Witnesses to Israeli terror speak out
Published Jun 24, 2010 8:02 PM
Iara Lee and Kevin Ovenden
Photos: Roberto Mercado
In a spirit of militant defiance, some 450 people packed Brooklyn’s House
of the Lord church June 17 to hear an eyewitness report from the Gaza Freedom
Flotilla. They wanted to hear what really happened when Israeli commandos
stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31 in international waters,
killing nine and wounding scores.
Just attending this meeting became an act of struggle after so-called liberal
Democratic politicians terror-baited the meeting’s speakers, trying to
suppress the free speech of eyewitnesses to the Israeli attack and the right of
people here to hear the truth. A small group of Zionists picketed outside
during the meeting.
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, U.S. Representatives Jerrold
Nadler, Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Mahoney and Charles Rangel, along with
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, had gathered in Times Square on
June 14 to demand that the State Department investigate the invited speakers
for “ties to terrorism” and prevent or delay their entry to the
This was not merely a local matter. Speaking as a group in the home of Wall
Street, these politicians were really speaking for the U.S. government.
Despite this pressure, the Freedom Flotilla report-back took place as planned.
Eyewitnesses Kevin Ovenden and Iara Lee, a U.S. filmmaker, had their say.
However, another keynote speaker, Ahmet Unsal, a former member of the Turkish
Parliament and a member of the Turkish charity group IHH, was denied entry to
The meeting was chaired by Dima Abi Saab from Al-Awda-NY, the Palestine Right
to Return Coalition. Awda member Iltur Aturk spoke in Turkish.
Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the historic Black church, gave a warm
welcome. He said those supporting Palestine were in the company of others who,
over the years, had come to his church to support many different struggles,
including the South African freedom struggle and the fight for justice for
Bill Cecil, an Al-Awda-NY organizer who had been on the second Viva Palestina
land convoy, said those present were “standing up to the new
McCarthyism.” He called the politicians’ attack on the Freedom
Flotilla “a modern witch-hunt of those who oppose Israel, the Rhodesia of
the Middle East.” He called for an end to all U.S. aid to Israel, and
pointed out that every bomb, every weapon used by the Israeli government was
paid for with U.S. tax dollars, which could instead be used for jobs, schools
and hospitals here.
City Council member Charles Barron gave a history of Zionist oppression of the
Palestinian people, adding, “Liberating Palestine is liberating all of
us.” Barron has come under severe pressure for going on a Viva Palestina
delegation to break the siege of Gaza. He announced the formation of a new,
Black-led political party, the Freedom Party, to provide an alternative to the
Democratic Party, and invited all to join.
Kevin Ovenden, a leader of Viva Palestina USA and attaché to former
British MP George Galloway, witnessed the shooting by Israeli commandos of
flotilla activists, including one shot in the head. Of the nine people killed,
he said, their “blood was not shed in vain because the tide has turned
... this is a new phase in the struggle.”
“Now,” he continued, “the question is not if the siege will
be lifted, the question is how rapidly. ... We must refuse the idea that in
some sense the murders were the fault of those aboard the ship. Victims of
lethal violence have an absolute right to defend themselves. ... We
didn’t land on Israel, Israel landed on us.”
Ovenden said the ships would keep coming. Viva Palestina is now organizing both
the largest land convoy and the largest flotilla ever. The land and sea convoys
will leave together for Gaza in September.
Iara Lee, a U.S. filmmaker on the Mavi Marmara, played video footage she
smuggled out showing Israeli commandos descending from a helicopter and small
Israeli boats around the Turkish vessel. “We saw flotilla activists
carrying the wounded downstairs into the ship and treating them,” she
said, “while shots could be heard.” Among those treated were two
In Lee’s footage, one flotilla participant held up for the camera a
booklet with pictures of flotilla activists and their names, which an Israeli
soldier had dropped. It is widely believed that this was an assassination
Al-Awda-NY Co-Chair Lamis Deek said that while it was important to break the
siege of Gaza, it was also important to have an overall perspective. Otherwise,
“Palestinians will end up in Bantustans, with the people divided from
each other.” She said that when Palestinian people in Gaza elected Hamas,
“they voted for full resistance to Israeli occupation and one state in
all of Palestine.” She called for the “full dismantling of all
Zionist institutions and laws, repatriation of all Palestinians and reparations
for Palestinians and their descendants.”
Solidarity statements were read, including from Sara Flounders of the
International Action Center, Lumumba Bandele of the Malcolm X Grassroots
Movement, Valerie Francisco of the Filipino organization BAYAN USA and Dan
Meyers of the National Lawyers Guild.
Al-Awda-NY organized this event, along with dozens of other groups including
the IAC, American Muslims for Palestine, International Jewish Anti-Zionist
Network and the New York NLG.
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