The United States should join the call for an independent investigation of Israel's handling of the Gaza Aid Flotilla, in which nine activists were killed and dozens, including several Israeli soldiers, were wounded, a former Army colonel and ex-diplomat said Tuesday in Albuquerque.
Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the Army and nearly six years as a diplomat for the State Department, was one of three department officials to resign over the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Now an outspoken peace activist, Wright took part in the May 30-31 Gaza Aid Flotilla in which six civilian ships tried to go through Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, ostensibly to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians.
The flotilla, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, was reportedly carrying humanitarian aid, medical supplies, construction materials and 718 international activists, journalists and crewmen.
After repeated warnings by Israeli Defense Force officials to turn back, the ships continued toward Gaza until they were boarded by Israeli commandos and taken to the port of Ashdod. Shots were fired during the boarding, resulting in the deaths.
All the participants were detained and deported within weeks. The ships and their cargo - including all records of the incident collected by the roughly 70 journalists on board - remain in Israeli hands.
"They took every camera we had, they took every cell phone we had. They took every computer we had," Wright told about 75 people gathered at First Congregational Church at the invitation of Veterans for Peace.
"All of the evidence ... is in the hands of the Israeli military," she said. "That's why we need an independent, neutral investigation, and the international community forcing Israel to give up the rest of the evidence."
The U.N. Security Council condemned the raid and demanded an impartial investigation. Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plea for President Barack Obama to veto any Security Council condemnation of Israel, Obama has refused to do so.
Israel has said the three-year blockade of Gaza is needed to keep weapons and militants from infiltrating the Hamas-run territory.
Wright said the world has a one-sided view of what occurred because Israel has released only portions of confiscated video, Wright said.
"This is why we need an independent investigation," she said. "Right now, we only have the Israeli side of the story."
Wright is adamant that her activism is fueled by concern for the Palestinian people who, she said, live in an Israeli-imposed "open-air prison."
Though noting that Hamas - labeled a terrorist organization by the United States - was democratically elected by the Palestinians, Wright said she does not support the Palestinian government.
"I am there to help the people of Gaza. It's a very clear distinction to me."
Wright is now organizing another attempt to get past the blockade, this time under the banner of a group called U.S. Ship to Gaza.