stated, “Groups that seek to break Israelâ€™s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers.”
Again, The Obama administration didn’t offer even one word encouraging caution or restraint by the Israeli government, nor did it mention that the International Red Cross and other advocates of international humanitarian law recognize that the Israeli blockade is illegal.
Who’s On Board
Passengers of the US boat, christened The Audacity of Hope, include celebrated novelist Alice Walker, holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, veteran foreign service officer and retired lieutenant colonel Ann Wright, Israeli-American linguistics professor Hagit Borer, and prominent peace and human rights activists like Medea Benjamin, Robert Naiman, Steve Fake, and Kathy Kelly.
Ten other boats are carrying hundreds of other civilians from dozens of other countries, along with nearly three thousand tons of aid. Those on board include members of national parliaments and other prominent political figures, writers, artists, clergy from various faith traditions, journalists, and athletes.
Fifteen ships have previously sailed or attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Campaign. None was found to contain any weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes. The current flotilla organizers have stated that their cargoes are “open to international inspection.”
Despite this, however, the Obama State Department insists that the Israelis have the right to intercept the ships due to the “vital importance to Israelâ€™s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.”
Though the flotilla organizers have made clear that the US boat is only carrying letters of support for the people of Gaza, the State Department has also threatened participants with “fines and incarceration” if they attempt to provide “material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas.”
As with many actions supporting Palestinian rights, the coalition of groups endorsing the flotilla includes pro-Palestinian groups as well as peace, human rights, religious, pacifist and liberal organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Nonviolence International, Jewish Voice for Peace, War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Despite this, Brad Sherman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committeeâ€™s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has claimed that organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties” and has called upon US Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute US citizens involved with the flotilla and ban foreign participants from ever entering the United States.
Largely as a result of last yearâ€™s flotilla, Israel has somewhat relaxed its draconian siege on the territory, which had resulted in a major public health crisis.
The State Department has gone to some lengths to praise Israel for allowing some construction material into the Gaza Strip to make possible the rebuilding of some of the thousands of homes, businesses and public facilities destroyed in Israelâ€™s devastating US-backed 2008-2009 military offensive, which resulted in the deaths of over 800 civilians. At no point, however, has the Obama administration ever criticized Israel for destroying those civilian structures in the first place.
As with many potentially confrontational nonviolent direct actions, there are genuine differences within the peace and human rights community regarding the timing, the nature, and other aspects of the forthcoming flotilla. However, the response to the Obama administrationâ€™s position on the flotilla has been overwhelmingly negative.
Many among his progressive base, already disappointed at his failure to take a tougher line against the rightist Israeli government as well as his reluctance to embrace human rights and international law as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace, feel increasingly alienated from the president.
More significantly, the Obama administrationâ€™s response may signal a return to the Reagan administrationâ€™s policies of defending the killing of US human rights workers in order to discourage grassroots acts of international solidarity, as when Reagan officials sought to blame the victims and exonerate the perpetrators for the murder of four American churchwomen by the El Salvadoran junta and the murder of American engineer Ben Linder by the Nicaraguan Contras. Perhaps the Obama administration hopes that giving a green light to an Israeli attack on the US ship and other vessels in the flotilla will serve as a warning.
Perhaps they hope that Americans volunteering for groups like Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Solidarity Movement, and other groups operating in conflict zones like Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Nepal, Indonesia and elsewhere will think twice, knowing that the US government will not live up to its obligations to try to protect nonviolent US activists from violence perpetrated by allied governments.
Indeed, nothing frightens a militaristic state more than the power of nonviolent action.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a contributing editor of Tikkun. His most recent book, co-authored with Jacob Mundy, is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010.)
At Sea on the Audacity of Hope
Alice Walker / Reader Supported News
Alice Walker posted the article and poem below on the Facebook page US BOAT TO GAZA. The page has recently been updated to announce: “Our boat’s captain has been put in jail, charged with disturbing sea traffic — which includes endangering the lives of those on the ships — and disobeying a police order to remain at dock. The crew is being detained on the boat, which is being held at a military dock just outside Athens. Most of the 36 passengers remain on the ship in solidarity with the captain and crew.”
For further updates, videos and pictures click here.
ONBOARD â€˜THE AUDACITY OF HOPEâ€™ (July 2, 2011) — Today is, I think, the 31st of June (Friday?) or is it the 1st of July? We have been in Athens since the 21st — trying to get to Gaza. Many impediments orchestrated by the Israeli government. But what a wonderful group of humans.
Therefore: We’ve won. We’re in Gaza. To be in Gaza is to feel this love. To know there is always a part of humanity that is awake even though the overburdened or the bewitched remain sleeping.
My throat is sore from breathing the tear gas that drifted into our hotel windows, as Greeks, mostly young, battle police, their brothers and sisters who are paid to keep them in line. This is the tragedy. I feel so much compassion for both sides my eyes tear and not only from the gas.
It was hard to breathe. My lungs were fighting hard to protect me. How I adore them, my lungs. And so many of our group tried to protect us, my lungs and me, too. A lovely young man named Steve gave me his own gas mask and someone else, a beautiful young woman with straw colored hair and blue gray eyes gave me the benefit of her knowledge of how to wear it.
I do not like calling such angels “blonde” as I feel the word is so loaded now and it sets them outside of Nature and somehow diminishes them.
I spent a blissful hour yesterday massaging Hedy’s feet. She has the most wonderful gray eyes — full of humor and light. She’d never had a foot massage before, she said. And she is eighty-seven! Hard to imagine.
Hedy, I said — when she told everyone who passed by us: “I’m being spoiled” — I have a full body massage at least once a week!
This was a high point for me, as it is well established by now in myself and among my friends, that I like to massage the feet of anyone who stands up for us. Humanity, I mean.
Or the other animals.
Hedy, holocaust survivor, inhaling the gas in Greece, but even more poignant, anticipating being tear gassed by the Israelis who are doing everything they can to threaten our boat.
I have no computer — they said not to bring one on the boat because it would likely by destroyed or confiscated — only this small notebook in which I have been avoiding writing the poem that starts and stops in my head:
Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece
It has been so
Is it hot
where you are?
in a destroyed
The whole world
by its weathers
still is watching
as we yearn
towards each other.
Trying to embrace
to give each
The whole world
& it is
They are making
for us to move
but I remind
of all people
They know this place
we are in
being able to move.
They know it
This place of stalemate
& stagnation, so unbearable
to any heart
is where they
They will forgive
if we do not
having left our
with all my heart
in the magic
and the power
The women & men
& our frustrations.
most of them are
& we are glad
We want them
to see their
& their elders
attempting to make
We pray they
are of good heart
they may never
That a boat
with love letters
is a threat
I have given
my word that I would
and so I do — if not
on our boat
that is not so far
allowed to go
the air sending
thoughts and feelings
We all sail.
We sail the hot, sticky
of Athens, Greece
longing to see
to the people
Written on our beautiful boat whose canopy is a giant peaceful American flag, as we sail the waters off the coast of Greece and are intercepted by the Greek coast guard.
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