Who are the U.S. Participants in the International Aid Flotilla?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

El Cerrito, CA, (Pal Telegraph) A decorated U.S. Navy veteran, a retired U.S. ambassador, a structural engineer, a former math teacher and a piano tuner are heading for the eastern Mediterranean to take part in the Freedom Flotilla, a multinational grassroots effort to deliver humanitarian relief aid to the besieged Gaza Strip by sea. They will represent the Free Palestine Movement (FPM), a California-based human rights organization that helped to purchase one of the ships and is sending reconstruction supplies aboard it. In all, the convoy will include at least eight ships, carrying 600 passengers and 5,000 tons of building materials, medical equipment, and school supplies.

Participating in the FPM delegation will be:

• Joe Meadors, a decorated Navy veteran and one of the survivors of the 1967 attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, in which Israeli fighter planes and ships killed 34 Americans and wounded 173;

• Ambassador Edward L. Peck, who served as a paratrooper during two tours of wartime active duty; spent 32 years in the Foreign Service; including stints as Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania, Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism at the Reagan White House, and State Department Liaison Officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon; and after retirement was Executive Secretary of the American Academy of Diplomacy;

• Gene St. Onge, an Oakland, CA-based civil/structural engineer, who is working with Palestinian engineers to rebuild housing destroyed in Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza;

• Janet Kobren of Oakland, CA, a retired math teacher and co-founder of the FPM; and

• Dr. Paul Larudee of El Cerrito, CA, a piano tuner and FPM co-founder, who also co-founded the movement that first broke the siege of Gaza in 2008.

One of the ships participating in the convoy, the MV Rachel Corrie, set sail from Ireland on May 14. When it reaches the eastern Mediterranean, it will rendezvous with the other ships, which are sailing from Greece and Turkey. The flotilla is due to arrive in Gaza around the end of May.

Even though the convoy has no intention of entering Israeli territorial waters, Israel authorities are using both diplomatic pressure and the threat of force to try to block it. According to reports in the Israeli press, Israel’s navy has been training to stop and seize the vessels. In the last year, Israel has confiscated two humanitarian-relief vessels and their cargo, detained the passengers and then deported them to their home countries.  The Freedom Flotilla organizers say they are determined to continue to Gaza regardless of any threats.

“It’ll be like old home week,” said Meadors, recalling the Israeli attack he survived 43 years ago. “I’m determined to land with this internationally coordinated effort on the shores of Gaza to deliver relief to the 1.5 million inhabitants suffering under the Israeli-led illegal blockade.”

John Ging, the Director of Operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, recently called upon the international community to break the siege on the Gaza Strip by sending ships loaded with desperately needed supplies .”We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organizations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible.”

Explaining his decision to participate in the convoy, Ambassador Peck said many Americans oppose Israeli’s oppressive policies in Palestine and especially Gaza, and believe that they are not in anyone’s interests, especially Israel’s. “All the peoples of the Middle East will live in peace and security”, he said, “only when, and if, all of them live in peace and security.”

Explaining his decision to participate in the convoy, Ambassador Peck said he wants to show that many Americans oppose Israeli policy and believe that it is in U.S. interests to hold Israel to accountable to international law and human rights standards. “All the peoples of the Middle East will live in peace and security only when and if all of them live in peace and security,” he said.

“This convoy is a major historical event,” said Larudee just before his departure for the flotilla. “It shows that the civilians from all over the world are united in their determination to overcome the injustice of this blockade and the suffering that it is causing.”

The people of the Gaza Strip have been under Israeli occupation and barred from trading by sea for 43 years. Since 2006 the 25-mile-long enclave has been subject to an ever-tightening Israeli siege, which has permitted only a trickle of supplies to enter. After the devastating Israeli assault of December 2008-January 2009, which wrecked the territory’s infrastructure and economy, the international community pledged $4.5 billion in reconstruction assistance, but almost none of it has yet reached Gaza.

Backed by activists in 30 countries and organized by groups in Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union as well as the U.S., the Freedom Flotilla is the biggest international effort yet to break the Israeli siege of Gaza. The Free Palestine Movement is the only US-based organization participating, although some Americans are also participating as part of other organizations.

For more information about the Free Palestine Movement, see www.freepalestinemovement.org.

Press release


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