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Will Israel attack The Audacity of Hope as it did the Liberty, the Dignity and the Spirit of Humanity?
by Michael R. Burch

In the past, Israel has attacked ships called the Liberty (a U.S. navy vessel) and the Dignity, Freedom and Spirit of Humanity (three mercy ships carrying peace activists and humanitarian aid). Now another mercy ship called The Audacity of Hope is about to set sail for Gaza. Will Israel sink her, scuttle her, or "only" board her and commandeer her in international waters, recklessly endangering the lives of everyone on board?

The Audacity of Hope

The second Gaza Freedom Flotilla is setting sail for Gaza. The flotilla includes The Audacity of Hope, a boat containing fifty American citizens and letters of support for the people of Gaza from thousands of Americans. According to the boat's passengers, they will be unarmed and do "not serve the agenda of any political leadership, government or group" but "are engaged solely in nonviolent action in support of the Palestinian people and their human rights."

Of course like any fascist state, Israel will defiantly deny the right of anyone to publicly express the idea that its victims have human rights. For the world to see Palestinians as human beings with equal human rights would spell the end of Israel’s military domination of Gaza and Occupied Palestine (the West Bank).

The MV Saoirse ("Freedom")

The Irish ship MV Saoirse (English: "Freedom") is a mercy ship operated by the organization "Irish Ship to Gaza," which had planned to participate in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla II. The flotilla aims to bring humanitarian aid items to the Gaza Strip in defiance of the blockade imposed by Israel. The blockade prevents the import of an ever-changing list of banned goods which has, at various times included pasta, chocolate, biscuits, and children’s coloring paper and crayons.

As of June 29th 2011, the MV Saoirse will not be able to participate in the second Gaza Freedom Flotilla, as it seems underwater divers have sabotaged the vessel. Here is the most current report as of the date of this article:

Terrible news has reached us in the early hours of Thursday [June 29, 2010] – the Irish Ship To Gaza, MV Saoirse, has been SABOTAGED, presumably by agents of Israel. The damage is extensive, and indeed, if it had gone undetected apparently may have been life-threatening if the ship had been at sea. This is an unacceptable act of aggression against an Irish vessel (which is sovereign Irish territory), against the Freedom Flotilla, and most importantly against the people of Palestine which this flotilla was intending to reach in an act of humanitarian solidarity.

Full details of the extent of the sabotage, including photos and video of the damage will be made available to the press later today.

The Irish Ship To Gaza have called an EMERGENCY DEMONSTRATION for tomorrow in response to this outrageous act. We are calling on people to assemble at 6pm at the Spire in O’Connell Street. Fro there we will march to the Israeli Embassy and stage an overnight sit-in outside (so bring sleeping bags etc). We intend to shut down the Israeli Embassy!

We need this demo to be as loud as possible, so if you have drums, bodrans, whistles, whatever, please bring them along.

This act of sabotage against a peaceful humanitarian civil society mission (which has been paid for by thousands of ordinary Irish people) must be protested in the strongest terms possible.

The MV Rachel Corrie

MV Rachel Corrie is a humanitarian relief ship owned and operated by the Free Gaza Movement. The ship is named in honor of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist who was killed by the Israeli military as she used her body as a "human shield" to protect the house of a Palestinian doctor and his family. In June 2010 the vessel was intercepted by Israeli Defense Forces while attempting to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to deliver humanitarian aid.

The USS Liberty

On June 8, 1967 the USS Liberty, a United States Navy technical research ship, was attacked by Israeli Air Force jet fighters and Israeli Navy torpedo boats, during the Six-Day War. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two Marines, and one civilian), wounded 170 crew members, and severely damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula, about 25.5 nmi (29.3 mi; 47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish. Both the Israeli and U.S. governments conducted inquiries and issued reports that concluded the attack was a mistake due to Israeli confusion about the identity of the USS Liberty. Survivors contacted in 2007, by John M. Crewdson for a Chicago Tribune article about the attack, "to a man" rejected Israel's mistaken identity explanation. The Tribune article also said that most senior U.S. government officials involved with the incident did not believe that the attack was a "mistake." The attack remains "the only maritime incident in U.S. history where [U.S.] military forces were killed that was never investigated by the [U.S.] Congress."

The MV Mavi Marmara

The Mavi Marmara took part in a flotilla of ships operated by activist groups from 37 different countries with the intention of directly confronting the Israeli blockade of Gaza. On May 30, 2010, while the ship was still in international waters, Israeli Naval Forces communicated that a naval blockade over the Gaza area was in force and ordered the ships to follow them to Ashdod Port; the ships declined and were boarded in international waters. Reports from journalists on the ship and from the UN report on the incident concluded that the Israeli military opened fire with live rounds before boarding the ship. In the violent clash that followed, nine peace activists were killed, and several dozen more were injured.

The Spirit of Humanity

On June 30, 2009, the Israeli military attacked and boarded a Free Gaza Movement boat, the Spirit of Humanity, abducting 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, including Noble Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. The passengers and crew were "forcibly dragged toward Israel."

"This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip," said Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate. "President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that's exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey."

According to an International Committee of the Red Cross report, the Palestinians living in Gaza are "trapped in despair." Thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed earlier in the year during Israel's December/January massacre were still without shelter despite pledges of almost $4.5 billion in aid, because Israel refused to allow cement and other building materials into the Gaza Strip. The report also noted that hospitals were struggling to meet the needs of their patients due to Israel's disruption of medical supplies.

"The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught of "[Operation] Cast Lead". Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone" said passenger Mairead Maguire, winner of a Noble Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.

Just before being kidnapped by Israel, Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator on this voyage, stated that: "No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children's toys. Our passengers include a Nobel peace prize laureate and a former U.S. congressperson. Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters."

Arraf continued, "Israel's deliberate and premeditated attack on our unarmed boat is a clear violation of international law and we demand our immediate and unconditional release."

Ironically, on the fourth of July, while most Americans celebrated their freedom, a former U.S. presidential candidate languished in a notorious Israeli prison.

The Dignity

On December 30, 2008, peace activists trying to bring aid to Gaza claimed their boat, the Dignity, had been rammed by Israeli gunboats in a "criminal attack" in international waters. The Free Gaza Movement said the Dignity was intercepted by several Israeli ships as it headed toward the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli aerial bombardment since the previous Saturday. One gunboat rammed the Dignity on the port bow side, causing heavy damage, although no one was hurt, the group said. "When attacked, the Dignity was clearly in international waters, 90 miles off the coast of Gaza," the group said on its website. "The gunboats also fired their machine guns into the water in an attempt to stop the mercy ship from getting to Gaza. "Israel thumbs its nose in the face of maritime law by attacking a human rights boat in international waters and has put all of these human rights observers at risk. At no time was the Dignity ever close to Israeli waters. They clearly identified themselves, and the Israeli attack was willful and criminal." The group said the attack took place as the Dignity carried 16 passengers and three tonnes of medical supplies at the request of doctors in Gaza. The crew and passengers had hoped to treat some of those injured in four days of the Israeli air strikes, with hospitals in the territory overwhelmed. The Dignity flies the flag of Gibraltar and is piloted by an English captain. Its 16 passengers include Cynthia McKinney, a former US congresswoman.

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