Dr. Paul Larudee, a passenger on the Freedom Flotilla that was attacked by Israel before it could deliver its cargo of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, was badly beaten and tasered during the Memorial Day commando raid, but according to latest reports he was released from detention late Wednesday night and is now in flight to Greece.
Larudee, a resident of Richmond, CA, participated in the international flotilla as part of a delegation from the Free Palestine Movement (FPM), a California-based non-profit. Two other members of the FPM group - Ambassador Ed Peck of Chevy Chase, MD, a retired US diplomat, and Joe Meadors of Corpus Christi, TX, a USS Liberty veteran (hence now a survivor of two unprovoked Israeli attacks on the high seas) - have returned home safely and are now speaking out about their ordeal. As of Wednesday afternoon California time, two other members of the group - Gene St. Onge and Janet Kobren, both of Oakland, CA - have been held up for the last 12 hours at Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv. but are expected to board a flight to Istanbul soon, before proceeding home to the US.
Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor of Richmond, said "I have worked with Paul on local housing issues in Richmond, and I know he has a track record of commitment to nonviolence in standing up against the oppression of Palestinians. I condemn the Israeli assault on this humanitarian flotilla and join others in calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza."
Ambassador Peck this morning described the Israeli commando raid on the Sfendoni, the Freedom Flotilla ship he and other FPM delegates were aboard: "The first thing we knew was the sound of footsteps, and my eyelids flicked open, and there they were, heavily armed. The Israeli government keeps referring to the paint guns, but the paint guns were attached to the automatic weapons and the stun grenades and the pepper spray and the tasers and everything else that these guys carry. ... And it was all over in the inside of the ship, where I was. But up on the upper deck, where some people had been sitting and sleeping, they made an effort to peacefully prevent the Israelis from taking over the wheelhouse, and we had a number of people injured in that. Nothing of a critical nature, but we had people on crutches and people with bandages and peoples with their arms in slings, and the captain had his neck in a brace."
"I was deported for having violated Israeli law," Peck added. "I asked [the Israeli official processing his deportation], 'What law have I violated?' He said, 'You have illegally entered Israel.' I said, 'Well, now, wait. Our ship was taken over by armed commandos. I was brought here at gunpoint against my will, and you call that illegally entering Israel?'"
To Navy vet Joe Meadors, “There is no doubt that the Israelis were committing piracy on the high seas against the Freedom Flotilla and used deadly force against unarmed humanitarians whose only crime was defending themselves against a sea and airborne invasion by heavily armed aggressors."
"As a survivor of the June 8, 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty," Meadors said, "I am fully aware of the tactics the Israelis are capable of and willing to use with impunity and without remorse. That time they fired machine guns, cannon, rockets, napalm, and torpedoes on us, then deliberately machine-gunned life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. And the only response from the American government was to impose a gag order on the crew of the USS Liberty."
"This time, too," Meadors continued, "the Israelis have shown no remorse, and I fear that the US government is again granting them impunity."
As to the other FPM detainees, St. Onge suffered a gash on his head when kicked by an Israeli soldier as he tried to protect a fellow passenger whom the commandos were beating on the deck of the Sfendoni, he told his wife Jan St. Onge. Kobren was allowed to make a brief phone call to the US from a women's prison unit in Beersheba, Israel, yesterday and reported that she is good health, but all the prisoners' belongings had been taken from them.
Larudee, 64, is a longtime activist in the struggle for justice for Palestine: he and Kobren co-founded the FPM in 2009, and he previously co-founded the Free Gaza Movement, the organization that first broke the Israeli blockade of Gaza from the sea in 2008, and the International Solidarity Movement, a group that has sent hundred of Americans and other internationals to support non-violent Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. Paul holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and makes his living as a piano tuner.
At least seven other US citizens took part in the Freedom Flotilla under the auspices of other organizations. One, Huwaida Arraf, chair of the Free Gaza Movement, was released Tuesday. The FPM has no confirmed information about the status of the other six: Iara Lee, a filmmaker from San Francisco; Kathy Sheetz, a retired nurse from Richmond, CA, and Woods Hole, MA; Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a U.S. diplomat until she resigned in opposition to theIraq war; David Schermerhorn, a film producer from Deer Harbor, WA; Fatima Mohammadi, a longtime activist from Chicago; and Khalid Turaani, who was founder and executive director of the former American Muslims forJerusalem and now lives in Dubai.
For more information about the Free Palestine Movement, see www.freepalestinemovement.org.
For information on other groups that played major roles in the Freedom Flotilla, see savegaza.eu/eng/ (the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza), www.freegaza.org/ (the Free Gaza Movement), and www.ihh.org.tr/filistin/en/ (The Foundation For Human Rights And Freedoms And Humanitarian Relief of Turkey - IHH).