An Open Letter to Rep. Barbara Lee about the Gaza Flotilla

By Henry Norr
Thursday June 16, 2011 - 02:16:00 PM

As a resident of Berkeley and therefore one of your constituents, I am writing with two purposes:

a) to let you know that I will be sailing later this month to the Gaza Strip aboard a vessel called The Audacity of Hope, which will join 10 or 12 other ships, with more than 1,000 passengers from all over the world, in this year's Gaza Freedom Flotilla; and

b) to request that you use your good offices to demand that the Israeli government not interfere with our mission and to insist that the State Department and other branches of the U.S. government stand up for our right to travel freely in international waters and to enter a territory Israel says it no longer occupies. 

The Audacity of Hope is a U.S.-registered, U.S.-flagged vessel. It will carry approximately 50 American passengers and crew, including at least seven other Californians (among them Alice Walker) - for details, see http://ustogazawest.org. All participants are sworn and committed to non-violence, and of course we will be completely unarmed. We have no intention of entering or even going near Israel or Israeli territorial waters. Lest we be accused of assisting anyone on the U.S. government's terrorist list, the U.S. boat this year will not even carry medical supplies or children's toys, just letters from Americans to the people of Gaza. 

In light of your well known commitment to human rights and international law, as well as your experience in the civil rights movement here at home, I think you know why we are undertaking this trip, despite the violence with which Israel responded to last year's flotilla, the Israeli military's threats to use dogs and snipers to stop us this year, and the advance condemnation of the State Department. Alice Walker put it best: “The Gaza Flotilla is the Freedom Ride of this era.”  

As confirmed by every reputable international organization that has looked into the situation - most recently the International Committee of the Red Cross (see http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/interview/2011/palestine-israel-interview-2011-05-19.htm) - there is still "no end in sight to hardship and despair" for the 1.5 million people of Gaza (more than half of them children), despite Israel's claims to have "eased" its siege and more recently Egypt's claim to have opened the Rafah gate, the one exit from Gaza not controlled by Israel.  

Israel's policy of collective punishment is illegal, immoral, and just plain counterproductive. A year ago President Obama called it "unsustainable," and he was right. Yet neither he nor anyone else in the U.S. government, nor the U.N., nor the "Quartet" has managed to persuade or compel the Israelis to change it.  

Meantime, you in Congress continue to give Israel $3 billion a year of taxpayer dollars - money that's desperately needed here in your district and elsewhere in this country - without even conditioning this spending on Israeli compliance with U.S. and international law.  

To the extent there have been any improvements in conditions in Gaza, they are due entirely to the actions of grassroots activists - the brave people who sailed on last year's flotilla (including two of your constituents, Janet Kobren and Gene St. Onge), and the Egyptians who overthrew the Mubarak dictatorship and continue to push the current military government to end its collaboration with Israel's siege. With the new flotilla we continue in the same spirit, in hopes that we can bring the end of the siege and a normal life for the people of Gaza a step or two closer.  

As your constituent, I trust that I and my fellow passengers can count on your assistance in ensuring our safety and respect for our rights.