Gaza is crumbling under the weight of an Israeli siege backed by the Obama administration. Roughly 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza now depend on aid. Vast amounts of infrastructure destroyed in the Israeli attacks in the winter of 2008-09 require repair. Thousands of families still live doubled up with relatives or are homeless.
Children are being short-changed educationally because of damaged and horribly overcrowded schools and a lack of textbooks. Their health is compromised by polluted water and food insecurity.
In response, more than 1,000 human rights workers from around the world will sail this June on a dozen boats traveling to the Gaza Strip to highlight this human-made tragedy.
Our boat — the American boat — is named “The Audacity of Hope.” It will be carrying approximately sixty students, nurses, artists, journalists and filmmakers, lawyers, academics and ordinary civilians of many beliefs from around the country. Many of us are Jewish.
Last May, Israeli forces stormed the Turkish humanitarian aid ship Mavi Marmara and killed nine passengers, including an American citizen. A fact-finding mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that the “circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution.” All the civilian deaths on board the humanitarian vessel were inexcusable. Yet, once again, the Israeli government has threatened to initiate violence against us.
Israel insists it has a right to blockade Gaza, to keep its population on a restricted diet, and to destroy its economy by cutting it off from international trade. The rest of the world disagrees. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called the siege “unacceptable” and has said it must end immediately. Even US President Barack Obama has termed the siege “unsustainable,” notwithstanding our government’s full support of Israeli policy.
Israel states that the purpose of the blockade is to keep weapons out of the hands of the Hamas government in Gaza. There are many ways to do this without imprisoning 1.5 million people inside an area about twice the size of Washington, DC. Gaza’s children, women, elderly and other civilians pay the price for Israel’s refusal to use international inspections, diplomacy and negotiations to achieve its goal. Under international law, this is known as collective punishment and can be regarded as a crime against humanity.
The US and European governments have not acted to end Israel’s siege. Those of us sailing to Gaza on “The Audacity of Hope” have chosen to support international humanitarian law where our governments have not. We sail as an expression of human solidarity with the beleaguered people of Gaza.
We will be unarmed and nonviolent. Representatives from the media, who are invited to sail with us, will be able to testify to this. The boat’s cargo will be open to international inspections before sailing. Our cargo consists of letters of solidarity to the people of Gaza from thousands of Americans.
As the world witnessed this year in Tunisia and Egypt, human solidarity is far more powerful than the force of arms. Despite the Israeli government’s propaganda against us, we believe that most of the world opposes the attempt to reduce Gaza to desperation and dependence. Dov Weisglass, an advisor to Israel’s former prime minister, put Israel’s effort succinctly. He famously said of the Israeli siege on Gaza: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” We reject this cruelty.
Nevertheless, the Israeli government has launched a scare campaign, accusing us of being “terrorists” with ties to Hamas, who are “willing to become martyrs.” This is false. Our goal is to end the illegal siege of Gaza and highlight the injustice of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“The Audacity of Hope” sails in peace and will not be deterred by Israeli threats. Our actions are very much in keeping with the moral impetus that drove Freedom Riders fifty years ago to travel south to stand nonviolently with African-Americans against government-backed violence and Jim Crow discrimination. We intend to promote both Palestinian liberty from Israeli domination and an economic opening to the world for Gaza.
Jane Hirschmann is a member of Jews Say No! in New York City and one of the national organizers of the US Boat to Gaza. Active in anti-war efforts for the past four decades, Hirschmann is also a psychotherapist and the co-author of three books.