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Medea Benjamin on the freedom flotilla: Water cannons, tasers and Rachel Corrie

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We started out this morning with a political briefing from our intrepid retired Colonel Ann Wright, who has been busting her butt on this project for the past year! Ann told us that the Greek Foreign Ministry came out with a statement that the flotilla is "not helpful" and encouraged Greek citizens as well as ships under Greek registry not to take part in the new flotilla. The Greek government, which has growing economic and military ties with Israel, said that while it is against the blockade of Gaza and the use of violence to prevent ships from reaching the coastal strip, the flotilla will not help the humanitarian situation. Ann speculated that the Israelis are putting intense pressure on the Greek government to stop the flotilla.

Then we went back to our training sessions, focusing on how we would respond to an Israeli attack on our boat. We talked about safety of the passengers (e.g., complying immediately with the military's demands) vs. "buying time" to be able to get our story out. Last year, the Israelis confiscated all electronic equipment, so we discussed how we might transmit up to the last minute, save the video chips, etc.

Later in the afternoon we had a long discussion about the weapons the Israelis might use and how we might protect ourselves. It was so incongruous to see this group of mainstream-looking Americans, many of them professionals such as lawyers, health care workers, teachers, etc., talking about how to best protect ourselves from tasers, tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons (with the foulest-smelling chemical-laden or sewage water called Skunk), attack dogs, snipers and more.

We took a break during the afternoon to go to the U.S. embassy and meet with the Consul General Matt McKever and Kate Brandeis, the American Citizens officer. They emphasized the U.S. travel advisory from June 22 that warned U.S. citizens of the dangers of trying to reach Gaza by sea -- the danger not being Hamas but violent attacks by the Israelis. We wanted to know what right Israel had to intercept American citizens in international waters. One of our participants, Henry Norr from San Francisco, asked what the U.S. government would do if we were captured by Somali pirates, which led to a discussion about how the U.S. would try to save us. He then asked what would the U.S. would do if we were kidnapped by Israeli pirates. Their response was to laugh, as if it was an absurd comparison.

Our 86-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein gave a beautiful presentation about how she survived thanks to the help of courageous and compassionate people who helped her escape Germany (her parents were not so lucky) and how that gave her a sensitivity toward the suffering of others and a responsibility to help. Alice Walker was equally compelling, talking about growing up in the South and how visiting Gaza and the West Bank was like going back in time.

Despite our great presenters and pointed questions, we left quite frustrated. We kept asking what our government would do to protect us from the Israelis but the two of them didn't have any answers. They were merely nice bureaucrats who would do nothing for us.

The day was topped off by an emotion-packed performance of the play I Am Rachel Corrie by two extremely talented Greek women. They had been doing the play, in Greek, all around the country for many months. When they discovered we were in town, they asked to do a special showing for us in English. Rachel’s words and the way they read them so passionately left us all in tears, hugging and kissing the actresses for their moving performance.

Then a very talented Polish woman, Eva Jasiewicz, read excerpts from her new book -- a book that describes her experiences in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, when she worked as a medic during the 22 terrifying days of bombing. That, too, left us in tears.

But the evening, so full of sadness and solidarity, fortified our resolve to get on the boats…

Follow Medea's blog at the Pink Tank.

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