In the latest Israeli diplomatic attempt to stop the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Israel leaned on the Obama administration to put heavy pressure on the Government of Turkey to refuse to allow Turkish ships to join the international citizen activist initiative to end Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza. Israeli diplomats have been intimidating -- threatening and cajoling countries in Europe, Canada and the United States in the past six weeks to dissuade their citizens from participating in the flotilla and to forbid ships to depart from their countries.
U.S. says challenging Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is "irresponsible and provocative"
On June 2, 2011 State Department spokesperson Mark Toner stated in the State Department's daily press briefing that the United States told the Government of Turkey that a flotilla of ships sailing to Gaza to challenge the Israeli blockade would be an "act of provocation." Toner said "We have made clear through the past year that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety."
Toner also said that "there are established and efficient mechanisms for getting humanitarian assistance through to Gaza, and that's been our message consistently."
As one of the organizers of the US Boat to Gaza called "Audacity of Hope," one of the many ships from 22 organizing nations that will be filled with citizens from 70+ countries, I would have to say that Mr. Toner and the State Department don't seem to have a clue about the goal of this flotilla.
The primary purpose of the flotilla is to bring massive international attention to the illegal and inhuman Israeli blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza so that citizens will force their governments (primarily Israel's chief defender the United States) to convince Israel that ending the blockade would be in its best security interest.
If Israel will end the blockade of Gaza and allow Palestinians to have freedom to travel, to have freedom to commerce to import and export and to live in dignity with human rights instead of absolute oppression through total control by Israel of virtually every aspect of life in Gaza, then the flotilla would not have to sail.
What are the "irresponsible and provocative actions?"
To use Mr. Toner's phrase, the "irresponsible and provocative actions" are NOT the flotilla, but the Israeli government's illegal blockade of Gaza, Israel's 22-day attack on Gaza that two years ago killed 1,400 and wounded 5,000 and left much of Gaza in rubble and Israel's relentless construction of illegal settlements that have reduced by one half the land allocated to Palestine in the 1947 creation of the state of Israel through the partition of the Palestine Mandate that left 800,000 Palestinians dispossessed and homeless.
The "irresponsible and provocative actions" are the Israeli apartheid walls that separate Palestinians from their agricultural lands, schools and businesses and the inhumane and degrading Israeli checkpoints that Palestinians must pass through on their own Palestinian land.
If the US government is really concerned about Israeli security, I would hope that finally it would forcefully and relentlessly demand that the Israeli government end their inhumane treatment of the Palestinians.
Who is "Acting Out of Hate?"
On June 1, 2011, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said that flotilla organizers "are acting out of hate, with the intent to create provocation and agitate spirits, not out of any desire to assist Gaza's population."
After having been in the flotilla's international coalition meetings for over seven months, I can say categorically that none of the organizers of any of the ships in the flotilla are acting out of hate for the State of Israel. I have never heard any words of hate for anyone or for any group in our meetings. Instead, I have heard profound dismay that our governments have not acted to convince Israel that its best security practice would be to not treat Palestinians with contempt and disdain. The non-violent strategy of international activists in confronting Israel and governments that allow themselves to be impotent in addressing Israeli brutality toward Palestinians mirrors the incredible non-violent struggle of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as they face daily humiliations and gratuitous disrespect from Israeli soldiers and politicians.
Likewise, none of the organizers of the US Boat to Gaza are "acting out of hate," as General Gantz claims. Instead, many of the organizers are Jews who are willing to criticize the policies of the State of Israel that they believe are antithetical to the teachings of Judaism, if they are religious Jews or are illegal, if they are secular Jews. The US Boat to Gaza will have some American Jews as passengers, including 85-year-old Hedy Epstein whose family was killed by Germans, not Palestinians, during World War II.