Stuffing my backpack before setting out to board "The Audacity of Hope," the U.S. boat to Gaza, I got a familiar-sounding call from yet another puzzled friend, who said as gently as the words allow, "You know you can get killed, don't you?"
I recognize this caution as an expression of genuine concern from friends. From some others -- who don't much care about Gaza's plight and/or who do not wish us well -- the words are phrased somewhat differently: "Aren't you just asking for it?"
That was the obligatory question/accusation at the end of a recent interview with me that was taped for a BBC-TV special scheduled to air this coming week as we try to break -- or at least draw attention to -- Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza and the suffering it inflicts on the people there.
I also have been cautioned by a source with access to very senior staffers at the National Security Council that not only does the White House plan to do absolutely nothing to protect our boat from Israeli attack or illegal boarding, but that White House officials "would be happy if something happened to us." They are, I am reliably told, "perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV."
I mention this informal warning for the benefit of anyone who may have harbored hope that the U.S. government would do something to protect us American citizens from the kind of violence used by the Israelis against last year's flotilla. It seems best to be up front and realistic about what to expect.
Two millennia ago, "Civus Romanus Sum" automatically won lawful treatment and free passage for Roman citizens in trouble. It was a matter of pride and a benefit of being part of a powerful empire. Today, the contrast could hardly be starker. It is sad fact that "Civus Americanus Sum" would engender ridicule, rather than respect, if invoked in an attempt to secure basic rights for those of us working for justice for the Palestinians.
Americans also face the reality that they are put in harm's way by the view held by millions around the world -- and especially in the Middle East -- that the United States is partly responsible for the injustices and the humiliations that Palestinians face daily.
So I want to turn around the question/warning to me about safety and direct it to fellow citizens who will not be aboard "The Audacity of Hope":
"You know you can get killed, don't you?" -- if the U.S. government continues to enable Israel in keeping a million and a half Gazans in a densely populated open-air prison with few prospects for a normal life. It is a no-brainer. The longer that goes on, the more likely it becomes that many more Americans will become targets of terrorists seeking to inflict some pain on the great power that stands behind Israel whatever it does.
Oppression of Gazans: Catalyst for Violence
We already know of two suicide bombs famously targeted against Americans that can be traced to outrage at U.S. support for Israeli oppression in Gaza.
The 290 people aboard Northwest flight 253 were spared on Christmas Day 2009 when the "underwear bomber" was prevented from setting off an explosive over Detroit. A week later, seven CIA officials were not as lucky. They were killed by a suicide bomber in eastern Afghanistan. More about these two incidents later.
In recent interviews about Gaza and about my reasons for going on "The Audacity of Hope," I have avoided focusing on pragmatic/utilitarian considerations like exposing injustice, inducing change, and thereby making Americans more secure. Rather, I have called attention to what is more bedrock for me -- the oft-repeated biblical admonition to show special concern for the widow, the orphan, the refugee.
All too often, I have watched eyes glaze over and overheard muted comments regarding what planet I might be coming from. For most folks, such concern or compassion, if any, seems to stop at the water's edge. After all, the widow, the orphan, the refugee might be a "terrorist."
Bedrock American virtues like honesty and honor seem in very short supply these days, having been pretty much sacrificed on the altar of fear and overweening concern for "security." Americans have been so desensitized by years of multi-colored "terror" warnings and politician demagoguery that nothing is now more important than the safety of the American people. Most citizens utter not a murmur as they watch their tax dollars enable the worst kinds of brutality abroad.