American flotilla passengers set to challenge U.S. support for Gaza blockade

Israel/Palestine
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The pressure is mounting on the second “Freedom Flotilla” to Gaza.  Anti-flotilla lawsuits in New York and Toronto have been filed, the Israeli government is ramping up its propaganda efforts and the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship is no longer sailing following U.S. pressure.

But the American passengers are still determined to sail on The Audacity of Hope later this month, and they are now on their way to Greece to complete the initial leg of their journey before setting off to the Mediterranean from an undisclosed port. 

And if there was one important and unifying message the American flotilla passengers conveyed yesterday at a press conference where they took questions from reporters, it was this:  the U.S. Boat to Gaza effort is a direct challenge to American support for Israel and its crippling blockade of Gaza.  

Gabriel Schivone, an Arizona resident and activist, said that he will be wearing a Star of David around his neck on his journey to Gaza to “symbolize the root meanings of Judaism that are not emphasized enough, namely welcoming a stranger as you were a stranger, helping free the slave as though you were once enslaved.  So rather than travel to contribute to more death and suffering, I choose to travel there to directly and nonviolently protest the support and participation of my own government in these crimes.” 

Schivone is joining 36 other Americans who are off to Gaza.  Hundreds of people from some 20 countries are set to take part in the flotilla aiming to break Israel’s blockade. 

“We have a special responsibility,” said Richard Levy, a labor and civil rights lawyer joining the boat.  “Our country is not supporting what [Bashar] Assad is doing.  It is not supporting what [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is doing…But the fact is, we are the main supporters of what Israel is doing in the Middle East.  And that support has been destructive not only to the Palestinian people but to this country in a very, very large way.” 

Levy also reported details of a meeting U.S. flotilla activists had with the State Department in which they provided details about the mission and asked for protection.  The activists also wanted to “talk policy issues,” which the State Department declined to meet with them about. 

A State Department spokesperson told reporters June 1 “that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety.”

Shortly after the meeting, according to Levy, the State Department sent them a communique that “warned people not to go on the flotilla, that Israel could be expected to use force, and that Israel expected to enforce its blockade.” 

“The State Department is on notice, the president is on notice,” said Levy. “Communications have been made with all levels of the State Department and the administration to let them know that this is a boat of U.S. citizens on a peaceful mission, and that we expect the United States government to speak to Israel or to do what it needs to do to protect its citizens.”

Alex Kane, a freelance journalist based in New York City, writes on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia at alexbkane.wordpress.com.  Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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