Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Activist: US Boat May Sail for Gaza Without Permit" -- AP

Huwaida Arraf

An activist says a U.S.-flagged vessel that is part of a pro-Palestinian flotilla planning to break Israel's sea blockade of Gaza may set sail from a Greek port without receiving official permission.

American Ann Wright repeated allegations Thursday that Israel is pressuring Greek authorities not to allow the 42 passengers and crew of the U.S. flagged Audacity of Hope to leave from a port near Athens.

But she wouldn't say how long activists would wait for the all-clear before the 33-meter (108-foot) ferry begins its journey.

Between 300 and 400 international activists aboard 10 ships had been due to sail this week to Gaza to try and break the naval blockade Israel imposed after Hamas militants overran the Palestinian territory in 2007.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) - Organizers of a pro-Palestinian flotilla that will try to break Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip accused Israel on Thursday of sabotaging a second ship.

There was no immediate word on how this would affect activists' plans to set off from the Greek port of Piraeus, the flotilla's base of operations. Activist Huwaida Arraf told Israel's Army Radio that the engine of an Irish ship was damaged while in port.

"When the engine was started, it completely bent," Arraf said. "While out at sea, if this would have happened, if it would have bent in this way, the boat would have started taking on water and it could have led to fatalities."

Earlier this week, activists said Israel damaged the propeller of a Swedish ship in Pireaus.

Israel has not commented on the allegations.

Between 300 and 400 activists had been due to set sail this week for Gaza to try to breach the naval blockade Israel imposed after anti-Israel Hamas militants overran the Palestinian territory in 2007. It is not clear when they will set sail on their journey, which is expected to take several days.

Last year, an Israeli raid on a similar flotilla killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

"The Blockade on Gaza Began Long Before Hamas Came to Power" -- Mya Guarnieri

Athens, Greece – The second Freedom Flotilla is slated to set sail by the end of the month in an attempt to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The act will call attention to the closure that the United Nations and human rights organizations have decried as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the collective punishment of civilians.

According to the Israeli government — and most of the mainstream media — the blockade began in 2007, following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. The aim of this “economic warfare” was to weaken Hamas, a group that the Israeli government had once supported. Israel also sought to stop rocket fire and to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held in Gaza since 2006.

Four years on, none of these goals have been achieved.

Israel has achieved a minor victory on one front, however. Even critics use 2007 as the start-date of the blockade, unintentionally legitimizing Israel’s cause-and-effect explanation that pegs the closure to political events.

But the blockade did not begin in 2007, following the Hamas takeover of the Strip. Nor did it start in 2006, with Israel’s economic sanctions against Gaza. The hermetic closure of Gaza is the culmination of a process that began twenty years ago.

Punitive closures begin

Sari Bashi is the founder and director of Gisha, an Israeli NGO that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement. She says that the gradual closure of Gaza began in 1991, when Israel canceled the general exit permit that allowed most Palestinians to move freely through Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Non-Jewish residents of Gaza and the West Bank were required to obtain individual permits.

This was during the First Intifada. While the mere mention of the word invokes the image of suicide bombers in the Western imagination, it’s important to bear in mind that the First Intifada was, by and large, a non-violent uprising comprised of civil disobedience, strikes, and boycotts of Israeli goods.

A wave of violence came, however, in 1993. It was then, Bashi explains, that Israel began closing some crossings temporarily, turning away even those who held exit permits. Because a tremendous majority of Palestinians are not and were not suicide bombers, the restrictions on movement constituted collective punishment for the actions of a few — foreshadowing the nature of the blockade to come.

Over the years, there were other suggestions that a hermetic, punitive closure was on the horizon. The beginning of the Second Intifada, in September of 2000, saw Palestinian students “banned from traveling from Gaza to the West Bank,” Bashi says. In general, travel between the Occupied Palestinian Territories came under increasing restrictions, as well.

Exports took a hit in 2003, with the sporadic closures of the Karni crossing. While the 2005 disengagement supposedly signaled the end of the occupation of Gaza, in reality, it brought ever tightening restrictions on the movement of both people and goods. And, in 2006, the few Gazans who were still working in Israel were banned from entering, cutting them off from their jobs at a time when the Strip’s economy was under even more pressure.

Gaza today: the economy has been driven into the ground. The unemployment rate is almost 50 percent and four out of every five Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on humanitarian aid. Hospitals are running out of supplies. The chronically ill cannot always get exit permits, which can lead to access-related deaths. Students are sometimes prevented from reaching their universities. Families have been shattered. Some psychologists say that the intense pressure created by the blockade – which was compounded during Operation Cast Lead – accounts for spikes in domestic violence, divorce and drug abuse.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leonard Peltier: No Justice for Native Americans

"It's A Human Thing" -- Nice Interview with Megan Horan, Seattlite on Flotilla

ATHENS, Greece (Ma'an) -- At 33, Megan Horan is one of the younger passengers on the US Boat to Gaza. She admits that she is also a newcomer to the issues surrounding Israel and the Palestinians.

After attending an interfaith conference last summer, soon after the Israeli raid on the flotilla that left nine activists on the Mavi Marmara dead, Horan's interest was peaked by a Palestinian speaker who mentioned the attempt to break the blockade. Ann Wright who spoke of her experience on last year’s US boat, the Challenger 1.

“When I returned to Seattle, I started to really dig,” says Horan, who works in hi-tech.

Because it was important to Horan to get a “balanced” look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she explored many sources on different sides of the issue. Haaretz reporter Amira Hass’ "Drinking the Sea at Gaza" was particularly influential, Horan says, as was the work of an American rabbi, Michael Lerner.

She recalls being “shocked” by what she learned. “I was very pro-Israel, I never questioned Israel. Quite honestly, I didn’t think of Palestine -- which sounds horrible, but it’s true,” she says.

Asked why, Horan responds, “Because I’m American and they’re our ‘friends.’” She explains that she wasn’t raised to be pro-Israel, per se. It was something she absorbed from the American culture.

In the US, "we are taught in school about how the Jews were persecuted but we don’t learn about the Palestinians.”

She also feels that the mainstream media is problematic.

Pointing to her own experiences, Horan says that the majority of Americans are “very blind” and “don’t understand” what’s happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Once she began reading about the issues, Horan began to give a critical eye to American foreign policy. “Where are our tax dollars going?” she asks, referring to the $3 billion that the US gives to Israel in the form of annual military aid.

Horan, who maintains that she is still a part of the "mainstream," says that she has gotten some friends interested in the issue.

But, as would be expected whenever one begins to challenge a society’s long-cherished beliefs, she has found herself at the center of debates about Israel.

Since deciding to join the second Freedom Flotilla, Horan says, “I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Don’t you think Israel has a right to exist?’”

Her answer: “Absolutely! But within their own borders -- they don’t have a right to control the air space, the sea, and the land" of the occupied territories.

Despite her commitment to breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, “I would not be considered a bleeding-heart liberal,” says Horan, the youngest of 10 children, with a laugh.

She also shies away from the label of Democrat or Republican: “It depends on who is running. At times, I lean more Republican,” she says. “I think that’s dangerous to identify yourself with one party.”

Horan explains that her parents, who are Catholic, strongly encouraged her brothers and sisters to be free thinkers. She brings this approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too.

“We have to stop identifying ourselves as a nationality,” she says, adding that for her, the flotilla is “not a nation thing.”

“It’s a human thing.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Message from Mairead Corrigan Maguire to Flotilla

"Flotilla Organizers Shake Off Threats" -- Mya Guarnieri

ATHENS, Greece (Ma'an) -- At a spirited news conference Monday, organizers and participants of the second Freedom Flotilla announced that recent events have not weakened their resolve to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The group also called into question American foreign policy.

While organizers remain reluctant to give an exact exit date -- saying only that the flotilla will set sail for Gaza in the next few days -- a departure seems imminent.

Members of European Parliament and a number of European politicians were present. The nine organizers and participants who spoke at the news conference sat before a white, red, black, and green banner that read, “We are breaking the blockade” in Greek.

Thomas Sommer-Houdeville, a French writer and the author of “La Flotille,” pointed out that the flotilla has already set sail as the French ship left its port in France on Saturday. He praised the French government for allowing the ship to leave and criticized both the Americans and Israelis for allegedly meddling in Greek affairs.

“The US or Israel should not be able to tell the Greek government which boat can leave from its own port,” he said.

Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel and former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War, remarked that the 22 national delegations of the flotilla sought “to challenge the policies of Israel and the United States of America.”

“We are challenging President Obama’s policies and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who has called our actions provocative. We say there is nothing provocative about carrying our cargo, which is letters, letters to the people of Gaza that say that we love them.”

Wright asked the Greek government to “let us sail.”

US Boat to Gaza passengers cheered and chanted “Let us sail! Let us sail!”

Some held signs that read, “Free Gaza” and “Let freedom ring,” a a reference to a famous speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. during the African-American civil rights movement.

“We call on the government of Israel to end the blockade,” Wright continued, closing with the words, “We say to the people of Gaza: we are coming!”

Several hundred people will partake in the flotilla, which consists of 10 passenger boats and two cargo ships. Wright is one of the 36 Americans who will be on the US Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope. A majority of the passengers are women. Many are middle-aged or elderly. Approximately 30 percent of the activists are Jewish.

In addition to Wright, there will be several other high-profile passengers on the US Boat to Gaza: Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Color Purple”; Medea Benjamin, founder of the anti-war movement “Code Pink”; Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst and a critic of US foreign policy; and Hedy Epstein, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor.

Dror Feiler is an Israeli who lives in Sweden. The chairperson of European Jews for a Just Peace, Feiler will be on the Swedish ship to Gaza. He commented that if Israel will try to stop us and if [the Israelis] will physically stop us, they know that we will come again and again and again until the siege is lifted completely and permanently … This is the purpose of our missions to open the traffic of people and goods to make the relation between Gaza and the world normal again.”

Feiler said that the Holocaust created two kinds of Jews -- those that felt the need to protect only the Jewish people from another catastrophe and those who say, “We will not let it happen to anybody again.”

As the crowd cheered, Feiler added that there are many Israelis that fall into the second group.

His remarks reflected the sentiment that organizers have stressed -- that the flotilla is not against Israel or her citizens. The flotilla is only intended to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Referring to Israeli diplomatic maneuverings against the flotilla, Feiler criticized Israel for “trying to outsource” the blockade to the United States and Greece.

Huwaida Arraf, founder of the Free Gaza Movement, said, “Because I’m a lawyer, let me start with the legal. There is no question that Israel’s closure of Gaza is illegal.”

“A blockade is an act of war,” she continued. “Israel is occupying Gaza. You don’t declare war on a territory you occupy. Second, Israel’s policy is one of collective punishment, punishing an entire civilian population for something they did not do …”

Arraf added that the blockade’s disproportionate impact on the people of Gaza is enough to make it unlawful.

“So there’s no question that Israel’s policy is illegal,” she said. “The question is why does the international community allow Israel to continue violating international law and the rights of the Palestinian people with impunity? That is the only question.”

Her voice rose and shook with emotion as she remarked, “Now I will speak as a Palestinian. Israel’s policy to undermine the flotilla by saying that aid is getting into Gaza will not work. The flotilla is not about aid and Palestinians do not want humanitarian aid. We yearn for, we demand liberation.”

“So to [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton, [UN] secretary Ban Ki Moon, and others that call on flotilla organizers to use established channels to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, we say, ‘Shame on you.’”

Famed writer Alice Walker remarked, “I am going to Gaza because my government has failed, it has failed us, it has failed to understand or care about the Gazan people. But, worse than that, our government is ignorant of our own history in the Unites States.”

“When black people were slaves for 300 years,” Walker, an African-American, continued, “it took a lot of people from outside of our communities to come to help free us. Also, during the period of the Civil Rights Movement, which was in the 1960s, again, it took people from outside our own communities to come and help us free ourselves.

She added, “This is a fine condition of going to people who need us wherever they exist on the planet. This is our responsibility. This is what we are here for as human beings.”

Walker called the blockade of Gaza and the decades of Israeli occupation, “insufferable.”

“We will not accept it,” Walker said. “We will not, as Americans with our history of enslavement of people, of segregation, of apartheid … of lynching. We will not accept this, we will not. So Gazans, especially the children, we are on our way. We are coming.”


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Alice Walker: Why I'm sailing to Gaza -- CNN International

Editor's note: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker will join an international flotilla of boats sailing to Gaza to challenge Israel's blockade of the territory. Here, Walker, best known for her 1983 novel "The Color Purple," explains why she will be taking part.

Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: What else would I do? I am in my sixty-seventh year, having lived already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content.

It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?

There is a scene in the movie "Gandhi" that is very moving to me: it is when the unarmed Indian protesters line up to confront the armed forces of the British Empire. The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the Indians, their broken and dead lifted tenderly out of the fray, keep coming.

Alongside this image of brave followers of Gandhi there is for me an awareness of paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the South in our time of need. I am especially indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for help - our government then as now glacially slow in providing protection to non-violent protestors-and came to stand with us.

They got as far as the truncheons and bullets of a few "good ol' boys'" of Neshoba County, Mississippi and were beaten and shot to death along with James Cheney, a young black man of formidable courage who died with them. So, even though our boat will be called The Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Cheney, Schwerner flag in my own heart.

And what of the children of Palestine, who were ignored in our President's latest speech on Israel and Palestine, and whose impoverished, terrorized, segregated existence was mocked by the standing ovations recently given in the U.S. Congress to the prime minister of Israel?

I see children, all children, as humanity's most precious resource, because it will be to them that the care of the planet will always be left. One child must never be set above another, even in casual conversation, not to mention in speeches that circle the globe

As adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab child, the Muslim child, the Palestinian child, the African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child, the American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli child, the Native American child, etc., is equal to all others on the planet. We must do everything in our power to cease the behavior that makes children everywhere feel afraid.

I once asked my best friend and husband during the era of segregation, who was as staunch a defender of black people's human rights as anyone I'd ever met: how did you find your way to us, to black people, who so needed you? What force shaped your response to the great injustice facing people of color of that time?

I thought he might say the speeches, the marches, the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. or of others in the Movement who exhibited impactful courage and grace. But no. Thinking back, he recounted an episode from his childhood that had led him, inevitably, to our struggle.

He was a little boy on his way home from Yeshiva, the Jewish school he attended after regular school let out. His mother, a bookkeeper, was still at work; he was alone. He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them, they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his head.

It is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put - without delay, and with tenderness - back on the head of the Palestinian child. It will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have been so severe. But I believe we are right to try.

That is why I sail.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Love Boats Are Coming to Gaza to Get Some Love!

The lovable and loving people from Washington going on the AUDACITY OF HOPE:

DAVID K. SCHERMERHORN was born in New York City (1929), graduated from University of North Carolina, and served in US Army infantry during Korean War. He worked for 35 years as a film producer primarily of TV commercials based in New York and California. He retired in 1996.

David shipped out on oil tankers during college vacations. He spent much time on boats and cruises into Canada on his own boat.

He made over a dozen trips to the arctic from Siberia to Greenland by dogsled, skis, kayak. Canoe. In 2006 he traveled by ski and dogsled to the North Pole, arriving with 4 broken ribs and pneumonia.

He served on numerous professional and civic boards and committees.

He has worked with the Free Gaza Movement. Free Palestine Movement, ACLU, Amnesty International, and other groups. He is active with Palestinian activities in the Seattle area.

He was on the first three voyages of the FGM that reached Gaza in 2008. In 2009 FGM’s boat, the Free Gaza, was not allowed to leave Cyprus. In 2010 he was captured aboard Challenger 1 traveling with the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. David will be part of the crew of The Audacity of Hope during FF2.

David has been married for 50 years to Joan. Two children. 3 grandchildren.

KIT KITTREDGE resides in Quilcene, WA. Here is her statement:

I am a 53 year old mother, grandmother, peace activist working with CodePink, Seattle MidEast Awareness Campaign, VFP, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolence. I have helped lead six delegations to Gaza in the last two years. We made it five times! I work as a massage therapist and volunteer as an EMT/Firefighter and have an organic garden where I play with my grandkids. I am passionate about Peace and work in the schools and communities to help educate and promote social justice. I look forward to continuing this process aboard The Audacity of Hope and believe all our efforts contribute to justice for Palestine and the world!

Megan Horan

MEGAN HORAN resides in Seattle, WA. Here is her statement:

We are all called many things by many people, and I am certainly no exception. I am called “daughter” by my parents and “sister” by my nine brothers and sisters. I am called “aunt” by my fourteen nieces and nephews and “friend” by the people I have been fortunate enough to get to know all around the globe. All of these are who I am to others, and I am equally proud of each and every one, but the one I personally feel is most accurate is “global citizen.” I am fully dedicated to not only bringing aid to Gaza with the help of everyone else involved in this undertaking, I am also committed to bringing what I learn from the experience back to everyone I know who is less than aware of the persecution and oppression being carried out on a daily basis against the Palestinians. I have always been a person with an unwavering focus on what I believe in and there is nothing I believe in more passionately right now than freedom and justice for the Palestinians, and I vow to do my part to make those things and more happen. I am Megan Horan, and I stand in firm solidarity with the Palestinian people.

RICHARD LOPEZ, 46, a music graduate of The Evergreen State College, lives in Olympia, WA with his hero wife and 5-fun kids. He is a jazz musician and currently performs jazz Latin music with Momenti Rubati and reggae with the Planetary People. He conducts the Bob Nixon Tribute Big Band and enjoys playing his alto flute on the sidewalk in front of Radiance Herbs & Massage. Richard also performs on trombone and is a King Artist endorsed by the Conn-Selmer musical instruments manufacturer.

Richard has served on the board for both the Interfaith Works and the Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economics Rights (POWER) organizations. After completing his MA in Spiritual Formation at Northwest Nazarene University, he worked as a chaplain for the Olympia Fire Department and now continues his crisis work with the WA-1 DMAT team based in Seattle. Richard was recognized by the Red Cross for his work with the Waveland, Mississippi disaster zone survivors after Hurricane Katrina in Sept. 2005.

He continues to be active in local forums and peace vigils where challenging environmental, social and economic issues are met with understanding, truth and love. Richard is new to the heartbreak in Palestine and wants to be a witness to the dreadful circumstances these beautiful people experience so that the world may know their truth.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"A Space Opera"

Watching this makes me feel so hopeful -- even if we keep screwing up our earth, I hope that somewhere out there, someone is doing things right.

Found on Angry Arabs Comment blog

"My Love Letter to Palestine" -- Olympia Flotilla Member Richard Lopez in an Amazing Musical Tribute

"Passports for all in Gaza?" -- Mohammed Omer


Shawan Jabareen, director of the al-Haq human rights center in Ramallah, said: "Continuing to prevent the issuance of passports to Gaza residents means a disclaimer of the Interior Ministry and the General Intelligence in Ramallah from their promises to solve this problem."

On June 8, President Mahmoud Abbas awarded former Norwegian Prime Minister Kare Willoch an honorary Palestinian passport, during a visit to the presidential headquarters in Ramallah. The passport was given to Willoch "for his longstanding commitment to the Palestinian cause", said the office of President Abbas.

This attracted the attention of Gazan media. Majeda al Zebda, columnist for the Felesteen Daily, questioned the award. "Gaza citizens are in dire need of a Palestinian passport, more than a Norwegian," wrote al Zebda. "The Norwegian who got this passport will put it in a gift cupboard for many years, while a Palestinian would use it for medicine or education."

Zabda hopes that President Abbas "will award some of these passports to his own nationals who are on the edge of dying." The columnist then referred to a 30-year-old neighbour denied medical treatment for a brain tumour, despite having all other necessary documentation. He cannot cross the border due to not having a passport.

Passports for all

At the demonstration, one of the protesters held a banner that read: "A passport means a cure, pilgrimage, education, Umrah."

Other protesters chanted for the right to their national passports with a banner reading: "Enough of factionalism, we are all Palestinians," and "President Abu Mazen, passports for all".

Osama Abu Askar, a 37-year-old from Jabalia refugee camp is wheel-chair bound and has been denied a Palestinian passport. In 2004, he was injured during an Israeli bombing, but managed to travel abroad for medical treatment. Upon his return in 2008, he applied for a renewal of his Palestinian passport through a travel agency in Gaza. He was denied, due to "security reasons", he says.

Abu Askar used to work as a tailor before he was injured, and he was promised $90,000 US in funding, in order to have prosthetic limbs fitted in Germany: "But without a valid passport to travel there, my funding was revoked. Who is responsible for this?"

He still has follow up treatments for injuries sustained to his abdomen and kidney. Abu Askar says he has no political affiliations and has no idea why he is denied the dream of being able to walk again, even on artificial legs.

For many protesters, the PA agreement to release 141 names from the banned list, and grant them passports is undeserving of "public opinion". As one protester says: "Those people, who it was agreed to be granted passports, had connections through their networks."

The protesters vowed to continue their protest until all Palestinians get their Palestinian passports issued, though many of them do not know how many more years this will take.