Ed. Note: The U.S. boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” will depart for Gaza next month with 50 on board, including Ray McGovern, who wrote this open letter to President Barack Obama after watching his speech Thursday on the Middle East. Speaking for passengers and crew, McGovern asks the President to serve notice on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday that Obama will hold him accountable for ensuring safe passage.
May 19, 2011
Dear Mr. President:
Your speech on the Middle East earlier today emboldens me to claim your protection as we set out to put flesh on your rhetoric. Fifty of your fellow citizens will be sailing on “The Audacity of Hope” to Gaza in June.
You spoke eloquently today about “times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.” And you lamented “failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people.”
We, the passengers and crew of “The Audacity of Hope,” sailing to Gaza together with the 2nd International Freedom Flotilla, represent ordinary Americans determined to speak to the aspirations of the 1.5 million ordinary Gazans yearning to be free.
We will be delivering thousands of letters of support and friendship from other ordinary Americans who are persuaded, as Dr. King put it, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I write you for assurance of your support and protection as we try to embody your rhetoric. You emphasized that “the United States supports a set of universal rights,” and that this U.S. support is “not a secondary interest.” It is, rather, “a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions.”
Bold words. With respect to the situation in Gaza, though, perhaps you will agree that it hardly suffices to bemoan the fate of one “Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza” — who, as you put it, has a “right to feel angry.”
That Palestinian and his dead daughters are four. But Israeli forces killed 1,400 Gazans in December 1998-January 1999 — and 1.5 million Gazans remain deprived of the universal rights of which you spoke.
Gaza is a sequestered, crowded open-air prison, in which Israel keeps “inmates” at a subsistence level of existence. This amounts to the kind of collective punishment banned by international law and is enforced by an equally illegal Israeli naval blockade.
Many Americans have long been puzzled that you choose to exempt Gazans from your stated concern about universal rights; and, frankly, we have tired of waiting for a cogent explanation. So we ask you to look upon our voyage to Gaza as our attempt to implement your rhetoric about what ordinary citizens can do — not only to “speak,” but also to act to meet the broader aspirations of the ordinary people of Gaza.
On May 20, you will have an opportunity to inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of our intention to sail to Gaza next month. You have probably already been briefed on Israel’s far-flung diplomatic and propaganda offensive to prevent our boat and the other boats of the international flotilla from embarking for Gaza.
Those Israelis determined to enforce their illegal blockade may feel emboldened by your lack of response to the killing of nine passengers — including an American citizen — on the 2010 relief flotilla and the wounding of dozens of other peaceful passengers. This is your chance to disabuse those Israelis of the notion they can attack unarmed civilians with impunity. This year we expect you to speak up for us beforehand.
And please do not try to pretend that $3 billion of our taxes — our annual gift to Israel — cannot be translated into the kind of leverage that will spare “The Audacity of Hope” from harm at the hands of the “Israeli Defense Forces.”
Finally, allow me to suggest talking points not likely to be included in your briefing papers. These points transcend rhetoric and spring from a faith heritage you share with Netanyahu. They deal with the doing of justice — the preoccupation of the prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Before meeting with Netanyahu, have a look at what Isaiah says about “proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners” and how Jesus of Nazareth repeats that, word for word, eight centuries later. Please give that some serious thought, and be prepared to put justice above politics.
And please let us – and the world – know how the discussion goes.