Mercy Mission to Gaza Defies Israeli Threats

June 18, 2011

By Zachary Robinson

To answer those who still believe that “humanitarian intervention” can take the form of cruise missiles, bombs and attack helicopters launched by the armed forces of the (former?) colonial powers — this is what real humanitarian intervention looks like. Among the passengers will be Hedy Epstein (who, as an 8-year-old, fled Hitler and lost her parents in the Holocaust) and Alice Walker. Among the crew is Yonatan Shapira, a U.S. commercial pilot who, as a captain in the Israeli Air Force until 2003, initiated the Pilot’s Letter and refused to take part in the crimes of the occupation, as well as other veterans of the freedom flotilla movement.

“We Are Unarmed and We Are Sailing”

Organizers of the U.S. Boat to Gaza announced that they expect some 50 people will be aboard The Audacity of Hope when it joins the second “freedom flotilla” in late June to break the siege of Gaza.

The announcement came on May 31, the anniversary of the 2010 Israeli attack on unarmed passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, killing nine, including an 18-year old U.S. citizen of Turkish descent.

Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the U.S. Boat to Gaza, said, “We are sailing – despite threats by the Israeli armed forces to use attack dogs and snipers against us – and despite frantic diplomatic pressure by the Israeli government to prevent other countries from allowing the flotilla to sail.” She commented that while Egypt has just opened the Rafah border to Gaza, the maritime blockade and the Israeli siege of Gaza still exist.

So far, 34 passengers and four crewmembers have confirmed that they will be sailing on The Audacity of Hope. They range in age from 22 to 87 years old and live in 14 states in every region of the U.S. All are committed to nonviolence. Members of the press will also be on the boat.

Diverse Crew

Varied occupations are represented by the passengers, including retired film producer, construction worker, retired teacher and engineer, student, author, nurse, EMT, firefighter, activist, jazz musician, retired military personnel, professor social worker and lawyer. More than half the participants are women.

Passengers and crew will gather in Athens on June 21, 2011 in advance of the anticipated sailing date, which will depend on weather conditions and logistics.

The Audacity of Hope will carry as its cargo thousands of letters of friendship and solidarity with the people of Gaza from people throughout our country. Cagan said that inspections of the boat and its passengers prior to departure will prove the non-violent nature of the mission.

Richard Levy, attorney and passenger on The Audacity of Hope, explained that “Because Israel occupies Gaza, and accordingly has obligations under the Geneva Conventions, it cannot legally blockade Gaza.” Therefore, he continued, “attempts by the Israeli government to prevent ships from going to Gaza are equally illegal.”

A list of confirmed passengers with short biographical statements can be found here.

Message to U.S. Government

Leslie Cagan, coordinator of The Audacity of Hope said, “We’re sending a message to our own government that wethink it could play a much more positive role in notonly ending the siege of Gaza, but also ending thewhole occupation. The phrase does capture what we believe, which is that it is possible to make change in a positive way, and that’s a very hopeful stance.” The U.S. ship will take part in new 10-boatmulti-nation flotilla scheduledto embark in late June to defy the Israeli blockade of Gaza.Φ

For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/3ctcnn8.

To view the recently released video “To Gaza with Love,” click here.

Zachary Robinson is a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

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