Network of Spiritual Progressives on Freedom Flotilla Massacre


 

Tikkun Magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives' Statement on Killings on the High Seas:

We regret and deplore the killings which took place as Israeli troops, in defiance of international law, boarded and assaulted, wounded many and killed some  of the participants in a flotilla seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza (itself a morally outrageous policy) to bring humanitarian aid. We ask all people of peace to dedicate at least fifteen minutes today (Memorial day in the US)  to silent memorial for those peace activists who have been killed (and we call upon all synagogues around the world to say Kaddish for those people at their Shabbat services this coming weekend),  and for prayer for the speedy recovery of all those wounded in this attack (mostly peace activists, but also the Israeli soldiers who boarded the boats with violence). We invite all peace-loving people to attend a public memorial for those who died in this assault in Lafayette Park opposite the White House on Sunday, June 13, at 11 a.m-2 p.m., sponsored by Tikkun, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and many other groups, and which will include a larger consideration of U.S. policies. Memorial prayers and prayers for healing will be said at 1 p.m. 

We call upon Israel to conduct an objective, credible investigation to determine all the levels of responsibility for this criminal act, and to punish those from the top of the government down through the IDF who were responsible. If the past is any guide to the present moment, the Israel hasbara (public relations 'explanation" operation) will now be working full time to put the blame on the people who sought to bring aid to Gaza, claiming that they were the violent ones and maybe even claiming that they were bringing military equipment or something of the sort.. Yet there was no need for any of this to have happened. Israel could have waited for the boats to arrive at shore and then sent military to search what was being brought to Gaza to ensure that it was in fact humanitarian aid. Moreover, as the Israeii peace movement Gush Shalom pointed out today, the core of the issue remains israel's attempt to starve and punish the entire population of Gaza for the activities of Hamas. 

We call upon the international community to stop the blockade and, if necessary, to introduce an international force into Israel/Palestine to protect each side from the other, and then to implement the creation of a two state solution, freeing both sides from the violence of the other, and giving to each side the security and self-determination to which both sides are entitled. We call upon President Obam to use this moment to take decisive steps to create the Palesitnian state while providing Israel with all necessary security, and providing the Palestinian people with protection from those in Israel who have used violence to prevent Palestinian national self-determination. We contnue to abhor and denounce those in Israel and those in Palestine and Gaza who resort to violence to achieve their ends, including Hamas and including Israeli settlers. We acknowledge that the Israeli treatment of Gaza cannot be understood separate from the violent attacks on Israeli civilians from the shelling of Israeli cities from Gaza, nor that shelling understood apart from the blockade of Gaza by Israel, nor that violence from Gaza apart from the violence of the Occupation, nor the Occupation separate from previous acts of violence by Palestinians, nor that previous violence separate from the larger context of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by Israel during the founding of the State, nor that explusion separate from the hostility of Palestinians to the creation of the State, and the story goes on and on. It's time to stop with the blame game and simply put an end to the struggle on both sides. 

We continue to support the State of Israel's right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and for Palestine to exist as a homeland for the Palestinian people. The violence must stop. The peace process is going nowhere. The time for decisive action to impose a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict arrived decades ago, and must be grabbed now. What level of barbarity needs to happen for the U.S. and the international community to act decisively? How many more deaths?

We mourn the lives lost, the many who have been wounded, including both those on the humanitarian aid mission and Israelis sent by a crazed and irresponsible government into actions that put their lives in danger. Israel's security was never threatened by this flotilla of humanitarian aid, and it was only macho political motivations that led Israeli leaders to order this insane assault. Israel deserves better than Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and the world has to recognize that this current Israeli government will never bring peace or stability to the Middle East. While we continue to deplore Hamas and all that it has introduced into the equation, complicating attempts to make peace and doing what it could to stir hatred, we believe that the world and the Israeli people and the Palesitnian people deserve peace and justice, and that it is our human obligation to bring that to the peoples of the Middle East. A first step is to end the blockade of Gaza.We call upon all who protest Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to maintain a strict non-violent discipline, and to affirm the humanity of all sides in this conflict even as we insist on bold and compelling action to stop the conflict. 

--Rabbi Michael Lerner   RabbiLerner@Tikkun.org 

   For Media interviews: 510 644 1200

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At Least 10 Are Killed as Israel Halts Flotilla With Gaza Aid

Alex Rozkovsky/Reuters

A pro-Palestinian activist was evacuated to a hospital in the northern city of Haifa on Monday.

JERUSALEM - Israeli naval commandos raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning, killing at least 10 people, according to the Israeli military and activists traveling with the flotilla. Some Israeli news reports put the death toll higher.

 

The confrontation drew widespread international condemnation of Israel, with Israeli envoys summoned to explain their country's actions in several European countries.

The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel's foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel's ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut short a visit to Latin America to return home.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans for meeting with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, an Israeli government official confirmed. Mr. Netanyahu, who is visiting Canada, planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid, the official said.

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with "live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs." The naval forces then "employed riot dispersal means, including live fire," the military said in a statement.

Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military's version.

"That is a lie," she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been "waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might."

"We never thought there would be any violence," she said.

At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire "as evident by the empty pistol magazines."

The warships first intercepted the convoy of cargo and passenger boats shortly before midnight on Sunday, according to activists on one vessel. Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza.

Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel's three-year blockade of Gaza.

About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland, and a Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, 85.

"What we have seen this morning is a war crime," said Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator for the government in the West Bank. "These were civilian ships carrying civilians and civilian goods - medicine, wheelchairs, food, construction materials."

"What Israel does in Gaza is appalling," he added. "No informed and decent human can say otherwise."

At a news conference on Monday in Jerusalem, Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said the flotilla's intent was "not to transfer humanitarian things to Gaza" but to break the Israeli blockade.

"This blockade is legal," he said, "and aimed at preventing the infiltration of terror and terrorists into Gaza."

Ms. Berlin, of the Free Gaza Movement, said, "They attacked us this morning in international waters. According to the coordinates, we were 70 miles off the Israeli coast."

Within hours, diplomatic repercussions began to spread from the Mediterranean to Europe where Catherine Ashton, theEuropean Union's high representative for foreign affairs, called for a full inquiry into the incident and the immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Bill Burton, a deputy press secretary for the White House, said, "The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

A joint statement from Robert Serry and Filippo Grandi, two senior United Nations officials involved in the Middle East peace process and humanitarian aid to Gaza, condemned the raid, which they said was "apparently in international waters."

"We wish to make clear that such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza," the officials said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called Israel's use of force "disproportionate," while William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said he deplored the loss of life. Tony Blair, the representative of the so-called quartet of powers seeking a Middle East settlement, said in a statement that he expressed "deep regret and shock at the tragic loss of life."

"We need a different and better way of helping the people of Gaza and avoiding the hardship and tragedy that is inherent in the current situation," the statement said. The quartet includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. In London, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters blocked Whitehall, the broad avenue running past the prime minister's residence and office at 10 Downing Street.

 

Turkey strongly condemned the Israeli military action.

"Regardless of any reasoning, such actions against civilians engaged in only peaceful activities are unacceptable," said a statement on the Foreign Ministry's Web site on Monday. "Israel will be required to face the consequences of this act that involves violation of the international law."

"Israel launched this operation in international waters and to a ship flagged white, which is unacceptable under any clause of the international law," the head of the Turkish Grand National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Commission, Murat Mercan, said on the Turkish station NTV.

"We are going to see in the following days whether Israel has done it as a display of decisiveness or to commit political suicide."

Thousands of protesters gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and repeating Islamic verses while government officials called for calm and urged demonstrators to avoid retaliation against Israeli nationals.

Protesters met in front of the Israeli Consulate earlier and marched toward the square carrying a banner that read, "Zionist Embassy should close down," and chanting slogans including "Damn Israel" and "Long live global intifada."

Crowds also gathered outside the Ankara residence of Gabi Levi, the Israeli ambassador, who was summoned to the Foreign Ministry.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said Israel should provide a full explanation of what happened. News reports said the authorities in Egypt and Jordan, two Arab neighbors which have peace treaties with Israel, had summoned Israeli envoys to protest the action.

The outcry from Muslim leaders was strong and immediate. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, called the incident "a massacre," according to the official Wafa news agency. Mr. Abbas is to meet with President Obama in Washington next week.

Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, denounced the raid as "a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region," while the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said it was "inhuman."

Channel 10, a private television station in Israel, quoted the Israeli trade minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as saying 14 to 16 people had been killed. He said on Israeli Army Radio that commandos boarded the ships by sliding down on ropes from a hovering helicopter and were then struck by passengers with "batons and tools."

"The moment someone tries to snatch your weapon, to steal your weapons, that's where you begin to lose control," Mr. Ben-Eliezer said, according to Reuters.

Jamal El Shayyal, a reporter from the television broadcaster Al Jazeera, was on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the six ships, during the assault. He said in a video report that dozens of civilians had been injured in the fighting.

The I.D.F. said the ships from the convoy would be taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod, north of Gaza, where "naval forces will perform security checks in order to identify the people on board the ships and their equipment."

On Sunday, three Israeli Navy missile boats had left the Haifa naval base in northern Israel a few minutes after 9 p.m. local time, planning to intercept the flotilla. After asking the captains of the boats to identify themselves, the navy told them they were approaching a blockaded area and asked them either to proceed to Ashdod or return to their countries of origin.

The activists responded that they would continue toward their destination, Gaza.

Speaking by satellite phone from the Challenger 1 boat, which has foreign legislators and other high-profile figures on board, a Free Gaza Movement leader, Huwaida Arraf, said: "We communicated to them clearly that we are unarmed civilians. We asked them not to use violence."

Earlier Sunday, Ms. Arraf said the boats would keep trying to move forward "until they either disable our boats or jump on board."

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Come to the memorial at Lafayette Park June 13  and to the NSP/Tikkun conference June 11-13, Washington D.C.  Info: www.spiritualprogressives.org/conference

If you can't come, at least call national media and ask them to present the Tikkun perspective. You can find advice on how to do this effectively plus  addresses and contact information at www.spiritualprogressives.org/article.php/media

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A Statement from the Israeli Peace Movement

Press Release 05/31/2010 

Uri Avnery: this night a crime was perpetrated in the middle of the sea, by order of the government of Israel and the IDF Command
A warlike attack against aid ships and deadly shooting at peace and humanitarian aid activists 
It is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do 

"Only a crazy government that has lost all restraint and all connection to reality could something like that - consider ships carrying humanitarian aid and peace activists from around the world as an enemy and send massive military force to international waters to attack them, shoot and kill.

"Noone in the world will believe the lies and excuses which the government and army spokesmen come up with," said former Knesset member Uri Avnery of the Gush Shalom movement. Gush Shalom activists together with activists of other organizations are to depart at 11:00 from Tel Aviv to protest in front of the prepared detention facility where the international peace activists will be brought. 

Greta Berlin, the spokeswoman for the flotilla organizers located in Cyprus, told Gush Shalom activists that the Israeli commandos landed by helicopter on the boats and immediately opened fire. 

This is a day of disgrace to the State of Israel, a day of anxiety in which we discover that our future was entrusted to a bunch of trigger-happy people without any responsibility. This day is a day of disgrace and madness and stupidity without limit, the day the Israeli government took care to blacken the name of the country in the world, adding convincing evidence of aggressiveness and brutality to Israel's already bad international image, discouraging and distancing the few remaining friends. 

Indeed, today a provocation took place off the coast of Gaza - but the provocateurs were not the peace activists invited by the Palestinians and seeking to reach Gaza. The provocation was carried out by Navy ships commandos at the bidding of the Israeli government, blocking the way of the aid boats and using deadly force. 

It is time to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, which causes severe suffering to its residents. Today the Israeli government ripped the mask of its face with its own hands and exposed the fact that Israel did not "disengage" from Gaza. Real disengagement from the area does not go together with blocking the access to it or sending soldiers to shoot and kill and wound those who try to get there.

The State of Israel promised in the Oslo Accords 17 years ago to enable and encourage the establishment of a deep water port in Gaza, through which Palestinians could import and export freely to develop their economy. It's time to realize this commitment and open the Port of Gaza. Only after the Gaza port will be open to free and undisturbed movement, just like the Ashdod and Haifa ports, will Israel really have disengaged from the Gaza Strip. Until then, the world will continue - and rightly so - to consider the Gaza Strip under Israeli occupation and the State of Israel as responsible for the fate of the people living there. 

Contact: Uri Avnery 0505-306449 
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom spokesman 03-5565804 or 054-2340749 
Coalition Against the Siege Yacov - 050-5733276, 09-7670801, Sebastian -050-6846056

Greta Berlin  spokeswoman for flotilla organizers 
35799187275

הודעה לעיתונות 31.5.2010     
 
אורי אבנרי: בלב ים בוצע הלילה מעשה פשע בפקודת ממשלת ישראל ופיקוד צה"ל
התקפה מלחמתית על ספינות סיוע וירי קטלני על פעילי שלום וסיוע הומניטארי  
היא מעשה מטורף שרק ממשלה שעברה כל גבול מסוגלת לעשותו
 
"רק ממשלה מטורפת שאיבדה כל רסן וכל קשר למציאות הייתה מסוגלת למעשה כזה - להתייחס לספינות הנושאות סיוע הומניטארי ופעילי שלום מכל רחבי העולם כאל אויב ולשלוח כוח צבאי אדיר כדי לתקוף אותן במים בינלאומיים, לירות ולהרוג. התירוצים השקרניים שמביאים דוברי הממשלה והצבא למעשה הזה לא ישכנעו איש בעולם" אומר חבר הכנסת לשעבר אורי אבנרי מתנועת גוש שלום. פעילים מגוש שלום ותנועות אחרות עומדים לצאת בשעה 11.00 מתל אביב לקיים הפגנת מחאה לפני מתקן המעצר אליו הובאו פעילי השלום הבינלאומיים.
 
גרטה ברלין, דוברת מארגני המשט הנמצאת בקפריסין, מסרה לפעילי גוש שלום כי חיילי הקומנדו הישראלים נחתו בהליקופטר על הספינות ופתחו מיד באש לעבר נוסעיהן.
 
זהו יום של חרפה למדינת ישראל, יום של חרדה בו אנו מגלים כי עתידנו הופקד בידי חבורה של אנשים חסרי כל אחריות שידם קלה על ההדק. זהו יום הוא יום של בושה וחרפה וגם שיגעון וטפשות ללא גבול, יום בו דאגה ממשלת ישראל להשחיר את שמה של המדינה  בעולם כולו, לספק הוכחות חדשות ומוחצות לתדמית הכוחנית והברוטאלית שכבר יצאה לישראל בזירה הבינלאומית, לייאש ולהרחיק את מעט הידידים שעוד נותרו לה.
 
אכן, היום התבצעה פרובוקציה מול חופי עזה - אך הפרובוקטורים לא היו פעילי השלום שביקשו להגיע לעזה על פי הזמנתם ובקשתם המפורשת של התושבים הפלסטינים. את הפרובוקציה ביצעו ספינות חיל הים וחיילי הקומנדו, במצוותה של ממשלת ישראל, כאשר חסמו את דרכן של הספינות והפעילו כוח קטלני.
 
הגיע הזמן להסיר  את המצור על רצועת עזה, הגורם סבל קשה לתושביה. היום קרעה ממשלת ישראל במו ידיה את המסכה מעל פניה וחשפה את העובדה כי מדינת ישראל לא "התנתקה" מעזה. מי שהתנתק באמת משטח אינו חוסם את הדרכים לשטח הזה ואינו שולח חיילים להרוג ולפצוע את כי מי משנסה הלגיע אליו.
 
מדינת ישראל התחייבה בהסכמי אוסלו לפני 17 שנה לאפשר וגם לעודד הקמת נמל עמוק מים בעזה, דרכו יוכלו הפלסטינים לייבא ולייצא באופן חופשי ולפתח את כלכלתם. הגיע הזמן לממש את ההתחייבות הזאת ולפתוח לרווחה את נמל עזה. רק ברגע שיפתח נמל עזה לתנועה חופשית ובלתי מופרעת, בדיוק כמו בנמל אשדוד ובנמל חיפה, תסתיים באמת התנתקותה של ישראל מרצועת עזה. עד אז, ימשיך העולם - ובצדק - לראות את רצועת עזה כנתונה לכיבוש ישראלי ואת מדינת ישראל כאחראית לגורל התושבים בה.
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Israel Lost At Sea  by Bradley Burston, Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv, May 31

A war tells a people terrible truths about itself. That is why it is so difficult to listen.

We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second. For Israel, in the end, this Second Gaza War could be far more costly and painful than the first.

Protest at Israeli ambassador's residence in Ankara

Turkish police stand guard in front of the residence of Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy during a pro-Palestinian protest in Ankara on May 31, 2010.

Photo by: Reuters

In going to war in Gaza in late 2008, Israeli military and political leaders hoped to teach Hamas a lesson. They succeeded. Hamas learned that the best way to fight Israel is to let Israel do what it has begun to do naturally: bluster, blunder, stonewall, and fume.

Hamas, and no less, Iran and Hezbollah, learned early on that Israel's own embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza was the most sophisticated and powerful weapon they could have deployed against the Jewish state.

Here in Israel, we have still yet to learn the lesson: We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam.

Of course, we knew this could happen. On Sunday, when the army spokesman began speaking of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in terms of an attack on Israel, MK Nahman Shai, the IDF chief spokesman during the 1991 Gulf war, spoke publicly of his worst nightmare, an operation in which Israeli troops, raiding the flotilla, might open fire on peace activists, aid workers and Nobel laureates.

Likud MK Miri Regev, who also once headed the IDF Spokesman's Office, said early Monday that the most important thing now was to deal with the negative media reports quickly, so they would go away.

But they are not going to go away. One of the ships is named for Rachel Corrie, killed while trying to bar the way of an IDF bulldozer in Gaza seven years ago. Her name, and her story, have since become a lightning rod for pro-Palestinian activism.

Perhaps most ominously, in a stepwise, lemming-like march of folly in our relations with Ankara, a regional power of crucial importance and one which, if heeded, could have helped head off the First Gaza War, we have come dangerously close to effectively declaring a state of war with Turkey.

"This is going to be a very large incident, certainly with the Turks," said Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the cabinet minister with the most sensitive sense of Israel's ties with the Muslim world.

We explain, time and again, that we are not at war with the people of Gaza. We say it time and again because we ourselves need to believe it, and because, deep down, we do not.

There was a time, when it could be said that we knew ourselves only in wartime. No longer. Now we know nothing. Yet another problem with refraining from talks with Hamas and Iran: They know us so much better than we know ourselves.

They know, as the song about the Lebanon War suggested ("Lo Yachol La'atzor Et Zeh") that we, unable to see ourselves in any clarity, are no longer capable of stopping ourselves.

Hamas, as well as Iran, have come to know and benefit from the toxicity of Israeli domestic politics, which is all too ready to mortgage the future for the sake of a momentary apparent calm.

They know that in our desperation to protect our own image of ourselves, we will avoid modifying policies which have literally brought aid and comfort to our enemies, in particular Hamas, which the siege on Gaza has enriched through tunnel taxes and entrenched through anger toward Israel.

For many on the right, it must be said, there will be a quiet joy in all of what is about to hit the fan. "We told you so," the crowing will begin. "The world hates us, no matter what we do. So we may as well go on building [Read: 'Settling the West Bank and East Jerusalem'] and defending our borders [Read: 'Bolster Hamas and ultimately harm ourselves by refusing to lift the Gaza embargo']."

Hamas, Iran and the Israeli and Diaspora hard right know, as one, that this is a test of enormous importance for Benjamin Netanyahu. Keen to have the world focus on Iran and the threat it poses to the people of Israel, Netanyahu must recognize that the world is now focused on Israel and the threat it poses to the people of Gaza.
 

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Written by an Israeli citizen and peace activist BEFORE the massacre:

An Open Letter by Jeff Halper to the Israeli Jewish Public: Support the Gaza Flotilla

By Jeff Halper

If we were not Israeli Jews, if the nine ships bringing 800 peace-makers from 40 countries would be sailing with humanitarian aid to an imprisoned population of a million and a half to, say, Haiti, the flotilla now on its way to Gaza would be hailed as a monumental event. The government of Israel would donate another 50 tons of food and materials and a brigade of army volunteers from the "rescue corps." But we are Israelis, and the fact that such an operation is being launched against a siege we imposed on a civilian population three years ago - actually, the blockade goes back to the late 1980s - should cause us all to reflect upon how we and our country have arrived at this sorry state - how the "light unto the nations" has become one of the most oppressive states on earth, subject to international protests like this one.

The flotilla is sailing with a number of messages. First and foremost, to the government of Israel: "Lift the siege on Gaza!" The siege is absolutely illegal in international law, and for those of us who believe that the rule of law and human rights is the only recipe for a better world, it is incumbent upon us to join the flotilla's call to lift the siege. Civilians cannot be the object of military and political attacks, as is the case in Gaza (which the Goldstone Report roundly criticized), nor can they be collectively punished for the policies of their political leaders. The very idea that people can be brought to their knees and forced to accept being permanently controlled and dominated, which is the thrust of Israeli policy, is both unconscionable and counter-productive. As the situation in Gaza shows, it has only stiffened resistance to the Occupation.

And then there is the urgency of  the flotilla's second message, "Addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza!" In a policy frightening reminiscent of other dark regimes in which Jews suffered from controlled malnutrition, our government has imposed a regime of "counting calories" on the Gaza population - imposing a "minimal dietary regime" on a million and a half people who receive as little as 850 calories a day, less than half the recommended daily intake. (Dov Weisglass, Sharon's Chief of Staff, made a joke out of this. "It's like a meeting with a dietitian," he said. "We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death.") Instant coffee, fresh meat, rice, beans, spices, honey, chocolate, jam, bananas, coriander and pasta, among many others, are considered by Israel "luxury foods" for Palestinians. All this might be funny if it weren't for the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, more than 10% of Gazan children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Two-thirds of the Gazan population face hunger on a daily basis.

Gaza is today an unreconstructed war-zone. Israel long ago destroyed the sewage system, so that people have drowned in periodic floods of sewage that have engulfed whole communities. Raw sewage flowing into the Mediterranean has polluted the only waters in which Palestinians are allowed to fish - the Israeli navy fires on fishermen who attempt to reach cleaner waters more than three miles out. Having destroyed Gaza's only power station, much of the area suffers from blackouts, and Israel prevents adequate amounts of fuel from entering, with severe effects on hospitals. Gazans also have nowhere to live. More than 2,400 homes were destroyed in the invasion of last year and Israel, by prohibiting the import of raw materials, has prevented their being rebuilt. Thus the flotilla is bringing to Gaza 10,000 tons of humanitarian materials: temporary shelters, playgrounds for children, cement, steel and other construction materials, medical equipment and medicines and school supplies - a drop in the bucket of which is actually needed. The list alone is an indictment of our policies.

We Israeli Jews live in a managed information environment in which reality is carefully framed for us. Our government's explanation for everything it does is "security," and we accept that almost without question. But we have to understand a basic fact of life: four million Palestinians live under a cruel Occupation that we have nurtured for the past 43 years and which has deprived them of their fundamental rights (such as electing their own political leaders), robbed them of their land and homes (Israeli governments have demolished some 24,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories since 1967), reduced them to impoverishment and has led, in the case of Gaza, to their literal imprisonment.

Why do I have to repeat facts that seem so self-evident, that everyone knows? Because, though every informed person abroad knows these things, we Israeli Jews don't - and we don't care. Most Israelis know far less about what our government is doing in our name, in Gaza and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories, than the activists on the Free Gaza ships. We seldom if ever use the term "occupation" in our everyday speech (in fact, our government denied the very existence of an occupation), and we minimize the impact that our settlements, our separate roads, the Wall, hundreds of checkpoints and other facets of the Occupation have upon the political process, which we no longer believe in. Living in a prosperous "bubble," we do not see Palestinian suffering, only ourselves as "victims." (And so our Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman characterizes the Gaza flotillas as "violent propaganda" against Israel, as if we have nothing to do with conditions of life in Gaza or the very fact of occupation.)  But this is not reality. For the Palestinians there is no minimizing their suffering or their yearning for freedom. Why, with our history, is it so difficult for us to understand resistance to oppression?

And so the third message of the flotilla is directed towards us: "Take responsibility for your government's policies!" When I entered Gaza on the first Free Gaza boats in August, 2008, I issued an appeal to the Israeli public to stand in solidarity with us. I argued that ordinary people have often played key roles in history, particularly in situations like this where world governments, who should end the siege, shirk their responsibilities. We must resist the self-serving and disempowering statements of our political leaders who would have us believe that there is no solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, that there is "no partner for peace," that we are doomed to perpetual war and, therefore, we must become permanent oppressors. The Palestinians are not our enemies; our own political leaders are. The very fact that I, an Israeli Jew, was welcomed by the people of Gaza makes that very point, and it is the message they asked me to convey to you. But they also insist on their rights: self-determination.

We of the Israeli peace camp refuse to be enemies with our Palestinian neighbors. We recognize that as the infinitely stronger party in the conflict, we Israelis must accept responsibility for our failed and oppressive policies.

In the meantime, the flotilla to Gaza has already succeeded. If the Israeli government allows the ships into Gaza, the power of the will have prevailed once more. If it chooses to stop the flotilla, it will only highlight the existence of the illegal and inhumane siege and bolster international efforts to end it. In both cases Israel loses the battle for legitimacy in the international community. This is the beauty of non-violent direct action. It is only a matter of time before it will be forced to relinquish control over the Palestinians and their lands.

Let us, Israeli Jews who aspire to become an integral part of this region rather than a foreign implant at war with its inhabitants, begin to take our fate in our own hands. We must side with the people of Gaza and the activists on the boats against the unjust and immoral policies of our own government. This is what the good people of the flotilla are trying to tell us, what people all over the world are trying to tell us: unless we take responsibility for our actions and end this terrible conflict with the Palestinians, we will not remain here. And unless we find a way to a just peace rather than stand on the side of occupation, oppression and injustice, we may delay that day by force, but our society will not survive. For our sakes as well as the people of Gaza, let us, the Israeli Jewish public, board the boats to end the siege of Gaza.

 

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Come to the memorial at Lafayette Park June 13  and to the NSP/Tikkun conference June 11-13, Washington D.C.  Info: www.spiritualprogressives.org/conference

If you can't come, at least call national media and ask them to present the Tikkun perspective. You can find addresses and contact information at