National Lawyers Guild
July 1, 2011
Today, the U.S. Boat to Gaza, the Audacity to Hope, was stopped by the Greek Coast Guard as it attempted to begin its journey to Gaza, apparently as a result of U.S./Israeli pressure. The National Lawyers Guild International Committee called on the US government to end its pressure on the Greek government to act against the Flotilla and demand that Israel refrain from violence against peaceful protesters soon to be embarking on Freedom Flotilla Two - Stay Human, an international civilian seaborne freedom ride to Gaza that seeks to break Israel's illegal siege on Gaza. The IC also called upon Greece to give free passage to the flotilla boats to Gaza.
The "Audacity of Hope," is an American flagged vessel and is expected to carry 36 passengers, including the well-known author and poet Alice Walker. One quarter of its passengers are Jewish Americans. The Audacity of Hope is currently held by the Greek Coast Guard just off the Greek coast. The Greek government is widely reported to be under massive U.S. and Israeli pressure to stop the flotilla from sailing and is reported, in response to this pressure, to have issued a statement that no ship may leave its harbor for Gaza.
The Israeli government has recently made outrageous allegations against the flotilla, accusing the boats of carrying sulfur and other weapons to attack Israeli military forces. The "Audacity of Hope" opened itself yesterday to public media inspection in order to disprove such claims.
Rather than defend U.S. citizens' right to travel freely and to participate in humanitarian activities, the U.S. State Department has participated instead in justifying Israeli attacks and threatening flotilla members. At a news conference in the White House last Wednesday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that "we think that itís not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves."
"Rather than using US influence to protect peaceful demonstrators, including American citizens, Clinton signals advance approval for Israel to violently attack them," said Audrey Bomse, co-chair of the Free Palestine Subcommittee (FPSC) of the National Lawyers Guild. "What is illegal and provocative is the Israeli siege. The only action the freedom riders in the flotilla are trying to provoke is change in Israeli policy--ending its illegal siege on Gaza. The Israeli government has not and cannot defend its illegal collective punishment of more than one million civilians living in Gaza. And piling on the crime of attacking civilian protesters as they sail through international and Gazan waters--not Israeli waters--can never be justified. We call on the State Department to clearly demand that Israel refrain from any and all threat or use of violence and allow the boats to proceed to Gaza."
The State Department also attempted to use material support laws to threaten flotilla participants, stating, "delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to, or for the benefit of, a designated foreign terrorist organisation, such as Hamas, could violate US civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration," in a statement on the flotilla. Since the only cargo the US Boat to Gaza is carrying is letters of solidarity, to carry out its threat of prosecution the US government will have to define even letters supporting Palestinian civilians in Gaza as support for Hamas. said FPSC co-chair Jimmy Leas.
Two of the boats in the flotilla, a Norwegian boat in a Greek harbor and an Irish boat in a Turkish harbor, have been damaged in the past days, apparently due to sabotage. The U.S. boat is currently in a Greek harbor, being held up by a spurious complaint about its seaworthiness by an Israeli organization, as the Greek government is reported to be under high pressure from the Israeli and U.S. governments to prevent the flotilla's sailing.
The International Committee of the Red Cross declared the siege of Gaza illegal, stating that "the whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law." Amnesty International reported last week that "the humanitarian crisis in Gaza hasnít changed significantly at all" despite changes during the past year, including Egyptís opening of the Rafah crossing.
A National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza after the December 27, 2008 Israeli attack there found overwhelming evidence of violations of international law by the Israeli military, and the Guild reiterated its call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, as well as calling for an immediate investigation of the actions of the Israeli military and prosecution of the perpetrators of these latest crimes against humanity, after the May 2010 assault on the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza.
Please contact the Greek Embassy immediately and ask that the US Boat delivering letters to Gaza be granted passage out of Greek waters at (202) 939-1300.
Call the State Department at 202-647-4000 and demand that the U.S. State Department stop its threats and pressure against the flotilla
Donations to the International Committee are greatly appreciated!
"Your interest and support has been a great encouragement to us at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
-- Desmond Tutu on the Guild's work in South Africa