by Jordana Horn
NEW YORK – Passengers on a US-flagged boat, The Audacity of Hope, spoke at a press conference Monday to discuss their plans and reasons for joining the “International Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human,” a flotilla intended to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
It is estimated that people from more than 20 countries will participate in the eight to ten boat flotilla, which will sail the last week of June, in part from Greece. One quarter of the participants on the US boat, which will have 36 passengers, are American Jews.
According to a letter the Audacity of Hope group sent to US President Barack Obama, in addition to 36 passengers, 4 crew members, and 10 members of the press, the US-flagged boat “will carry thousands of letters of support and friendship from people throughout the US to the women, children and men of Gaza. There will be no weapons of any sort on board.”
“We will carry no goods of any kind for delivery in Gaza,” the group’s letter read. “Our mission is from American civil society to the civil society of Gaza. We do not serve the agenda of any political leadership, government or group. We are engaged solely in non-violent action in support of the Palestinian people and their human rights.”
“Citizen activists are coming to the Mediterranean from all over the world to confront the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and US government protection of Israeli criminal acts,” Audacity of Hope passenger Ann Wright said. “As a former US diplomat and retired military colonel, I strongly believe it is the responsibility of citizens to act when our governments fail to protect the human rights and dignity of any people—in this case, the Palestinians.”
Leslie Cagan, the US boat coordinator leading Monday’s press conference, said the Israeli government acted with extreme violence against Freedom Flotilla I in 2010, killing nine passengers and injuring more than 50, and has threatened the use of attack dogs and snipers against this Freedom Flotilla II.
Cagan said, “Following the example of years of non-violent Palestinian protests, everyone participating in this project is deeply committed to non-violence. We hope and plan to arrive in Gaza City safely by the beginning of July. Any other outcome is the responsibility of the US and Israeli government’s decision to maintain the illegal and unjustifiable imprisonment of 1.5 million people in the Gaza strip.”
“We are trying to act in alignment with our conscience,” Audacity of Hope passenger Kathy Kelly said at the press conference.
Cagan added that the flotilla organizers have urged United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to put into place a UN inspection of the ships but have received no official response as yet.
In late May, the Secretary General expressed his opposition to flotilla operations intended to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, believing that assistance and goods bound for Gaza should go through legitimate crossings.
Ban has called on governments to use their influence to discourage flotillas, stating that they carry the potential to exacerbate rather than ameliorate the conflict. The United States government, participants in the US-flagged ship said, have warned the US citizens not to participate in the flotilla.