Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

A year ago tomorrow, I was in the West Bank where I awoke to news stories about the Israeli attack on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, with reports of nine dead. Our small group of Compassionate Listeners was in shock.

The manager of our hotel in Beit Jala moved a large-screen TV into the dining room and we sat in stunned silence, surfing for English-language TV stations, and whispering to one another -- They really are dead? How did it happen? How could this be - the flotilla was a peaceful protest of the blockade of Gaza!

Yael, our Israeli tour guide, kept saying, "How could Israel have done something so stupid? Now we are the pariah of the world." Or similar sentiments....I'm not sure about her exact words, but I do remember "stupid," and her concern that now Israel would be hated even more by her neighbors. Yael was very concerned that her country was becoming an outlaw nation, abandoned by the rest of the nations of the world, hated and feared, standing alone and putting all its citizens in more danger.

In the reporting that followed, many news sources reported that the flotilla was made up of "terrorists." This was supposed justify the nine deaths, so we could dismiss the "incident" and not be too troubled that this represented our tax dollars at work ($3 b/year to Israel).

Today, as we remember those who died protecting the US and our ideals of freedom and liberty, I'd like to also remember the nine who died a year ago, protesting for freedom and liberty for the people Israel has imprisoned in Gaza. For that is what Gaza outdoor prison, its borders still manned by Israeli soldiers, who decide what goods can enter Gaza and what can be exported. Israel controls how much Gazans eat and also controls all commerce, effectively controlling the whole economy, preventing the export of agricultural commodities like tomatoes, cucumbers, fruits, vegetables, flowers.

This week Egypt opened the Rafah crossing, so hopefully now, this will improve life for Gazans. But Cairo is an 8-hour drive from Gaza. The most logical market for Gazan produce is to the north, where Tel Aviv is only an hour's drive. But commerce is not likely to open up to the north.
A year ago, nine people were shot to death aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla trying to breach the blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza. The flotilla was an act of protest, to call the world's attention to the plight of the Palestinians stuck in Gaza without adequate food, fuel, building materials or even medical and school supplies. The boats carried many of these items, a symbolic gesture to show how desperate the situation in Gaza is.

Many people in the west think that Israel pulled out of Gaza, leaving the Palestinians to govern themselves. But Israel left them with all the problems--hunger, unemployment, no materials to rebuild after the 2009-10 Israeli "Cast Lead" attack and no medical facilities--and no way to solve these problems because Israel imposed a complete sea blockade (including gunfire attacks on fishermen) and severely restricting imports (no building materials), because Gaza is surrounded by Israel and everything going into or out of Gaza must go through an Israeli checkpoint.

So the idea of the flotilla was to call the world's attention to this gross injustice. The flotillas put a spotlight on what Israel is doing. The people on the flotilla knew there were dangers--the most obvious being the Mediterranean Sea itself. They did not expect an all-out attack on their ship by Israeli commandos being lowered, machine guns blazing, on ropes from helicopters in the middle of the night.

So, on this Memorial Day, we remember:

Furkan Dogan, 19
Ibrahim Bilgen, 60
Fahri Yaldiz, 42
Cevdet Kiliçlar, 38
Cengiz Akyüz, 41
Cengiz Songür, 46
Çetin Topçuoglu, 54
Necdet Yildirim, 31

In respect for their willingness to risk their lives, please take a minute to read the UN report, detailing what is known of how these nine Turkish citizens died. One, Furkan Dogan (pictured), was also an American citizen.

Another flotilla is organizing for June of this year. Read about it, so that when it is attacked, you will understand why and how these people continue to risk their lives so that the world will not forget Gaza.

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