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Ann Wright

Col. Ann Wright (Ret.) resigned from the State Department on March 19, 2003 in protest of the invasion of Iraq

June 29th, 2011 12:45 AM

Obama should support the Audacity of Hope, condemn Israeli naval blockade

This week, some 40 American citizens, including myself, will peacefully attempt to break Israel's illegal naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The flotilla that we will be a part of is expected to consist of 10 boats carrying human rights advocates from around the world and humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

The U.S. boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, which I will be aboard, will be carrying letters of solidarity to Gazans, who live under siege in a virtual prison, cut off from the rest of the world and any semblance of a normal life.  Our goal is to bring attention to their plight, and to bring about an end to Israel's illegal siege, which amounts to collective punishment of 1.7 million people.

Although we will be sailing unarmed and have no intention of entering Israel or Israeli waters, the U.S. State Department issued an unusually specific and blunt travel advisory last week, warning Americans against traveling to Gaza. Without giving any details, State Department officials also suggested that Americans taking part in the flotilla might be violating U.S. law.

The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused flotilla organizers of trying to "provoke actions," claiming erroneously that we were going to enter Israeli waters, and added that "the Israelis have the right to defend themselves." As an American citizen, retired army officer, and former U.S. diplomat, I am appalled by the position taken by my government, particularly in light of what happened last year when Israeli commandos killed nine humanitarian participants committed to Palestinian freedom, including American Furkan Do?an, as they took part in the previous flotilla that attempted to break the siege in May 2010.

To make matters worse, the Israeli government is trying to suppress media coverage of the flotilla by threatening to ban journalists who sail with it from working in Israel for 10 years.

Sadly, it would seem that the Obama administration has chosen to side with the Israeli government as it threatens to ban journalists and to stop and detain peaceful American citizens who will be fully within the law while sailing in international waters in protest of a naval blockade not recognized as legal by many international experts and lawyers.

In his speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds from Cairo in 2009, President Obama called on Palestinians to embrace nonviolent means to protest the injustices done to them. Yet, when dozens of unarmed Palestinians were shot and killed or injured by Israeli forces while peacefully marking the recent Nakba and Naksa day anniversaries, a White House spokesman refused to condemn the use of deadly force, claiming Israel had a right "to defend itself."

Now, as U.S. citizens attempt to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza using nonviolent means, President Obama seems once again to be backing away from his public urgings. Instead, he and Secretary Clinton are giving a green light to Israel to act as it sees fit, regardless of the legal or moral consequences.

Unlike the U.S. government, the Irish government has publicly and privately warned Israeli officials against using force against Irish citizens who will be taking part in the flotilla. What does it say about the Obama administration that, while other governments are taking action to ensure the safety of their citizens, it continues to defend Israel's "right" to stop and detain unarmed American citizens traveling in international waters?

In her remarks last week, Secretary Clinton claimed that our flotilla is not "a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza," and that "construction materials" are being allowed into Gaza by Israel. What Secretary Clinton didn't acknowledge is that, while the Obama administration has stood idly by and done nothing to end Israel's cruel and illegal siege, the slight loosening of the blockade in recent months is due to the perseverance and pressure brought to bear on Israel by Palestinian and international human rights advocates like those taking part in this and previous flotillas.

In other words, it is precisely because the Obama administration has refused to take action to end the siege, and to alleviate the suffering of Gazans, that we Americans are setting sail this week. In light of this fact, the least that President Obama and Secretary Clinton can do is speak out to ensure our safety.

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