US must investigate flotilla incident before picking sides

Posted: Monday, June 14, 2010

Once again, the United States stands against the entire world in its unwavering defense of Israel. We are the only nation accusing the activists on the Free Gaza Flotilla of perpetrating offenses that justified the Israeli Navy assault in international waters in which nine civilians were killed. But the loud condemnations by members of Congress of a mission that included hundreds of American activists aren't based in fact, and we should be asking why they are so eager to suspend our cherished value of presumed innocence.

In the interest of self disclosure, I traveled to Gaza as a peace activist a year ago to protest the Israeli blockade of the tiny territory and witnessed its effects on the civilian population. I didn't go there free of preconceived biases against the Israeli government's policies toward the Palestinian people. But I don't support Hamas' violent resistance to the blockade, either.

And in this case, I won't claim to know that there weren't any activists onboard the flotilla who were intent on provoking violence. I can only look to my experience and state that the organizers of these missions work exceptionally hard to ferret out individuals who don't believe in the principals of non-violent resistance.

But this tragic event shouldn't be about taking sides. It should be about getting to the truth. That's hard to do when the Israeli government seized all the video footage and photos taken by the activists. The edited pieces they've given the media doesn't tell the activists' story at all.

That's why I am appalled by the unfounded conclusion of Rep. Elliot Engel, D-NY, that the ships were "filled with hate-filled provocateurs bent on violence" with "links to Hamas." And Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., has called for the Attorney General to prosecute U.S. citizens for what he claims was "clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization".

The list of Congressional members acting as prosecutors, judge and jury goes on. None are calling for an investigation and hearings to sort out the facts alleged by both sides. It's seriously disturbing the way members of Congress are feigning outrage about this event. The planning and sailing of the flotilla wasn't a secret; they should have been crying foul before the ships sailed. Instead Congress waited until it became an international incident.

The truth is the Israeli government was well informed and ready for more than the military mission to stop the flotilla from arriving in Gaza. According to the Israeli newspaper YNET, spokespersons for the Israeli Defense Forces and Foreign Ministry had been preparing for interviews with news agencies around the world "in order to explain Israel's position, mainly that the flotilla serves the terror organization ruling Gaza and not its residents."

The true nature of the blockade is hidden behind similar propaganda supported by Congress. That may be why they were silent about the flotilla's claimed mission. If they had spoken out against it, they might have drawn attention to the fact that, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, "Israel continues to bar construction material from entering Hamas-ruled Gaza as part of an overall blockade of the territory."

People might have also wondered why Israel had been prohibiting snack foods and carbonated drinks into Gaza. I'm not spouting radical left wing propaganda with this claim. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel will now permit such civilian goods to enter Gaza as a result of the political fallout from this event. In fact, I brought 22 soccer balls on my trip to Gaza because at the time Israel had been prohibiting children's toys from crossing the border.

Our government shouldn't be condoning such restrictions aimed at ordinary citizens. Sadly, this blind loyalty to Israel isn't new. Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, in his book "Marching Toward Hell" writes " ... what better definition of the double standard that our Islamist foes cite than the constant US veto of any UN resolution condemning Israeli actions?" Since 1972, the U.S. has vetoed more than 40 such resolutions.

Joe Meaders participated in the flotilla mission and knows too well how our government protects Israel's use of unjustified military force. He survived the 1967 Israeli air and naval attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 US sailors. A 2003 Independent Commission of Inquiry led by Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded that the Johnson administration "... knowingly covered up the facts" that suggest "Israel's attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew."

The American value of truth and justice shouldn't be set aside for any of our allies. Just as Americans today don't trust Congress on a wide range of issues, we shouldn't be granting them a free pass to convict the flotilla activists in the court of public opinion. Rather, we should demand an independent and thorough investigation of the facts. What we learn may help us better understand why America seems to be at war with so much of the Muslim world.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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