“If we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that theycan stop a nonviolent campaign by inflicting massive violence.” –1961, Diane Nash, Freedom Ride organizer
Alice Walker, one of America’s premier writers, poets and civil rights activists said this month, “The Gaza Flotilla is the Freedom Ride of this era.” Remembering growing up in Mississippi, Walker said, “We prayed for people to come to break through the Klan, the racist police, the white citizens’ councils, to come and see what we suffered with every day.” Walker added, “We must oppose oppression with every ounce of our blood. We must go and see what is happening and join our stories to their stories. We do this especially for the youth. It may take the rest of our lives, but we will start now.”
1961 Freedom Rides
Fifty years ago on May 4, 1961, 14 young Americans started off by bus from Washington, DC headed for New Orleans. They, and those who followed in the next months, were called Freedom Riders and they intended to challenge segregation and racist policies in the southern United States, particularly in bus, train and airport terminals, after integration of these facilities had been ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court, but not implemented in the south.
On May 14, 1961, ten days after the first Freedom Ride began, a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen in Anniston, Alabama, attacked a bus carrying the Freedom Riders and the bus caught on fire. The riders were viciously beaten as they jumped out of the burning bus and many were hospitalized.
White Southerners Attempted to Stop Freedom Rides with Violence but Failed
Southern whites were counting on stopping further challenges to their policies of segregation with brutal treatment of the Freedom Riders. However, despite the first Freedom Ride ending with the hospitalization of many Freedom Riders, student leader Diane Nash said, “It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.” (PBS by WGBH (1996-2009). Freedom Riders. Biography)
So, the Freedom Riders did not stop! They kept on coming to the South in waves during the summer of 1961. Finally, four months later, after over 400 black and white Americans, trained in specific non-violent techniques, had been savagely beaten, assaulted, arrested and jailed by those upholding segregation, and with the jails in Mississippi overflowing with Freedom Riders, the Kennedy administration forced the integration of the interstate terminal facilities.
Violence against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla will not stop Citizen Activists
Now 50 years later, citizens from many nations are challenging the unjust and inhumane policies of another government. For a second time, they will ride in a flotilla of ships to challenge the State of Israel’s unlawful and unjust naval blockade of Gaza. This will be the second year that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla will bring worldwide attention to the Israeli siege on the 1.6 million people that live in the tiny Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, which has suffered for the past five years under the brutal Israeli land and sea blockade and a horrific 22 day Israeli military attack that killed 1440 and wounded 5,000. The flotillas follow the initiative of the Free Gaza movement that in the summer of 2008 sailed ships to bring attention of the world to the blockade of Gaza.
Israeli Violence Against Unarmed Civilian Ships in the Flotilla in 2010
Last year, in the early morning of May 31, 2010, the six ships in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla One were attacked by the Israeli military. Israeli commandos killed nine unarmed civilians and wounded 50 more on the 600 passenger Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. Passengers on the other five ships were beaten, hit with paint bullets in the face and some tasered. All were arrested and taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod where most spent several days in an Israeli prison before being deported from Israel for “entering Israel illegally.”
Freedom Rides and Freedom Flotillas called “Provocative” by government authorities
On American television this month, fifty years later, the story of the incredible courage and bravery of the Freedom Riders is being retold.
I have been struck that the reasons for going on these dangerous rides in the southern part of the United States in 1961 are very similar to the reasons that passengers on the U.S. ship to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, have for their participation in the Gaza flotilla.
Flotilla passengers, like the Freedom Riders of a half-century ago, want to bring international attention to illegal government actions and unjust treatment of human beings. Fifty years ago it was for the African-Americans in the American South and today it is for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The Freedom Flotilla riders want to end an unjust system that deprives Palestinians of their human rights, respect and freedom of travel. The Freedom Flotilla riders, like the American Freedom Riders, are exercising their right to travel, even to areas where governments do not want them.
The parallels in citizens attempting to changeactions of governmentsby non-violent action are fascinating. Fifty years ago, government officials in the American south called the actions of those on the buses challenging segregation of facilities in the south “provocative.” Today, the act of challenging the policies of Israel by taking ships to Gaza to break the naval blockade is also called provocative, not only by Israel, but by other governments that support Israel, including the United States.
On April 21, 2001 Israel’s UN Ambassador Meron Reuben told a UN Security Council session that organizers aim at “political provocation and not to advance any humanitarian goal.” Reuben said Israel is determined to enforce the naval blockade of Gaza and ‘stop additional terrorists from infiltrating the area.’ He also urged the UN and international community to take all necessary measures to prevent the flotilla from occurring. The Israeli diplomatic offensive to stop the flotilla has been intense, with all countries on the Mediterranean Sea asked to refuse to let ships of the flotilla leave their waters.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said, “There are distinct mechanisms to deliver goods to Gaza and there are no justifications to sail directly to Gaza,” calling on the organizers to follow those mechanisms and urged member states to “use every legal means at their disposal to discourage additional flotillas to Gaza.”
On May 11, 2011, 36 members of the U.S. Congress in a bipartisan letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the Prime Minister to stop the 2011 flotilla from departing Turkey for Gaza. “Another so-called aid flotilla to Gaza is nothing but an attempt to provoke Israel. The Turkish government can help prevent violence by saying ‘no.’ We are urging Prime Minister Erdogan to actively work to put a stop to this and join with Israel in providing real humanitarian assistance to Gaza,” said Representative from New York, Steve Israel. Israel is a strong supporter of the State of Israel.
Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole who is from a predominately fundamentalist Christian state whose congregations contribute substantially in support of construction of illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, said “Turkey’s…democratic leaders have a unique opportunity to prevent the turmoil that could result from allowing another Gaza flotilla to confront the Israeli security blockade. During this volatile time in the region, I urge Prime Minister Erdogan to work with Israel to avoid conflict and ensure legitimate aid is delivered without creating needless instability.”
Same Tactics– Call Them Names and Attack Them with Dogs
American racist southerners called the Freedom riders very disparaging names. The Israeli government calls the passengers on the Freedom Flotilla “terrorists.”
Israel’s UN Ambassador Meron Reuben told a UN Security Council session on April 12, 2011 that individuals on the flotilla ‘hold many ties to Hamas and other terrorist organizations,’ and that ‘numerous participants engaged in the planning of this flotilla have made very troubling statements expressing their willingness to become martyrs in this effort.” but did not provide any documentation of alleged statements. He said Israel is determined to enforce the naval blockade of Gaza and ‘stop additional terrorists from infiltrating the area.’
Use of Attack Dogs to Frighten and Intimidate
Other parallels between governments’ approaches to ending challenges to their policies include the use of attack dogs. Attack dogs were used by police in the American south against the civil rights activists to frighten them to stop the freedom rides, sit-ins and other forms of non-violent civil resistance to the segregationist policies.
The Israeli government uses attack dogs against the Palestinians in the West Bank and is threatening to use attack dogs against passengers on the Gaza flotilla. Last week, the Israeli government used attack dogs against Palestinian laborers. According to the article, the B’Tselem human rights group has recorded seven dog attacks in the last few weeks, all from the same area. The article reported that earlier this week a number of laborers were injured when soldiers ordered dogs to attack dozens of Palestinians returning home at midday through the fence breach, following the border closure Israel had imposed. The IDF spokesman said to the Haaretz newspaper that soldiers who were using dogs on Palestinians were “taking adequate precautions to prevent unnecessary injury.”
In April, 2011, in other incidents, attack dogs were ordered to attack more Palestinians in the West Bank.
In 2009, in an incredible assault, an IDF dog attacked a 99 year old man while he was in bed. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced in October 2010 that they are considering using attack dogs against the passengers on the next flotilla. The IDF spokesperson said, “They (the dogs) are strong and merciless, but in fact this is a non-lethal weapon that can certainly do the work (on the deck).”
Tragically, the Israelis soldiers are using of attack dogs on Palestinians in the same manner that the Nazis attack against the Jews. “Do we not remember why Jews of that generation hated dogs? Because the Nazis used them in precisely the same way the IDF is using them on Palestinians.”
US Boat to Gaza to Sail in the 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla Despite Israeli Threat of Violence
The US Boat to Gaza, named “The Audacity of Hope,” will sail in the international flotilla in the third week of June with fifty passengers from all over the United States, Americans from all walks of life– teachers, nurses, students. More Americans will be on some of the other ships as well. All vessels in the flotilla will have international inspections as did the vessels in the 2010 flotilla. www.ustogaza.org
All passengers on the ships of the flotilla sign and commit to pledges of non-violence in the face of the most violent military in the region-the Israel Defense Forces. As Diane Nash said fifty years ago, “If we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that theycan stop a nonviolent campaign by inflicting massive violence.” Threats of Israeli violence will not stop the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Two.
Also, join us in Challenging AIPAC, the Powerful Israeli Lobby, over the US Congress and the White House in MoveOver AIPAC actions May 21-24.
Ann Wright is a 29-year, US Army/Army Reserves veteran, who retired as a colonel and a former US diplomat. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was in Gaza three times in 2009 after the Israeli attack on Gaza and was on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. She is an organizer with the US Boat to Gaza which will be in the 2011 flotilla. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” www.voicesofconscience.com
Transcript of Alice Walker’s video statement on the importance of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla:
“Our past is pretty bloody and heinous and we would like to evolve out of it. And this is one of the ways that we can
By joining with other people who see the world similarly to us.
I grew up in the South and fifty years ago, there was hard core segregation, very similar to what is happening in Gaza and in the West Bank.
And we prayed for people to come to us. We prayed for people to break through the Klan, the racist police, and the white citizens’ councils.
We prayed for people to come and illustrate to the rest of the world what we suffered every single day.
So I see this venture as a continuation of the civil rights struggle, and I see it as a continuation, especially of the Freedom rides. This is the Freedom Ride of this era.
To get on this boat, to make it to Gaza, to the west Bank,
To understand your political lineage which is to oppose with every drop of your blood this kind of oppression of anybody, anywhere on earth
It isn’t right.
Those of us who have already been through those struggles and actually won a few of them, have an obligation to go and see where the same thing is happening to people. And to join our stories with their stories and to encourage them, especially the youth, to know that these oppressions can be ended. And that it may take the rest of our lives, but we are here to start.”