What do 'Flotilla Folk' do and why?
By ANN WRIGHT AND HAGIT BORER 07/31/2011
In response to a Jerusalem Post piece on July 25, "What
do "Flotilla Folk' do?" by Roz Rothstein and Roberta
Being, so to speak, of the "flotilla folk" ourselves,
we read with some interest Rothstein and Seid's idle
speculations on who our shipmates might have been, for
idle speculations they certainly are, the writers
having never contacted any of us. In fact, at least
when it comes to the American-flagged boat, The
Audacity of Hope, we are not nearly as much of a
mystery as one might imagine. Our biographies are all
publicly posted at www.ustogaza.org,.
A perusal of our stories would reveal, among other
things, that 58 percent of us are women and that our
median age is 60.
Similar demographic patterns existed on other boats as
well. Many are retired people; most with modest means.
We are people willing to spend our savings to fly to
Athens and stay there for weeks, doubled or tripled up
in hotel rooms, waiting to sail to Gaza.
We are people who felt, who still feel, that we must
make the time and find the means because struggling for
justice is the moral thing to do. Because we have all
come to believe, in the words of Howard Zinn, that "You
Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" - all notions, one
feels, that Rothstein and Seid view with a mixture of
scorn and incredulity.
As Americans, many of us also feel our primary duty is
to speak truth to precisely that power that purports to
speak on our behalf - a notion that is, likewise,
rather alien to most Israeli-Jewish society, although
by no means to Jews elsewhere. A third of us,
passengers and organizers of The Audacity of Hope, are
Jews, representing a long and valiant tradition of
Jewish progressive activism in the US, Europe, South
America, South Africa and elsewhere.
What Rothstein and Seid have neglected to note (carried
away as they were by their enthusiastic description of
our Israel-Hating Syndrome) is that many passengers on
The Audacity of Hope have a long and distinguished
record of anti-war activism.
They have been outspoken opponents of the American war
in Vietnam; they have spoken against American
involvement in Central America, and in the past decade,
against wars the US has waged on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many have traveled numerous times to war-ravaged
Baghdad and Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, one of our
passengers, traveled to Iraq 26 times! NO, WE are
definitely not like other folks, if by "other folks"
Rothstein and Seid refer to themselves. Unlike
Rothstein and Seid, we insist on remembering not only
the 23 people killed by rockets from Gaza, but also the
over 1,000 Palestinian civilians killed by Israel in
Gaza in Cast Lead. And the scores killed in Jenin, and
those shot routinely in demonstrations in the West
Bank. Unlike folks such as Rothstein and Seid, we
refuse to forget that 1.6 million people in Gaza have
been living in an open-air prison for five years now,
or that 2.6 million in the West Bank have been under
military occupation for 44 years - the longest military
occupation in modern history, and a situation with
absolutely no current parallels! That we have turned
our attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in
general and to the occupation and oppression of the
Palestinians in particular derives directly from the
understanding that these could not have survived
without US government support. It is the US government
that has directly abetted Israel in its continuing
dispossession of the Palestinians, and that has
supported and protected Israel through its decades of
refusal to enter meaningful negotiations. Insofar as we
are Americans, and insofar as our action is
fundamentally political, it is intended to raise the
awareness of our own people and to pressure our own
government to change its course.
And yes, horrendous things are happening elsewhere in
the world. Some on the flotilla have been very
concerned about that. The IHH - that organization which
The Jerusalem Post links to jihadist groups - has, in
fact, interceded to support the Syrian refugees in
Turkey, and delivered medicine and medical equipment to
hospitals in al-Bayda and Benghazi in Libya. How
inconvenient for your case! But not to worry. One would
be hard-pressed to find any trace of these facts in the
mainstream Western or Israeli press.
Reading your derisive comments - all intended to
belittle the flotilla and its passengers - it strikes
us that the main question is not the one you pose,
namely, who we are. Rather, a very different question
comes to mind. Here we are, by your description - a
bunch of pathetic losers, misguided vacationers,
professional activists and idealists who ran out of
A grand total of 1,500 - an overestimation to begin
with - and in actuality a lot less once the Mavi
And yet, the State of Israel sees fit to keep us in the
headlines for months with threats of attack dogs,
snipers and anticipated deaths. Israel pulls out all
stops in putting pressure on Mediterranean countries in
general, and on Greece in particular, to make sure we
don't leave port. The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron
Prosor, on June 22, called on the international
community "to do everything in their ability in order
to prevent the flotilla and warn citizens of their
countries of the risks of participating in this type of
BUT IF we are deluded losers, what does that make the
State of Israel and its hysterical response? If 16
passengers on a small yacht off the coast of Gaza are
bored vacationers with a mental disorder, what does
that make the four fully armed gunboats confronting
them? The fact of the matter is that Israel, without
any aid from us, provided our otherwise symbolic and
rather small-scale effort with the overwhelming
amplification that made it headline news in the rest of
the world, and most crucially, it would appear from
your article, an ongoing Israeli obsession.
While we wanted the plight of the Palestinians to be
noticed by the world, we did not set out to have the
flotilla become a major world event. That it has become
one, however, became patently clear to us once
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw fit to travel to
Greece to deliver her heartfelt thanks to fPapandreou
for services rendered - the stopping of our flotilla.
Frankly, we are grateful!
Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve colonel and
former US diplomat. Hagit Borer is a professor of
linguistics at the University of Southern California.
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