By Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace
When I got the news about Israelâ€™s armed attack on the Gaza Flotilla at 2:30 am on the morning of May 31, I felt sick. I immediately called a dear friend in Jerusalem, one of the most committed activists I know. Across the ocean, I could hear in her voice that she was in tears. â€œThe worst part about it, â€œ she said, â€œis that nothing will change.â€
â€œNo,â€ I replied. â€œI canâ€™t believe that can be true. Things have to change.â€
â€œWell,â€ she said, â€œthen it is up to you, the internationals.â€
Sheâ€™s right. It is up to us, the internationals both here in the United States and abroad.
That is why I want you to send a message to US President Obama if you live outside of the United States, and to Obama and the US Congress if you are a US resident, demanding the immediate release of the detained human rights activists, an end to the siege on Gaza, an impartial investigation of the attack on the flotilla, and a suspension of US aid until Israel abides by international law.
We still donâ€™t know a lot about what happened to the flotilla of boats carrying some 700 human rights activists from around the world and over 10 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza–Israel has kept the activists under a near total media blackout while sharing only its implausible narrative of events. What we do know is that Israeli commandos boarded a ship in international waters and killed at least ten activists, injuring dozens of others.
Israel insists that highly trained commandos were forced to lethally fire on activists, creating a new definition of self-defense. In the first alternative accounts to appear, an Israeli Knesset member and an Al Jazeera cameraman who were on board the ship at the time each described something different, a scene of chaos with civilians waving white flags and commandos using stun guns, rubber bullets and tear gas. Regardless of what actually happened when armed soldiers landed, Israelâ€™s wanton killing of civilians is unacceptable.
We still donâ€™t know the names of those who were killed or injured, or where they are from. And we donâ€™t know the whereabouts or well-being of more than 400 activists still being held by Israel.
These deaths, and the attacks on the boats, have hit all of us around the world particularly hard. There were people from 40 different countries on board the ships, including Israelis and Palestinians. Israel sent armed commandos onto a civilian ship in international waters, a brazenly illegal act to enforce Israelâ€™s nearly 3-year illegal siege of Gaza – a siege that has left 1.5 million men, women and children living like prisoners on substandard diets, deprived of the simplest things like potato chips, musical instruments, and toys. The flotilla wasnâ€™t just about this one delivery of aid. It was about the right of Palestinians to have sea, land and air routes to the rest of the world and for the need to end the blockade.
I know that there comes a point in oneâ€™s life when you simply have to take a stand. You cannot sit by silently and watch ongoing and wholly unjustified destruction of life, tacitly supported by governments around the world, and simply do nothing.
The flotilla was filled with people just like you and me who finally decided it was time to risk life and limb to take a stand, to break through those prison walls, and we thank them for it.
Now, as citizens of the world, we owe it to the people of Palestine, and the people of Israel who want to live in peace, and the brave people on that flotilla, to build the movement to make Israel accountable to international law and standards of simple human decency – especially because our governments have failed us.
The response of the U.S. government thus far has been wholly inadequate, with a mild statement â€œregretting the loss of life,â€ without assigning any blame for the fiasco, let alone applying any sanctions for Israelâ€™s acts. Please, join me in telling President Obama and Congress enough is enough. US taxpayer dollars fund Israelâ€™s occupation, and together with wall to wall uncritical diplomatic support have sent the message that any Israeli action, no matter how foolhardy, will be backed by the full might of the United States.
Itâ€™s time for that to stop.
We must also continue to build the already massive global peopleâ€™s movement for justice, which has undeniably found its greatest impact in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This is about all of the ways, big and small, people can bypass their often ineffective governments to use economic pressure to make the Israeli government accountable to international law. After launching our energetic support for campus efforts to divest from the occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace will let you know soon about our own divestment campaign to help bring pressure on Israel to reach a just solution.
It is time for the United States, as Israelâ€™s closest ally and most powerful nation in the world, to stop unconditional support for the Israeli government.Doing so will protect Israelis and Palestinians, American citizens, and internationals alike.