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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/12/18

Why Is a Retired Accountant From Texas Risking His Life to Sail to Gaza?

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On the heels of the Great March of Return in Gaza, when Israeli soldiers killed 112 Palestinian protesters and wounded thousands more, a four-ship Freedom Flotilla will set sail for Gaza this month from a port in the Mediterranean Sea. Although it is an act of piracy for Israel to confiscate ships in international waters, the Israeli military will most likely do just that. The very first Freedom Flotilla boats traveled to Gaza in 2008, and four managed to get there -- the first international boats to do so in over 40 years. Since then, however, the Israelis have intercepted every boat. But the heroic attempts to reach Gaza, year after year, draw international attention to the siege and the plight of the Palestinians who live there.

Representing the United States on the 2018 international flotilla will be Joe Meadors. Why is this 71-year-old retired accountant risking his life to show solidarity with the people of Gaza? We talked to Joe from his home in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Can you give us some background about yourself?

I have had a lifelong interest in the Middle East. I lived there as a child, when my father had a job with the Saudi oil company Aramco. After graduating from middle school there, I went back to the states. I enrolled in Oklahoma State University, but dropped out and joined the Navy. I was on active duty from 1966-1969 and in the inactive reserve until 1972. From 1980-1989 I worked for Aramco as an accountant and lived in Saudi Arabia. My wife was with me, but after she went back to school in Corpus Christi, Texas, we moved back to the states. I have been living in Corpus Christi, Texas since then, working as an accountant until I retired seven years ago.

How did you get involved around Palestine?

I had heard about the oppression of Palestinians when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia because we had Palestinian friends. They were forced to flee their homes during the Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948, when some 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by the Israelis. But my personal connection happened in 1967, when I was directly attacked by the Israeli military.

Yes, it seems like a defining moment in your life was when the Navy boat you were on, the USS Liberty, was attacked. Can you tell us about that?

I was Navy signalman on the USS Liberty, which was an electronic intelligence-gathering ship. We were cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast during what became known as the Israeli-Arab Six Day War. Suddenly, without provocation, we found ourselves under attack from Israeli planes and torpedo boats. They mowed us down, even machine gunning our life rafts and jamming our radios so we couldn't call for help. When the attack was over, 34 of our sailors were dead and over 170 wounded.

The Israelis insisted it was an accident, that they had mistaken us for an old Egyptian tramp steamer. They apologized and paid $6 million in compensation. But none of us believed their story. Our ship was prominently flying an American flag and an Israeli aircraft had been flying over us the whole morning. They clearly knew who we were. We have been demanding an investigation for decades now, meeting with various administrations and members of congress. But we never succeeded.

The best explanation I have heard is that the Israelis wanted to invade the Golan Heights, which belonged to Syria, and didn't want the US government to know about it until after the fact. Whatever the case, we deserve to know what happened and why. Some say we should give up after all these years. I say there is no statute of limitations on war crimes, and the Israelis should still be held accountable. That's why we continue to speak at conventions, such as the gatherings of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, although we've been banned from the Legion because they don't want anyone to talk bad about Israel. They don't want to deal with the lobbyists from AIPAC, who consider us anti-Semitic simply because we want answers.

So how did you hook up with the Freedom Flotillas?

I had read about this group's efforts to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and that one of the participants in the 2010 flotilla was going to be former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. I sent her an email asking if she could get me an invitation to participate, which she did. I got a call from one of the organizers on a Wednesday; a few days later I was on a plane to meet them in Europe.

What was your experience like in 2010?

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Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. 

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