A Father Speaks for His Son Killed on the Humanitarian Flotilla to Gaza

Published on
the Albany Times Union (New York)

A Father Speaks for His Son Killed on the Humanitarian Flotilla to Gaza

My son, Furkan, was killed in May by the Israeli military while attempting to deliver humanitarian aid by sea to the Gaza Strip. As he was just 19, he asked his mother and me for our permission to participate. Our decision will be with us for the rest of our lives.

We could not crush his humanitarian impulse and say no to him. Parents the world over wrestle with questions of when to let their children pursue their dreams, and most reluctantly let go as their children enter early adulthood. We did the same and took parental satisfaction in his concern for others. But never did I imagine that the Israeli military would storm his ship, killing Furkan and eight others, and then blame our son and his co-passengers for their own deaths.

It is my responsibility to speak for my son and voice his concern for Palestinians in Gaza. It is my responsibility to stand up to an Israeli propaganda effort that has attempted to paint our beautiful child as a fanatic and not the caring young man we knew him to be.

Every major American TV network looped cherry-picked Israeli Defense Forces video of the events on the Mavi Marmara. Now it is my turn to travel to the United States, speak on my son's behalf and attempt to achieve a measure of justice for him.

I will forever be proud of my son. He was a humanistic and conscientious child and a fine young man. I remember Furkan as unfailingly polite, helpful and generous. He disliked violence his entire life.

Deeply concerned by the plight of Palestinians suffering under the Israeli siege, he was determined to take humanitarian aid there with his own hands and give it to the children of Gaza. Furkan was well aware that the Israeli siege had made approximately 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza dependent on aid and that educational opportunities for children were being foreclosed for lack of schools and textbooks.

He wanted to breathe the same air as these children, commiserate and make life a bit more bearable for them.

In recent years, he became alert to the injustices to which Israel subjects Palestinians -- the siege of Gaza, the two-tiered legal system that discriminates against Palestinians and the colonization of the West Bank that strips Palestinians of their land and the potential for a Palestinian state.

But Furkan's particular sensitivity was always for the children, especially those killed and injured despite their obvious innocence. The killing of more than 300 Palestinian children during the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza profoundly influenced him and motivated him to participate in the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza. He was determined to find a solution to their need -- to do something, to not look away as too much of the world was doing.

He never got the chance. While filming the Israeli takeover of his ship, he was shot five times and died on board.

Though Furkan was an American citizen born in Troy, American officials jumped to take Israel's side, notwithstanding clear evidence that Israel selectively released footage to exonerate its soldiers for the deadly mayhem they unleashed while storming the humanitarian ship in the dead of night.

The Obama administration's failure to support my son and my family's humanitarian concern for Palestinians comes from the same misguided policy that has led to decades of support for Middle East autocrats and Israeli governments that have long oppressed Palestinians.

And the American position seems oblivious to the findings of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The mission determined that the "circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution." My son's name was included among the six.

Faced with such facts, what family would not push Furkan's government to take up his case? I am in Washington and New York City this week, not only to champion justice for my son, but also to remind Washington that the U.N. mission concluded that "a humanitarian crisis existed" in May 2010 in Gaza and that "for this reason alone the blockade is unlawful."

Furkan, though young, also saw the bigger picture. He sought not simply humanitarian relief for Palestinians, but also freedom from Israeli subjugation. With freedom advancing in Tunisia, Egypt, and around the Gulf, Palestinians' long efforts to free themselves from Israeli domination are also worthy of recognition and support.

Ahmet Dogan

Ahmet Dogan studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is an assistant professor of accounting at Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey.

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