Passengers Determined to Free Captain and Set Sail Again
U.S. to Gaza, July 2, 2011
In Athens 30-694-266-3852
In New York Leslie Cagan, 347-581-1782
After a two hour stand off at sea, the U.S. Boat to Gaza The Audacity of Hope was seized by the Greek Coast Guard and forced to return to the port of Piraeus under military escort. The boat’s captain has been put in jail, charged with disturbing sea trafficwhich includes endangering the lives of those on the ships and disobeying a police order to remain at dock. The crew is being detained on the boat, which is being held at a military dock just outside Athens. Most of the 36 passengers remain on the ship in solidarity with the captain and crew.
Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel, responded strongly to the arrest of the American captain of the U.S. Boat to Gaza. “I think it’s outrageous what the Greek government is doing to our captain who was taking a group of Americans to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade. We call on the Greek government to release our Captain and dismiss all charges.”
Yonatan Shapira, a crew member on The Audacity of Hope and former Israeli Air Force captain, said the captain of the U.S. Boat should be praised, not condemned for his actions. “The captain acted out of concern for the safety of the passengers and boat by taking us away from the Greek port where other flotilla boats are being sabotaged,” Shapira said.
After five days of stalling, the Greek authorities produced the results of the inspection of the boat, which took place on Monday, June 27. The Greek government inspected the boat on the basis of an anonymous complaint alleging that the boat is not seaworthy. The anonymous complaint later turned out to have been filed by the Israel Law Center. The list of infractions cited on the inspection report included such things as technical details regarding the construction material of the hull and the fact that the private inspection report emailed to the authorities was unsigned. “None of these alleged infractions are actually regulations that boats are required to meet,” said group’s Greek lawyer Emmanuel Stephanakis. “It’s obvious that these are politically motivated, baseless charges calculated to stop the U.S. Boat to Gaza from sailing.”
“This shameful chapter in Greek history is symbolized by Prime Minister Netanyahu thanking his Greek counterpart Prime MInister Papandreou for his cooperation in helping thwart the flotilla, and by the fully-armed and masked Greek commandos at sea, pointing their guns at unarmed American civilians singing We are a gentle, loving people, says passenger Medea Benjamin.
The other boats in the flotilla that are docked in Greece have been denied permission to sail due to a variety of bureaucratic obstacles the Greek authorities have thrown in their way. Greeces Civil Protection Authority confirmed Saturday the ban on departures of ships with Greek and foreign flags from Greek ports to the maritime area of Gaza was in place until further notice. Two of the boats have had physical damage done to them as well. All vow to pressure the Greek government to grant them permission to sail, and have activated their international networks. In the United States, the phones at the Greek Embassy and Consulates were so busy that callers could not get through.
While deeply disappointed that they have not yet been able to sail to Gaza, the passengers feel they have been successful at exposing the ongoing plight of the people of Gaza and the inhumanity of the Israeli government. “The success of the flotilla is shown by the huge expenditure of financial and personnel resources by the Israeli government to counter 10 civilian, unarmed ships with 300 citizen activists who simply want to sail to Gaza out of concern for the people of Gaza,” saya jazz musician and passenger Richard Lopez.
I want to begin by thanking the members of AIPAC the Jewish Zionist community who are here tonight. I am glad that they decided to set aside time to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. I know that you will listen to the tapes and view the recordings of my remarks tonight and you will study them well and hopefully you will realize that you are supporting evil. You see, I too came from a deeply Zionist background, far more Zionist and Jewish than most of you here tonight. My grandfather was a signer on the Israeli declaration of independence, and my father, a general, one of the giants who planned and executed Israels most definitive military victories, namely 1948 and 1967. So I know what you were taught and I know what you think. But its time to sweep away the Zionist myths and uncover the truth so that we may all finally live in peace. The myths I will address tonight are the three most common myths:
1. The myth of 1948.
2. The myth of the existential threat of 1967.
3. The myth of the Jewish democracy.
I want to read to you a passage from my upcoming book The General’s Son, and I quote: (Growing up we were taught to believe that the Arabs had left Eretz Israel partly on their own and partially at the directive of their so called leaders, and that therefore taking their land and homes was morally OK. It never occurred to us that even if they did leave willingly, we had no right to prohibit their return. But then Israeli historians had found that what Palestinians have been saying for decades was true.) end quote. In other words when Palestinians claim something is true we doubt it but when Israelis claim it themselves, well now that is a different story. So Israeli historians found that Israel and Palestine the exact same place. But when Israel was created it was created on the ruins of Palestine.
Now, although Palestine was not a state yet, it would have become one had it not been so thoroughly destroyed. Palestine had bustling cities where commerce and trade were taking place, they had a middle class, they had judges and scholars and a rich political life and indeed they had culture and a unique identity that set them apart from the rest of the Arab world. What the Palestinians did not have, the one thing in which they did not invest was a military. And while they constituted the vast majority of the population, when the Jewish militias attacked, they were helpless.
The Jewish community in Palestine at the time was small, numbering less than half a million people but it had developed its own state like institutions separate from those of the Palestinians. Based on the principle of Hafrada, or segregation, they had developed their own schools, a nationalized health care system, a quasi government and a strong, well trained militia with young men like my father who were dedicated to creating a Jewish state in Palestine disregarding the existence of the vast majority of the population who were, Palestinians.
In 1948 the Jewish militia became the Israeli army but between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1949 they destroyed close to 500 towns and villages and exiled close to 800,000 Palestinians who to this day are not permitted to return. So, it turns out that the creation of Israel had not, after all, been a haphazard fight in which the Arabs fled their homes due to the directives of their own leaders. It had been a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish militia involving massacres, terrorism, and the wholesale looting of an entire nation.
My mother remembers the homes of the Palestinians who were forced to leave West Jerusalem. She herself was offered one of those beautiful spacious homes but refused. She could not bear the thought of living in the home of a family that was forced out and now lives in a refugee camp. She said the coffee was still warm on the tables as the soldiers came in and began the looting. She remembers the truckloads of loot, taken by the Israeli soldiers from these homes.
Once the state was established, Israel had worked tirelessly to efface the remnants of prior Palestinian existence by demolishing towns and villages and historic sites including an estimated two thousand mosques. I recall the Israeli TV series Tkuma or “Rebirth,” (an outstanding series that describes the rebirth of the Jewish people and the establishment of the Jewish state. In one interview a veteran brigade commander of 1948 was asked if it was true that the Jewish forces burned down Arab villages. He looked up slowly into the camera and said: “Like bonfires,” he replied, they burnt like bonfires.)
After the war was over, the Palestinians who remained within the newly created Jewish state were forced to become citizens of a state that forced itself upon them and they were designated as “The Arabs of Israel” a designation that denies them a national identity and rights. They are Arabs in a Jewish state and they are citizens of a state that is despised by all its neighbors.
Another widely accepted Zionist myth is that in 1967 Israel had to defend itself against an existential threat as invading Arab armies were about to wipe it off the face of the earth. And it just so happened that miraculously the Israelis won and conquered lands to the north, east and south defeating three massive armies. Well, setting aside the countless books that have been written in Hebrew, English and Arabic and documentaries that were filmed and disprove this myth, and clearly show that Israel attacked in order to conquer, as part of the research for my book, I sat for days at the Israeli army archives reading through the minutes of the meetings of the Israel army general staff. Here is another quote from my book: (In a stormy meeting of the IDF top brass and the Israeli cabinet that took place on the 2nd of June, 1967, my father General Matti Peled told the cabinet in no uncertain terms that the Egyptians needed at least a year and a half in order to be ready for a full scale war. His point was that the time to strike a devastating blow against the Egyptian army was now, not because of an existential threat but because the Egyptian army is NOT prepared for war. The other generals agreed. But the cabinet was hesitant. The cabinet members and Prime Minister and a tug-of-war of unimaginable proportions ensued. During that same stormy meeting my father said to the Prime Minister: “Nasser (Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser) is advancing an ill prepared army because he is counting on the cabinet being hesitant. He is convinced that we will not strike. Your hesitation is working in his advantage.”) No mention of an existential threat but of an opportunity to assert Israeli strength. Years later this was confirmed by other Generals, including the butcher Ariel Sharon.
In the end the cabinet succumbed to the enormous pressure placed on them by the generals and approved a pre-emptive attack against Egypt, that began on June 5, 1967. Again I quote:(The surprise attack led to the total destruction of Egypt’s air force, the decimation of the Egyptian army, and the re-conquest of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula in a matter of days. The Israeli army also knew the Syrian army was in shambles, and the Jordanians were no match to the IDF strength. After the campaign against Egypt went so smoothly, the generals, turned their attention to the West Bank and the Golan Heights, two regions Israel had coveted for many years. Both had strategic water resources and hills overlooking Israeli territory, and the West Bank contained the heartland of Biblical Israel, and the crown jewel, the Old city of Jerusalem. In six days it was all over. Arab casualties were estimated at 15,000, (15,000 dead in 6 days!) Israeli casualties 700, and the territory controlled by Israel had nearly tripled in size. Israel had in its possession not only land and resources it had wanted for a long time, but also the largest stockpiles of Russian-made arms outside of Russia. Israel had once again asserted itself as a major regional power.)
Now here is where something of immense proportion takes place: remember this was 46 years ago (At a meeting of the General Staff after the Six Day War, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was beaming with the glory of victory. But when the meeting was nearing its end, my father raised his hand. He was called on, and he spoke of the unique chance the victory offered—to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. For the first time in Israel’s history, we were face to face with the Palestinians, without other Arabs between us. Now we had a chance to offer them a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. He claimed with certainty that holding on to the West Bank and the people who lived in it was contrary to Israel’s long-term strategy. Popular resistance to the occupation was sure to arise, and Israel’s army would be used to quell that resistance, with disastrous and demoralizing results. It would turn the Jewish state into an increasingly brutal occupying power and eventually into a bi-national state. This was nothing short of prophetic as today we live this exact reality. As he was saying this, the future leaders of the Intifada (the Palestinian uprising) were still lying in their cradles.)
His words were ignored, his claims brushed aside and instead, blinded by their newly gained access to places with mythical/biblical names like Hebron and Bethlehem, Shilo and Shcem Israeli leaders began a massive settlement project to settle Jews in the newly conquered land. A few years later my father called on Israel to negotiate with the PLO: The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). He claimed that Israel needed to talk with whoever represented the Palestinian people, the people with whom we shared this land. He believed only peace with the Palestinians could ensure our continued existence as a state that was both Jewish and democratic.) Now, all these years later people talk of creating a Palestinian state in the WB but that option no longer exists.
The myth of Israel being a democracy is still being perpetuated even in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While Jewish Israelis over there and AIPAC over here like to think they are the only rightful citizens of their land and will argue that they live in a democracy, this is far from being true. Israel has been in control of the West Bank for over four decades and had built and invested heavily in the West Bank. But Palestinians who make up the vast majority of the population in the West Bank are excluded from any of it. In other words, 100% of the construction in the West Bank was done to bring Jews into the WB and exclude the close to 3 million Palestinians whose land this belongs to in the first place. 3 million Palestinians are left out, disenfranchised even as they see their lands taken, their homes destroyed and roads, malls, schools and gated communities being built for Jews only with no access to them or their families. Some democracy.
And that is not the worst of it. Water, the scarcest resource of all is controlled and distributed by the Israeli water authority, including the large amounts of water that exists within the WB. According to Betselem, the Israeli human rights organization the ground water from the Mountain Aquifer is a shared water source for Israeli and Palestinians. It is the largest and highest quality water source in the area, producing 600 million cubic meters (mcm) of water annually. Israel holds almost complete control of the aquifer and exploits 80 percent of the production for its needs, leaving the remainder for the Palestinians use. “The discriminatory and unfair division of shared water resources creates a chronic water shortage in the West Bank, and is liable to harm Palestinians health.” The World Health Organization recommends a minimal per capita daily consumption of 100 liters. The daily per capita consumption in Israel is 242 liters, the consumption in the West Bank is 73 liters per person. “In certain districts, consumption was as low as 37 liters (Tubas District), 44 (Jenin District), and 56 (Hebron District).” So Palestinians have to buy their own water back from Israel, as Israel does not recognize Palestinian rights to the water that exists under Palestinian land. As absurd as it sounds Palestinian farmers are prohibited from digging wells on their own land. When seen as a per year distribution it is even more alarming. Israel distributes the water as follows: Per capita, Israeli Jews receive 300 cubic meters of water per year. Per capita Palestinians receive 85 cubic meters per year. (World Health Organization recommends 100 per year) Per capita, Jewish settlers in the WB are allocated 1500 cubic meters of water per year. In other words while Palestinians have barely enough to drink, Jewish settlers not 500 yards away have swimming pools and green lawns. So does anyone seriously think that this can go on forever? Democracy indeed. Now in light of the peoples uprising in the Middle East we can expect to see dictatorial regimes falling like dominos. Can we expect that 5 million Palestinians will continue to live under a regime, that is democratic for Jews but is a brutally oppressive one to Palestinians? There are close to 6 million Israel Jews and 5.5 million Palestinians sharing the same country under different laws.
My father who was a military giant but had also spent years fighting for justice for the Palestinian cause, was often asked about the question of Palestinian terrorism. I mention his reply in my book because it is classic: “Terrorism,” I recall him saying in an interview on Israeli television, “is a terrible thing. But the fact remains that when a small nation is ruled by a larger power, terror is the only means at their disposal. This has always been true, and I fear this will always be the case.”
My father’s predictions have all come true. The work of the Israel lobby in this country not withstanding, people around the world are beginning to realize that there are in fact two nations who live between the Jordan River and the Med sea and that the brutal regime under which Palestinians live is unacceptable.
Dear Members and Friends of MRSCP,
Here is a special request regarding the upcoming Freedom Flotilla 2, the second effort to break the siege of Gaza by sea which will be heading to Gaza in the next few days. This time, there is a U.S. Boat, The Audacity of Hope, participating in the Flotilla.
Please read through this alert and consider taking the action requested. And be sure to watch the news; latest reports are that the flotilla will depart from Greece this coming Tuesday.
Links to more news and background information, including Alice Walkers recent CNN piece Why Im Sailing to Gaza, are below.
As always, thanks for your support.
Passengers on the U.S. boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hopeincluding Just Foreign Policys Policy Director Robert Naimanhave arrived in Greece and will soon set sail to Gaza.
Six members of CongressReps. Kucinich, Farr, Clay, Filner, Holmes Norton and Leehave sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to “work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board the U.S. Boat to Gaza.
Their concern is warranted. Even though an Israeli naval officer has admitted that he does not believe the flotilla is carrying any weapons, Israeli officials have threatened to use force against the unarmed passengers. In their most recent travel warning, the State Department noted 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. But U.S. officials have failed to call for the protection of U.S. passengers aboard such ships.
The passengers of the Audacity of Hope need your support to help ensure their safety. Here are two ways you can help:
Over 2,500 individuals have signed our petition to Secretary Clinton to urge the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. peace activists aboard the Audacity of Hope. Will you help deliver the petition to Secretary Clinton via Twitter, Facebook, or the State Departments comment page?
Step 1: Copy Sample Text for Comment
Heres some sample text for your comment. Edit and revise at will!
Madame Secretary, Will you urge Israel to ensure safe passage for the U.S. citizens aboard the U.S. Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope? Over 2,500 U.S. citizens request that you speak out for the safety of Gaza-bound U.S. peace activists: http://bit.ly/losg7i
Progressive Radio News Hour, Jun 12th, 2011
Jennifer Loewenstein teaches at the University of Wisconsin and is Associate Director of its Middle East Studies Program. She’s also a board member of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and a freelance journalist.
Libya, Occupied Palestine and other Middle East issues will be discussed.
Joe Klein, Time, May 26, 2011
Of all the petty annoyances, misdemeanors and felonies of public life, there is none that Barack Obama detests more than to have his words twisted or oversimplified. It is a big part of his frustration with the media; it is a bigger part of his disdain for the talk-show wing of the Republican Party. And so it wasnt hard to imagine smoke jetting from the Presidents ears as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, willfully misinterpreted Obamas statement about the need to renegotiate Israels borders — in Obamas presence, in the Oval Office on May 20. The President had said that a two-state solution, which Netanyahu alleges to support, should be based on the pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that would enable Israel to incorporate the vast majority of its — dare I say — illegal settlements into its territory while giving over equal amounts of Israeli turf to the Palestinians. (Did Obamas Speech Give Syrias Assad a Breather?)
This is not a groundbreaking proposition. In the arcane world of Middle East peace negotiations, it is the equivalent of saying many Jews and Arabs eat hummus. Indeed, this exact formulation was used by Israels Ministry of Foreign Affairs after Hillary Clinton met with Netanyahu on Nov. 11. The swapping of borderlands was at the heart of Bill Clintons nearly successful attempt to negotiate a peace deal in 2000. It was at the heart of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmerts nearly successful effort to negotiate peace with the Palestinians in 2008. There are maps circulating that show how such a border might look. The most plausible, one of three versions proposed by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is shown on this page.
But Netanyahu did an astonishing thing: he chose to ignore the part about the land swaps. He also chose to ignore some significant, and rather hard-line, statements of principle that Obama made in his May 19 speech on Middle East policy, reiterating that Israel shouldnt have to negotiate with terrorist groups like Hamas that deny its right to exist; that Israels security requires a long-term military presence in the Jordan River Valley, eventually leading to a full withdrawal (but setting no timetable for that withdrawal); that any Palestinian state must be demilitarized; and that he would actively oppose any unilateral U.N. effort to declare Palestinian statehood. Instead, in a most condescending manner, Netanyahu chose to lecture the President on a position that he knew Obama hadnt taken — a return to the indefensible pre-1967 borders.
Why on earth would Bibi Netanyahu choose to be so boorish and provocative? Because he can be. He has the U.S. Congress in his pocket, a fact made obvious by the applause tsunami that attended his speech to a joint session (and by the fact that an astonishing 68 Senators and 286 Representatives attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee banquet the night before he spoke). He also has a stronger argument this time around. The apparent reconciliation of the Palestinian factions allows Netanyahu to focus on Israels greatest fear: when push comes to shove, the Palestinians have never really acknowledged Israels right to exist. The one exception to that rule — Yasser Arafats signing of the Oslo accords — seems hollow, given the subsequent Palestinian rejection of both the Clinton and Olmert offers. But Netanyahus offensive also had an important tactical effect: Israels continued, illegal construction of settlements on Palestinian lands — an impediment to peace every bit as great as the Palestinian refusal to truly acknowledge Israels existence — took a distinct backseat during the week of dueling speeches. Netanyahu was playing offense so he didnt have to play defense.
Netanyahu knows American politics. The ease and eloquence of his address to Congress were stunning evidence of that. And so he must have been aware of the political impact of his cheesy gambit: he has now, overtly, tossed his support to the Republicans in 2012. Mitt Romney was able to say that Obama had thrown Israel under the bus. Given his congressional support, Netanyahu may be able to get away with playing so bold a hand — but it is inappropriate behavior for an American ally, and you can bet that Obama wont forget it.
Copyright © 2011 Time Inc.