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Americans Are Joining Flotilla to Protest Israeli Blockade
  When an international flotilla sails for Gaza this month to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory, among the boats will be an American ship with 34 passengers, including the writer Alice Walker and an 86-year-old whose parents died in the Holocaust.
Saturday 4 June 2011 17:42
Code : 43359
Americans Are Joining Flotilla to Protest Israeli Blockade
BFnews: A year ago, nine people in a flotilla of six boats were killed when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish boat in international waters off the coast of Gaza. The Israelis said their commandos were attacked and struck back in self-defense, but the Turks blamed the Israelis for using live ammunition. The raid soured relations between Israel and Turkey and intensified pressure on Israel to end the naval blockade.

Organizers said the new flotilla, scheduled to leave in late June from a port they would not identify, had at least 1,000 passengers on about 10 boats. One boat will carry Spaniards, another Canadians, another Swiss and another Irish.

The Americans have named their boat “The Audacity of Hope,” lifting the title of a book by President Obama to make a point, said Leslie Cagan, a political organizer who is the coordinator of the American boat.

She said: We’re sending a message to our own government that we think it could play a much more positive role in not only ending the siege of Gaza, but also ending the whole occupationof Palestinian land. 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.

After Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Israel imposed an embargo on the area, with Egypt’s help, essentially trapping the population in an effort to enforce security and to squeeze the militant group. Although Israel has maintained the sea blockade, it loosened the land blockade after the international condemnation that followed the raid on the Turkish boat. And last week, Egypt officially reopened the Rafah border crossing, allowing more people to pass between Egypt and Gaza.

Noam Katz, minister for public diplomacy at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said in an interview: We see this flotilla as a political statement in order to support Hamas in Gaza. Hamas is a terror organization that took control of Gaza and its people and is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. We have a blockade, and we are going to enforce this blockade.

The American passengers say they support the Palestinian people, not Hamas. They liken their strategy to that of the Freedom Riders, who 50 years ago rode buses to the American South to challenge segregation.

Gabriel Schivone, a student at the University of Arizona who is joining the flotilla, said: It’s in the tradition of Dr. King’s direct-action principles, to create a situation so tension-packed that it forces the world to look and see what’s happening to the Palestinians.

To explain why she was joining the flotilla, Hedy Epstein, the 86-year-old, said: The American Jewish community and Israel both say that they speak for all Jews. They don’t speak for me. They don’t speak for the Jews in this country who are going to be on the U.S. boat, and the many others standing behind us.

The American boat is owned by a Greek company and registered in Delaware, Ms. Cagan said. It will carry letters from Americans to Palestinians, not aid. About a quarter of the passengers are Jewish. Among the crew is a former captain in the Israeli Air Force who refused to fly missions in Gaza.

Source : The New York Times