Wednesday evening, May 25 was the perfect evening for a boat trip....calm waters, a slight breeze, a star-filled sky, the twinkling lights of New York, excellent food, Jamaican music... Jamaican music? That's hardly Middle Eastern, especially when your boat trip is sponsoring THE boat trip...The US Boat to Gaza, The AUDACITY of HOPE.
There were four hundred people opening our hearts, wallets and checkbooks in support of the Audacity of Hope. What a perfect name for a US boat bound for Gaza. This boat will carry no medicine, building materials or any form of aid. It is strictly a voyage of support for Gaza and an end to Israel's illegal siege. On board will be thousands of letters for the people of Gaza from people in the US.
To Gaza With Love is the project's name; they're asking for long letters, short letters, notes telling the people of Gaza they are not forgotten and have our support. Will letters solve the I/P problems? Certainly not, but they provide a very personal connection between someone in Gaza and someone in the US. As I'm writing this I'm thinking back to 2009 and Gaza. The people we met almost always asked us "when you go home tell everyone how things are in Gaza" When we said we would, many replied, "Everyone says they will, but we never hear from them again." Let them hear from the US!
Should you want to send a letter or two, mail to: Letters to Gaza,. 119 West 72nd Street #158, New York, NY 10023
Felice Gelman told of plans being made by Gaza's Qattan Center for the Child to sponsor an exhibit of a selection of letters accompanied by drawings created by children in their programs. Qattan has a large library and I suspect some of those letters will become a part of their collection
Singer-songwriter Holly Near sang songs that took us back to the '60s and the Freedom Riders. There are many similarities between the mission of the Freedom Riders and the Audacity of Hope. Both saw injustice and felt they had to stand up for justice, equality and freedom for all. Holly had us raising our voices in song in support of the Audacity of Hope and people who'll sail to Gaza.
Dr Ahmet Dogan, whose son, Furkan was murdered aboard the Mavi Marmara, was with us to share the story of his son. Actually, it wasn't "a story"; he shared much of himself as he shared Faukan's life and his death with us. I doubt many people would be able to share such intimate and painful memories. He asked to speak in his native language; explaining it is easier to talk about Furkan in Turkish than English.
Furkan was born in New York state while his father was studying in the US. Because of this Furkan had dual citizenship in the US and Turkey. The Dogans returned to Turkey when Furkan was two. He was a happy, peaceful child; rarely causing any one any trouble. In 2010 he was 19, finishing high school and thinking of returning to the US to improve his English and visit the place where he was born. Those plans were put aside when, on the way home from school, he saw a sign announcing opportunities for volunteers to sail aboard a Turkish ship traveling to Gaza with humanitarian aid.
The sign changed his life. Dr Dogan said Furkan had always been concerned about people who were mistreated. He was determined to be a volunteer on the Mavi Marmara. He studied about Gaza, applied to volunteer and wasn't accepted because of his age. He continued asking and applying; giving reasons why he would be a good choice. Dr Dogan and his wife had reservations about his participation; however Furkan was so excited they decided he would have their support. Finally Furkan's application was accepted. He was going to sail to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara. It was an exciting time even though the Dogans continued to have reservations.
When Furkan left for the voyage he discovered he only had his American passport. He called his father, was very worried and asked him to try bringing his Turkish one to him. The Mavi Marmara set off with the International Flotilla and high hopes of docking in the Gaza harbor.
Dr and Mrs Dogan followed news of the flotilla, especially the Mavi Marmara. The Israeli Navy began approaching the flotilla but the Dogans didn't expect any real trouble. Dr Dogan went to bed, his wife stayed up glued to the television. He awoke to her screams and crying. The Mari Marmara was boarded by Israelis, there was fighting and shooting, there was news that people had been killed. Though it was traumatic, Dr Dogan was certain Furkan was not involved. They heard nine Turkish citizens were killed; then later reports changed to eight Turks and someone else and finally the person was described as an American.
Dr Dogan spent hours with Turkish officials and the American Embassy trying to find where Furkan was.He wasn't given any information but he continued to ask.The United States acted as though Furkan had no connection to the US even though they were given proof he was a citizen. Finally Turkey made arrangements to fly all Turkish citizens back to Turkey; it was also bringing the bodies of those killed.
Dr Dogan went to the airport to meet Furkan. He was carrying a clean set of clothes for his son. He was certain Furkan would be on the plane even though he'd heard nothing from officials. He described the night in the airport as the worst in his life. He searched and searched for Furkan and could not find him. He continued searching for hours, all the time checking with officials for news of his son. He was certain Furkan was there somewhere.
Finally an official suggested Dr Dogan come with him to the morgue; maybe he could identify one of the bodies. In disbelief Dr Dougan found Furkan. He had a bullet hole in his forehead....it was clear the bullet had been shot at close range. It was also clear his son had been murdered, intentionally.There were additional injuries and bullet holes. Furkan was not a violent person. Who could have done this? Who murdered his son? No one would give him any answer, not even a hint as to what happened.
In spite of all that has happened, the Dogan's other son has applied to sail on the Turkish ship in the 2nd International Flotilla...perhaps all that has happened has motivated him.Turkish authorities have turned down his application. They believe one from a family is enough. He continues trying to win their approval.
Since Furkan's murder Dr. Dougan has tried to get information about Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara. He has turned to the American Embassy, which has offered absolutely no help. The US provides over three billion dollars in military aid to Israel each year.The US shares responsibility with Israel for the attack and murders on the Mavi Marmara and the attacks and boarding of other ships in the flotilla.The US must have reports about the incidents but will not respond to Mr Dogan's requests even though his son was a US Citizen. Is this how the US treats its citizens? Is it responding this way because Israel is involved; telling them not to? It is disgraceful!
Dr Dogan spoke through an English interpreter. Even though Dr Dogan was speaking in Turkish, his statement was heart-wrenching. His emotions; hopeful, trusting, frustration, fear, shock, sadness, grief were all quite visible. At times his voice was so personal, hesitating between words, choking with emotion...I felt I was intruding or overhearing someone when I shouldn't. He wiped tears from his eyes; his body seemed to wither in pain and sadness. I wanted to shield him from the hurt; make it go away. I was wrong; those emotions help bring about healing. Dr. Dogan is an amazing man. He spoke through his interpreter and through his own movements and voice. He told us about Furkan, the Mavi Marmara and what he experienced. I'll never forget his story, which was not a story.
And in a few weeks the 2nd International Flotilla will sail to the Gaza Harbor. President Obama has called for other countries to oppose the Flotilla and oppose their citizens' participation. Other countries are speaking out against it. Even the UN says the flotilla is a bad idea. Israel says the flotilla will promote violence; it must protect its citizens, their safety is compromised by the terrorists participating in the flotilla.
I have four friends sailing on the Audacity of Hope. They would have been on a a bus with the Freedom Riders. They believe in non-violence, they believe the siege is illegal and wrong, they oppose Israel's treatment of Gaza, they support the people of Gaza and their right to freedom, equality, justice....they are entitled to a life. The Audacity of Hope brings hope Israel's siege of Gaza will be broken.