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Obama should support the Audacity of Hope, condemn Israeli naval blockade


By Ann Wright, The Hill

This week, some 40 American citizens, including myself, will peacefully attempt to break Israel's illegal naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The flotilla that we will be a part of is expected to consist of 10 boats carrying human rights advocates from around the world and humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

The U.S. boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, which I will be aboard, will be carrying letters of solidarity to Gazans, who live under siege in a virtual prison, cut off from the rest of the world and any semblance of a normal life. Our goal is to bring attention to their plight, and to bring about an end to Israel's illegal siege, which amounts to collective punishment of 1.7 million people.

Although we will be sailing unarmed and have no intention of entering Israel or Israeli waters, the U.S. State Department issued an unusually specific and blunt travel advisory last week, warning Americans against traveling to Gaza. Without giving any details, State Department officials also suggested that Americans taking part in the flotilla might be violating U.S. law.

The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused flotilla organizers of trying to "provoke actions," claiming erroneously that we were going to enter Israeli waters, and added that "the Israelis have the right to defend themselves." As an American citizen, retired army officer, and former U.S. diplomat, I am appalled by the position taken by my government, particularly in light of what happened last year when Israeli commandos killed nine humanitarian participants committed to Palestinian freedom, including American Furkan Doğan, as they took part in the previous flotilla that attempted to break the siege in May 2010.

To make matters worse, the Israeli government is trying to suppress media coverage of the flotilla by threatening to ban journalists who sail with it from working in Israel for 10 years.

Sadly, it would seem that the Obama administration has chosen to side with the Israeli government as it threatens to ban journalists and to stop and detain peaceful American citizens who will be fully within the law while sailing in international waters in protest of a naval blockade not recognized as legal by many international experts and lawyers.

In his speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds from Cairo in 2009, President Obama called on Palestinians to embrace nonviolent means to protest the injustices done to them. Yet, when dozens of unarmed Palestinians were shot and killed or injured by Israeli forces while peacefully marking the recent Nakba and Naksa day anniversaries, a White House spokesman refused to condemn the use of deadly force, claiming Israel had a right "to defend itself."

Now, as U.S. citizens attempt to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza using nonviolent means, President Obama seems once again to be backing away from his public urgings. Instead, he and Secretary Clinton are giving a green light to Israel to act as it sees fit, regardless of the legal or moral consequences.

Unlike the U.S. government, the Irish government has publicly and privately warned Israeli officials against using force against Irish citizens who will be taking part in the flotilla. What does it say about the Obama administration that, while other governments are taking action to ensure the safety of their citizens, it continues to defend Israel's "right" to stop and detain unarmed American citizens traveling in international waters?

In her remarks last week, Secretary Clinton claimed that our flotilla is not "a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza," and that "construction materials" are being allowed into Gaza by Israel. What Secretary Clinton didn't acknowledge is that, while the Obama administration has stood idly by and done nothing to end Israel's cruel and illegal siege, the slight loosening of the blockade in recent months is due to the perseverance and pressure brought to bear on Israel by Palestinian and international human rights advocates like those taking part in this and previous flotillas.

In other words, it is precisely because the Obama administration has refused to take action to end the siege, and to alleviate the suffering of Gazans, that we Americans are setting sail this week. In light of this fact, the least that President Obama and Secretary Clinton can do is speak out to ensure our safety.

Ann Wright is a Hawaii resident, a retired U.S. Army colonel and diplomat, and participated in the May 2010 flotilla. She will be aboard the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope.

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Also listen to Ann on NPR.

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And from Gaza:

For Flotilla II from Gaza Strip from Mohammed Al Majdalawi on Vimeo.

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And this:

Flotilla passenger on why she's sailing to Palestine
By Mya Guarnieri, Ma'an News Agency

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.”

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