This past Wednesday, June 2, members of Veterans For Peace and the Tidewater Peace Alliance held a sidewalk vigil from 6:00 pm to 7:00 on Colley Avenue in the Ghent section of Norfolk, Virginia to protest the brutal Monday pre-dawn attack on the humanitarian aid for Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters by the Israeli Navy, an attack that left at least 9 activists dead and scores wounded.
Despite a heavy thunderstorm hitting a half hour before the vigil was to begin, when I arrived there was already a good-sized crowd sporting umbrellas and rain gear and carrying protest signs. At one point I counted around 33 protesters, a number that likely grew later, a decent turnout during an ongoing, off and on rainstorm. Participants were a mixed group comprised of Christians, Moslems, a Sikh, several Hindus, ethnic-American Jews,Turks, Palestinians, Anglo-Saxons and who knows what else, hardly a homogeneous group. During the hour-plus-long vigil, several participants also spoke to the crowd and to passers-by through a megaphone system.
Some of the individuals present included well-known activist Tom Palumbo, a co-founder of Off-Base, Norfolk's GI Coffee House, and who won local notoriety during the Bush presidency for interrupting George Bush during a speech to remind him that war itself is terrorism; also present was Steve Baggerly, co-manager of Norfolk Catholic Worker and a dedicated peace activist who has been arrested repeatedly over the years for protesting, both locally and elsewhere, against the invasion of Iraq, nuclear weapons, torture and militarism in general.
Tom Palumbo on the right
Steve Baggerly with the sign, the oft-arrested Catholic of conscience.
They were of course protesting the untenable and bloody assault upon some 700 international activists on the six ships of the Freedom Flotilla who were endeavoring to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to 1.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli siege in Gaza. In conversations it became quite clear that they were also well-aware of the Israeli version of events that transpired when the flotilla was intercepted by Israeli naval vessels and helicopters. It is an understatement to say that they rejected that version soundly as purely state propaganda carefully packaged to slander the members of the flotilla as anti-Semites and terrorists while attempting to exonerate the Israelis from murder on the high seas. There have been outcries around the world that what the Israelis have committed is an act of piracy by attacking and commandeering the flotilla in international waters, forcing it to Israel and confiscating or destroying all manner of personal property.
Regarding the latter charge, it has also been widely reported that the Israelis carefully hunted down and destroyed all media or personal electronic equipment that might contradict their official story, the type of thing a totalitarian regime would do to repress the freedom of the press. Such an act against our own media would be roundly condemned if it occurred during a demonstration in this country.
It was also pointed out by speakers during the vigil that eyewitnesses continue to assert that the Israelis began firing into the Mavi Marmara, the worst hit ship, before their commandos boarded, thus creating a tense and frightening situation onboard that helped fuel further violence and anxiety.
Participants during the vigil also expressed concern for what was happening at that point in time to the 700-odd prisoners being incarcerated in Israel, and some openly worried about any activists in the flotilla whom they knew, such as former Colonel Ann Wright, the well-known critic of both the Bush and Obama Administrations, who has made several trips to Norfolk to speak. Before disbanding for the evening, members present also expressed solidarity with the one ship still sailing toward Gaza with humanitarian aid, the Rachel Corrie, named after the young American woman martyred in March of 2003 after she was run over by an IDF bulldozer while acting as a human shield in front of a house in Gaza with children inside. There is an ongoing civil lawsuit in Israel right now filed by the Corrie family against the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Defense Ministry over Rachel's Death.
Following are more photos of the vigil: