November 01, 2010 A group of U.S. peace activists is raising $370,000 to purchase a boat to sail next spring from a Mediterranean port to Gaza, aiming to break Israel’s siege of Gaza that has been widely denounced as a violation of international law.
The U.S. Boat to Gaza, to be called “The Audacity of Hope,” will be part of an international flotilla from over a dozen European, Asian and North American countries.
The Israeli government is threatening to meet the new flotilla with deadly force, including military snipers and attack dogs.
At a recent ceremony at the top-secret Shayetet 13 base near Haifa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the commando unit that killed eight unarmed Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American last May 31 as the Israelis seized the Turkish humanitarian aid boat, the Mavi Marmara. Netanyahu saluted the commandos and said they acted “courageously, morally and with restraint.” However, a September report on the assault by a U.N. fact-finding mission said Israeli soldiers used “lethal force” in a “widespread and arbitrary manner, which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured” and “carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law.” The U.N. report also deemed Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza “illegal.”
Meantime, in commenting to an Israeli panel investigating the issue, Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that “if the IDF is faced with a similar situation in the future, there may be no alternative to deploying snipers to minimize troop casualties,” according to a report in Ha’aretz.
The Jerusalem Post reported on October 8 that the IDF will also deploy attack dogs from its Oketz canine unit in boarding future humanitarian aid vessels.
In New York, Jane Hirschmann, a spokesperson for US to Gaza, the group organizing “The Audacity of Hope” boat, said the Americans would not be deterred by the Israeli threats.
“Of course we take these threats seriously,” said Ms. Hirschmann, a member of US to Gaza’s national coordinating team. “Nobody doubts the Israeli government’s willingness and readiness to use force against unarmed civilians. But this is a non-violent mission on our part, challenging Israel’s illegal siege; Gaza remains essentially an open-air prison under a U.S.-backed Israeli blockade.”
There will be clergy on board, and elderly people, including Holocaust survivors.
“We hope that the Israeli government will rethink its position and that cooler heads will prevail. We Americans have painful memories of government using snipers and attack dogs against peaceful protesters – the examples of Kent State and Birmingham come to mind. With American lives and limbs at stake, it would behoove the U.S. government to intervene with their Israeli counterparts to prevent a repeat of the mayhem they caused on the Mavi Marmara,” said Hannah Schwarzschild, another organizer with US to Gaza.