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US government threatens to arrest US flotilla participants
As 38 US citizens prepare to join hundreds of others from around the world on a humanitarian aid mission to the Gaza Strip, the US State Department issued a statement that their participation in the 'Freedom Flotilla' of aid ships could be a violation of US law, and threatened to arrest those participating.
The statement by the US government comes several days after a US citizen who was injured in a Hamas-claimed bombing in Israel in 2002 sued the US Delegation to the Flotilla, claiming that he should be given possession of their leased boat because they are “supporting Hamas”.
No evidence has ever been presented to support a claim that the Flotilla supports the Hamas party, which was elected to run the Palestinian Authority in both the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. In fact, Flotilla organizers have made numerous statements that the aid and support they are bringing to Gaza is non-partisan, and is made up of medical and school supplies to help the 750,000 children who live in Gaza under an intense Israeli siege.
The US boat also includes hundreds of letters written by US children and adults to the people of Gaza, offering love, prayers and support as the Gazans continue to suffer under the fourth year of an Israeli blockade of their borders.
As one 9-year old boy in Gaza put it, “We don't have food, we don't have clean water, we have to live in these ruined houses like bums. Other children in other countries have fun and play, why do we have to live under this siege?”
Although the US government claimed that “there are legal means” to get aid into the Gaza Strip, Israeli government statements and policy documents contradict this claim. As Just Foreign Policy Director Robert Naiman notes in a recent article, “Exports from Gaza remain largely blocked; restrictions on Gazans' travel to the West Bank and East Jerusalem for work, study, and medical care remain; imports of construction materials remain largely blocked; restrictions on Gaza's farming and fishing remain. Unemployment in Gaza is among the highest in the world, the UN reports.”
In response to the US government's threat to arrest participants, the US delegation to the Gaza Strip, which include writer Alice Walker, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, and a large number of American Jews, issued a statement saying, “Instead of calling on the Israeli government to let a flotilla of unarmed civilians sail to Gaza, the United States government is pressuring its own citizens to refrain from legal acts.”
Hagit Borer, a professor of Linguistics at the University of Southern California and a passenger on the U.S. Boat, said, “Apparently, the State Department subscribes to the view that Israel’s anticipated violence against unarmed protesters is an immutable act of nature. This is a remarkable attitude, coming from a government that provides the Israeli government with billions of dollars in military aid and routinely uses its veto to protect the Israeli government from censure of its occupation policies by the UN Security Council.”
Petitions with thousands of signatures have been submitted to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and six US congressmembers have signed on to a letter urging the US government to stop Israel from attacking the flotilla as it has threatened to do. Last year, the Israeli government attacked a similar flotilla, killing nine humanitarian aid workers, mainly with gunshots to the head. No one has ever been prosecuted for that attack, in which one US citizen, Furqan Dogan, and eight Turkish aid workers were killed.