A small flotilla carrying human rights and peace activists to Israel-blockaded Gaza was itself blockaded in Greece after intense diplomatic pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv. But the Israeli news media continues to heap ridicule on the passengers. Two of them, retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright and Israeli-born Hagit Borer, respond.
By Ann Wright and Hagit Borer
Being, so to speak, of the “flotilla folk” ourselves, we read with some interest Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid’s idle speculations in the Jerusalem Post on who our shipmates might have been, for idle speculations they certainly are, the writers having never contacted any of us.
In fact, at least when it comes to the American-flagged boat, The Audacity of Hope, we are not nearly as much of a mystery as one might imagine. Our biographies are all publicly posted at www.ustogaza.org,.
A perusal of our stories would reveal, among other things, that 58 percent of us are women and that our median age is 60.
Similar demographic patterns existed on other boats as well. Many are retired people; most with modest means. We are people willing to spend our savings to fly to Athens and stay there for weeks, doubled or tripled up in hotel rooms, waiting to sail to Gaza.
We are people who felt, who still feel, that we must make the time and find the means because struggling for justice is the moral thing to do. Because we have all come to believe, in the words of Howard Zinn, that “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” – all notions, one feels, that Rothstein and Seid view with a mixture of scorn and incredulity.
As Americans, many of us also feel our primary duty is to speak truth to precisely that power that purports to speak on our behalf – a notion that is, likewise, rather alien to most Israeli-Jewish society, although by no means to Jews elsewhere.
A third of us, passengers and organizers of The Audacity of Hope, are Jews, representing a long and valiant tradition of Jewish progressive activism in the U.S., Europe, South America, South Africa and elsewhere.
What Rothstein and Seid have neglected to note (carried away as they were by their enthusiastic description of our Israel-Hating Syndrome) is that many passengers on The Audacity of Hope have a long and distinguished record of anti-war activism.
They have been outspoken opponents of the American war in Vietnam; they have spoken against American involvement in Central America, and in the past decade, against wars the U.S. has waged on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many have traveled numerous times to war-ravaged Baghdad and Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, one of our passengers, traveled to Iraq 26 times!
No, we are definitely not like other folks, if by “other folks” Rothstein and Seid refer to themselves. Unlike Rothstein and Seid, we insist on remembering not only the 23 people killed by rockets from Gaza, but also the over 1,000 Palestinian civilians killed by Israel in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. And the scores killed in Jenin, and those shot routinely in demonstrations in the West Bank.
Unlike folks such as Rothstein and Seid, we refuse to forget that 1.6 million people in Gaza have been living in an open-air prison for five years now, or that 2.6 million in the West Bank have been under military occupation for 44 years – the longest military occupation in modern history, and a situation with absolutely no current parallels!
That we have turned our attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general and to the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians in particular derives directly from the understanding that these could not have survived without U.S. government support.
It is the U.S. government that has directly abetted Israel in its continuing dispossession of the Palestinians, and that has supported and protected Israel through its decades of refusal to enter meaningful negotiations.
Insofar as we are Americans, and insofar as our action is fundamentally political, it is intended to raise the awareness of our own people and to pressure our own government to change its course.
And yes, horrendous things are happening elsewhere in the world. Some on the flotilla have been very concerned about that. The IHH – that organization which The Jerusalem Post links to jihadist groups – has, in fact, interceded to support the Syrian refugees in Turkey, and delivered medicine and medical equipment to hospitals in al-Bayda and Benghazi in Libya.
How inconvenient for your case! But not to worry. One would be hard-pressed to find any trace of these facts in the mainstream Western or Israeli press.
Reading your derisive comments – all intended to belittle the flotilla and its passengers – it strikes us that the main question is not the one you pose, namely, who we are. Rather, a very different question comes to mind. Here we are, by your description – a bunch of pathetic losers, misguided vacationers, professional activists and idealists who ran out of causes.
A grand total of 1,500 – an overestimation to begin with – and in actuality a lot less once the Mavi Marmara withdrew.
And yet, the State of Israel sees fit to keep us in the headlines for months with threats of attack dogs, snipers and anticipated deaths. Israel pulls out all stops in putting pressure on Mediterranean countries in general, and on Greece in particular, to make sure we don’t leave port.
The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, on June 22, called on the international community “to do everything in their ability in order to prevent the flotilla and warn citizens of their countries of the risks of participating in this type of provocation.”
But if we are deluded losers, what does that make the State of Israel and its hysterical response? If 16 passengers on a small yacht off the coast of Gaza are bored vacationers with a mental disorder, what does that make the four fully armed gunboats confronting them?
The fact of the matter is that Israel, without any aid from us, provided our otherwise symbolic and rather small-scale effort with the overwhelming amplification that made it headline news in the rest of the world, and most crucially, it would appear from your article, an ongoing Israeli obsession.
While we wanted the plight of the Palestinians to be noticed by the world, we did not set out to have the flotilla become a major world event. That it has become one, however, became patently clear to us once Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw fit to travel to Greece to deliver her heartfelt thanks to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for services rendered – the stopping of our flotilla.
Frankly, we are grateful.
Ann Wright is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel and former U.S. diplomat. Hagit Borer is a professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California.