With continued threats coming from Israel, a complaint traced to an Israeli organization aimed at docking the US boat indefinitely, and the reported sabotage of another flotilla ship, the State Department ought to say or do something to avert the possibility of undeserved violence toward US citizens sailing to Gaza.
But, of course, to date, the State Department has done just the opposite.
Last week, the State Department issued a travel warning to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that sounded more fit for the Democratic Republic of the Congo than a close US ally and purported bastion of freedom and democracy. The warning states,
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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. US citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of US citizens. US citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea. On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one US citizen, in such an attempt.
Here's an excerpt from the DRC warning:
Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country. Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay. In the last six months, the Embassy has recorded several instances in which US citizens were detained illegally by government forces.
Sounds remarkably similar. Although, when was the last time a US citizen was killed by the authorities of the DRC?
Making matters worse, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the following comment:
[W]e do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza. … we think that it's not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.
By saying that the “Israelis have a right to defend themselves” in this case, Secretary Clinton has abandoned her responsibility to protect American citizens abroad. She claims that the flotilla boats are seeking to “provoke actions”. She implies these provocations are of the sort that warrant “a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.” A further implication is that the flotilla boats, including the US boat, deserve whatever recourse the Israelis dish out.
But, Madam Secretary, could you please explain exactly what Israel has “the right to defend themselves” against?
Of course, there is nothing the Secretary could rationally cite. The flotilla is seeking to enter not Israeli waters but Israeli-occupied Gazan waters. The flotilla last year wasn't even intercepted in Israeli waters, it was intercepted in international waters. The only “action” the flotilla participants are trying to “provoke” is Israeli recognition of the human rights of those living in Gaza. The only thing the Israelis will have to defend themselves against is a bunch of peace activists trying to deliver humanitarian aid and letters—and, of course, the international scrutiny drawn to their illegal blockade of Gaza. As for the US boat, the “Audacity of Hope”, all passengers have made a commitment to non-violence. Alice Walker, a passenger on the “Audacity of Hope”, said it best: “If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman.”
There's still time to call upon Secretary Clinton to entreat the Israeli government to treat non-violence with non-violence. On Friday, six members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Clinton calling on her to help “ensure the safety of the US citizens on board” the US boat to Gaza. Earlier today, Rep. Jim McDermott wrote on the J Street blog, “I urge the State Department to ensure protection to the participants.”
If you haven't done so already, please join over 3,000 US citizens in signing our petition to Secretary Clinton urging her to ensure the safety of the US passengers aboard the US boat to Gaza.
As Hagit Borer, a professor of Linguistics at the University of Southern California and a passenger on the US boat, said, “[the Secretary's attitude] is a remarkable attitude, coming from a government that provides the Israeli government with billions of dollars in military aid and routinely uses its veto to protect the Israeli government from censure of its occupation policies by the UN Security Council.” The US is one of the only countries—if not the only country—in the world with the power to influence Israeli action. This is one of those times that the US government is obligated to do something to protect its citizens. If it doesn't, then, it will be a clear statement of where it sees its obligations lay.