Athens, June 24, 2011 - U.S. peace activists preparing to set sail on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, expressed profound disappointment over a statement issued by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, June 22, 2011. Instead of calling on the Israeli government to let a flotilla of unarmed civilians sail to Gaza, the United States government is pressuring its own citizens to refrain from legal acts.
On Wednesday, the State Department sent out a "travel advisory" urging Americans not to participate in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. According to the statement, U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea, noting that previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea "have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens."
"Apparently, the State Department subscribes to the view that Israel's anticipated violence against unarmed protesters is an immutable act of nature," said Hagit Borer, a professor of Linguistics at the University of Southern California and a passenger on the U.S. boat. "This is a remarkable attitude, coming from a government that provides the Israeli government with billions of dollars in military aid and routinely uses its veto to protect the Israeli government from censure of its occupation policies by the UN Security Council."
Passengers on the boat noted that the U.S. State Department has a legal obligation to act to protect U.S. citizens when they are traveling abroad. "So far, U.S. government officials have failed to use their influence to discourage Israeli authorities from ordering a physical assault on us," said Just Foreign Policy policy director Robert Naiman, another passenger on the U.S. boat. "Of course, State Department officials have an obligation to speak out against threats to attack us. It is deeply disappointing that they have so far failed to do so."
Below is a copy of a letter the passengers of The Audacity of Hope sent of June 14, 2011 to President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other high-ranking government officials. There has yet to be a response to the letter.
14 June 2011
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. Obama:
We are writing to inform you that 50 unarmed Americans will soon be sailing in a U.S. flagged ship called The Audacity of Hope as part of an international flotilla to Gaza.
Our peaceful demonstration will challenge Israel's blockade of Gaza, which has effectively imprisoned 1.6 million civilians, almost half of whom are under the age of 16. The blockade has impoverished the people of Gaza, deprived them of needed materials and supplies to rebuild their lives after the Israeli attack of late 2008 - early 2009, impeded those who are ill or infirm from seeking outside medical aid, and prevented students from seeking education outside of Gaza. 45% of the working age population is unemployed.
In addition to 36 passengers, 4 crew, and 10 members of the press, our boat will carry thousands of letters of support and friendship from people throughout the U.S. to the women, children and men of Gaza. There will be no weapons of any sort on board. We will carry no goods of any kind for delivery in Gaza. Our mission is from American civil society to the civil society of Gaza. We do not serve the agenda of any political leadership, government or group. We are engaged solely in non-violent action in support of the Palestinian people and their human rights.
In our country's great tradition of citizen activists taking nonviolent action to stand up to injustice, we sail in the hope that our voyage will show the people in Gaza that they are not alone, and that it will call attention to the morally and legally indefensible collective punishment of a population of civilians.
Mr. President, you have noted the unsustainability of the Gaza blockade. And your administration has spoken boldly in support of peaceful demonstrations throughout this "Arab Spring."
As U.S. citizens we expect our country and its leaders to help ensure the Flotilla's safe passage to Gaza - as our country should support our humanitarian demand that the Gaza blockade be lifted. This should begin by notifying the Israeli government in clear and certain terms that it may not physically interfere with the upcoming Flotilla of which the U.S. boat -- The Audacity of Hope -- is part. We-authors, builders, firefighters, lawyers, social workers, retirees, Holocaust survivors, former government employees and more-expect no less from our President and your administration.