Flotilla Passengers Today’s Freedom Riders

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Truthout Staff / Editorial

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An activist gestures on board the boat “Juliano”, part of a Gaza-bound flotilla, as it departs from Perama port near Athens for a town on the southern Greek coast July 6, 2011. Activists, whose flotilla to challenge an Israeli blockade on Gaza has been confined to Greek ports, vowed on Tuesday to complete their mission but accused Athens of being deaf to appeals to let their ships go. The Juliano will make another attempt to leave Greece on Wednesday, according to activists.

REUTERS/John Kolesidis

It has been widely reported that 25 percent of the activists on the US boat that was to sail in the Gaza flotilla are Jewish. Six of those 35 activists are Truthout friends, many of long date: Chairman of the Truthout Board Robert Naiman and contributing authors Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly, Ray McGovern, Gabriel Schivone and boat leader Ann Wright. Knowing that these friends are putting their lives on the line for what they believe in fills us with pride and anxiety. Our hearts are locked up with their boldly christened boat, The Audacity of Hope.

Some progressives – as well as the Obama State Department see their principled action as a provocation, and Israeli hasbara (propaganda) has pulled out all the stops to portray the flotilla members as friends of terrorists or useful idiots. We know our friends well enough to have complete confidence in their ethos of nonviolence and their acute and worldly intelligence, which would never allow itself to be exploited for ends they did not endorse. Their action is provocative, just as were those of the freedom riders in the 1960’s, designed to show the world that the law is not being enforced – in the present case, international law, which gives Israel neither the right to police Gazan waters nor to prevent that territory – at present arguably the world’s largest prison – from exporting its produce and importing essential supplies.

As of this writing, French ships from the flotilla were in international waters heading for Gaza, The Audacity of Hope is locked up in a boat jail, paralleling the situation of the people of Gaza, and other boats are stuck in Greek port or sabotaged. Some of our friends were detained Sunday for conducting a hunger strike in front of the American embassy in Athens, and again yesterday for sitting on a bench opposite the American ambassador’s residence. The captain of the boat – after having been detained in squalor and charged with endangering the safety of the passengers – has been released on his own recognizance. Everyone is reportedly exhausted, but safe, with some planning to return to the United States in the next two days and others later.

While Israel and the United States may have successfully sabotaged and thwarted the flotilla from reaching its intended destination without a public relations disaster as catastrophic as last year’s armed boarding of the Mavi Marmara and the murder of passengers, including 19-year-old American citizen Furkan Dogan, Israel can “win” this confrontation only by lifting its illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza. For, as Matthew Fox wrote in “Original Blessing,”

Political movements for justice are part of the fuller development of the cosmos, and nature is the matrix in which humans come to their self-awareness and their awareness of their power to transform. Liberation movements are a fuller development of the cosmos’ sense of harmony, balance, justice and celebration. This is why true spiritual liberation demands rituals of cosmic celebration and healing, which will in turn culminate in personal transformation and liberation.

With extraordinary grace and courage, our friends have participated in such a ritual, and whatever the fate of The Audacity of Hope and the other boats of this year’s Gaza flotilla, they – and those who hear their stories – will return transformed and liberated, will have bent that long arc of the universe just a little bit tighter towards justice for the people of Gaza – and us all.

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Getting on Board with Peace in Israel

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

An Israeli American explains why she will be among many boat passengers trying to break through Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

By Hagit Borer

Later this month an American ship, the Audacity of Hope, will leave Greece on a journey to the Gaza Strip to attempt to break Israel’s blockade. It will join an expected nine other ships flying numerous flags and carrying hundreds of passengers from around the world. I will be one of those passengers.

I am an Israeli Jewish American. I was born in Israel, and I grew up in a very different Jerusalem from the one today. The Jerusalem of my childhood was a smallish city of white-stone neighborhoods nestled in the elbows of hills. Near the center, next to the central post office, the road swerved sharply to the left because straight ahead stood a big wall, and on the other side of it was “them.”

And then, on June 9, 1967, the wall came down. Elsewhere, Israeli troops were still fighting what came to be known as the Six-Day War, but on June 9, as a small crowd stood and watched, demolition crews brought down the barrier wall, and after it, all other buildings that had stood between my Jerusalem and the walls of the Old City, their Jerusalem. A few weeks later a wide road would lead from my Jerusalem to theirs, bearing the victors’ name: Paratroopers Way.

A soldier helped me sneak into the Old City. Snipers were still at large and the city was closed to Israeli civilians. By the Western Wall, a myth to me until then, the Israeli army was already evicting Palestinian residents in the dead of night and demolishing all houses within 1,000 feet. Eventually, the area would turn into the huge open paved space it is today, a place where only last month, on Jerusalem Day, masses of Israeli youths chanted “Muhammad is dead” and “May your villages burn.”

It is a different Jerusalem now. It is not their Jerusalem, for it has been taken from them. Every day the Palestinians of Jerusalem are further strangled by more incursions, by more “housing developments” to cut them off from other Palestinians. In Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood built by Jordan in the 1950s to house refugees, Palestinian families recently have been evicted from their homes at gunpoint based on court-sanctioned documents purporting to show Jewish land ownership in the area dating back some 100 years. But no Palestinian proof of ownership within West Jerusalem has ever prevailed in Israeli courts. Talbieh, Katamon, Baca, until 1948 affluent Palestinian neighborhoods, are today almost exclusively Jewish, with no legal recourse for the Palestinians who recently raised families and lived their lives there.

In his speech on Jerusalem Day, Yitzhak Pindrus, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, assured a cheering crowd of the ongoing commitment to expanding the Jewish neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, as Sheik Jarrah has been renamed.

This is not my Jerusalem. The tens of thousands of jeering youths that swarmed through its streets on Jerusalem Day have taken the city from me as well. That they speak my native tongue is almost impossible for me to believe, for there is nothing about them or about the society that gave birth to them that I recognize.

Did we know in 1967, in 1948, that it would come to this? Some did. Some knew even then that a society built on conquest and dispossession would have to dehumanize the conquered in order to continue to dispossess and oppress them. A 1948 letter to the New York Times signed by Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, among others, foretells much of the future. Martin Buber did not spare David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, his perspective on the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948-49.

But too many others, including members of the U.S. Congress who recently cheered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are determined to not hold the Israeli government responsible or the Israeli-Jewish society culpable.

Let us note that some Israeli Jews do stand up and protest. There are soldiers who refuse to serve, journalists who highlight injustice, and human rights organizations, activist groups, information centers. In a sense, all of us seeking justice have been on a virtual boat to Gaza all these decades. We have been trying to break through the Israeli blockade, in its many incarnations. We wish to say to the Palestinians that, yes, there are people in Israel who know that any viable future for the Middle East must be based on a just peace — not the forced imposition spelled out by Netanyahu to Congress — or else we are all doomed. We want it known that the soldier is not the only face of Israeli Jews. There are those who say to the government of Israel, “You do not represent us.” We say to the people of the United States in general and to American Jews in particular that yes, you do have an alternative. You can support peace. A true peace.

Hagit Borer moved from Israel to the United States to study in 1977. She became an American citizen in 1992 and is currently a professor of linguistics at USC.

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