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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 United States.

Lamis Deek

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 U.S.

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 Haiti.

Charles Barron

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 Israeli soldiers.

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 list.

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.