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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Egypt Opens Rafah Crossing: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Naiman, Truthout

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Hasna el Ryes, a Gaza resident waiting to cross into Egypt, leaves the border terminal after getting an entry stamp in her passport on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in Egypt, May 28, 2011. Hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip arrived by the busload to pass through the reopened border into Egypt, taking the first tangible steps out of an Israeli blockade after years of deadlocked peace talks. (Photo: Holly Pickett / The New York Times)

There was a slogan on the streets of Seattle: “This is what democracy looks like.” You can’t love democracy and denigrate protest, because protest is part of democracy. It’s a package deal.

Likewise, you can’t claim solidarity with Egyptian protesters when they take down a dictator, but act horrified that the resulting government in Egypt, more accountable to Egyptian public opinion, is more engaged in supporting Palestinian rights. It’s a package deal.

On Saturday, at long last, the Egyptian government “permanently opened [3]” the Egypt-Gaza passenger crossing at Rafah. A big part of the credit for this long-awaited development belongs to Tahrir. It was the Tahrir uprising that brought about an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion and it was inevitable that an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion would open Rafah, because public opinion in Egypt bitterly opposed Egyptian participation in the blockade on Gaza.

In addition, opening Rafah was a provision of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord brokered by the Egyptian government – an achievement facilitated by the fact that the post-Tahrir Egyptian government was more flexible in the negotiations with Hamas that led to the accord.

Mubarak had a deal with the US government: I obey all your commands on the Israel-Palestine issue and in exchange, you shut your mouth about human rights and democracy. Tahrir destroyed this bargain, because it forced the US to open its mouth about human rights and democracy in Egypt, regardless of Egypt’s stance on Israel-Palestine. When it became clear to Egypt’s rulers that subservience to the US on Israel-Palestine would no longer purchase carte blanche on human rights and democracy, there was no reason to slavishly toe the US line on Israel-Palestine anymore.

The Mubarak regime also had a domestic motivation for enforcing the blockade: it saw Hamas as a sister organization of Egypt’s then semi-illegal opposition Muslim Brotherhood and it saw enforcing the blockade as a means of denying Hamas “legitimacy,” figuring that more “legitimacy” for Hamas would mean more “legitimacy” for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, thereby threatening Mubarak’s iron grip on Egypt’s politics.

But, of course, post-Tahrir developments in Egypt threw that calculation out the window: the post-Mubarak government in Egypt has reconciled with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a de facto partner in the present interim government and is expected to do well in September’s parliamentary elections. It would be absurd for the Egyptian government to try to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood by trying to isolate its sister Hamas, when the Muslim Brotherhood is a de facto part of the Egyptian government and the role of the Brotherhood in running Egypt is likely to increase.

There are other considerations. Egypt’s government has seen how Turkey’s influence in the region has grown dramatically as a result of its “no problems with neighbors” policy. Now Egypt is saying: “I’ll have what she’s having,” and moving to normalize relationships in the region, just as Turkey has done.

The opening of the Rafah passenger crossing will mean that women, children and the elderly from Gaza will be able to travel freely to Egypt and, through Egypt, almost anywhere else in the Arab world. Adult men will have to get Egyptian visas, a process that currently can take months.

But – although it is virtually certain that some will try to claim otherwise – the opening of Rafah does not mean that the siege of Gaza is over.

Rafah is a passenger crossing, not a cargo crossing, as The Associated Press noted in reporting on the opening of Rafah. Gaza’s cargo crossings are still controlled by the Israeli government.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha reports that, since 2005, “goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.”

In general, the Israeli government does not allow construction materials (cement, steel and gravel) into Gaza. Since January, about 7 percent of what entered monthly prior to June 2007 has been allowed in for specific projects.

The Israeli government prevents regular travel for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, even though according to the two-state solution, which is the official policy of the US, Gaza and the West Bank are supposed to be one entity.

Exports from Gaza are generally prohibited by the Israeli authorities.

Palestinians in Gaza cannot farm their lands in Israel’s self-declared “buffer zone” along the northern and eastern borders with Israel, estimated to contain nearly a third of Gaza’s arable land.

The Israeli government does not allow Palestinian fishermen to fish beyond three nautical miles  from Gaza, although under the Oslo Accord, they are supposed to be able to fish for 20 nautical miles from Gaza.

Thus, more pressure is needed on the Israeli government – and the US government, which enables Israeli policies in Gaza – to lift the blockade.

And that’s why it’s so important that another international flotilla is sailing to Gaza in the third week of June, to protest the blockade. It’s time to open all the crossings, not just Rafah.

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