I have a detailed look at the US Boat to Gaza’s efforts to break the Israeli naval blockade later this month as part of the biggest planned flotilla to Gaza yet. It originally appeared in the Electronic Intifada. Excerpts:
Recent weeks have seen renewed attention on the blockade of Gaza as international activists’ efforts to break Israel’s blockade with a flotilla come to a head.
The Israeli government has begun to ramp up its propaganda efforts, claiming the flotilla has ties to terrorism. The United States government has warned activists working against the blockade, with a State Department spokesman telling reporters earlier this month that “groups and individuals who seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions” (State Department press briefing, 1 June 2011).
But while the flotilla is only beginning to make headlines now, it’s been a long time in the works.
The organizing for an American boat to join the flotilla began a year ago. Ten days after Israeli forces killed nine activists aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza on 31 May 2010, hundreds of people streamed into a Manhattan church basement for a report on the attack. The one question on everyone’s minds was: “What could we do next?”
The event featured Ann Wright, a former US army colonel who resigned from her State Department post in 2003 to protest the Iraq war, and Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. Wright, who had just described her experience on board the US-flagged Challenger boat that was part of the international Gaza Freedom Flotilla, gave the answer: organize a boat filled with American passengers and join the next flotilla to break the blockade.
Wright’s idea was met with thunderous applause, and activist Laurie Arbeiter proposed two names for the boat: The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My (Palestinian) Father, based on US President Barack Obama’s memoirs. The former name was chosen.
Nearly a year later, final preparations are underway for the next big flotilla to Gaza, which is scheduled to occur in late June. The US Boat to Gaza will take part in the largest planned fleet yet, with an estimated 1,000 passengers from an array of countries collaborating to break Israel’s blockade.
Solidarity activists say that because the US is Israel’s chief economic, military and diplomatic backer, it’s crucial to have US citizens challenge the blockade.
“It’s precisely because of the horrendous role that the US government has played literally for decades now that people inside this country need to have strong voices” against the blockade, said Leslie Cagan, coordinator for The Audacity of Hope and longtime anti-war activist.