An Open Letter to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk from Flotilla Passengers

An Open Letter to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk from three constituents responding to his call for U.S. Special Forces to attack a flotilla of ships that will sail to Gaza

Senator Mark Kirk
Washington, DC
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

June 29th, 2011

Dear Senator Kirk,

We are Illinois residents writing to you from Athens, Greece. Just before leaving the United States, we wrote to inform your office about our intent to sail on “The Audacity of Hope,” as part of the US Boat to Gaza project. In our letters, we explained why we were traveling to Gaza. We told you of our previous experiences living among Palestinians who lack access to basic necessities, such as clean water, because of the blockade. Referring to Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison, we mentioned how hard it has been for people to rebuild after previous lethal assaults, especially the Operation Cast Lead attack which ended, after 22 days, on January 18, 2009. According to B’tselem, the foremost Israeli Human Rights Organization, Operation Cast Lead caused the deaths of 1,389 Palestinians in Gaza. Of those, 344 were children. Of the 13 Israelis who were killed, four were soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Knowing that you and your staff care deeply about the consequences of unemployment, poor education and dangerously limited health care delivery, we pointed out related statistics affecting people in Gaza where 45% of the population is unemployed and hospital administrators are sounding the alarm because they are running out of crucial medicines. Half of Gaza’s 1.6 million people are under age 18.As you've recently noted, a flotilla of ships plans to arrive in Gaza. Our ship will carry 3,000 letters addressed to Gazan children and families. Other boats are carrying humanitarian assistance.
Greek authorities have been checking into various complaints which have stalled the flotilla’s progress. In our case, a complaint was lodged by the Israel Law Center, located in Tel Aviv, suggesting that our boat is not seaworthy. Two of the boats have been sabotaged while docked in the harbor, causing further delays.

A website,, reports that you said the United States should “make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk.”

You have an unusual opportunity to demonstrate thoughtful reconsideration of your earlier decision. Op-ed pieces have appeared in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, encouraging the Israeli government to let the flotilla pass.

“There is nearly nothing which more effectively delegitimizes Israel - and makes Israel look more like an uncaring blockhead state - than does the siege of Gaza,” wrote Bradley Burston, Senior Editor of Haaretz and a former Israeli Defense Force medic. “The siege benefits Hamas in a thousand ways and Israel in none. But there is one thing that does the work of delegitimization even better: attacking civilians in order to protect the siege. Enter the 21st century. Before it’s too late. You’re not young commandos anymore… Do your nation a favor - act your age. The flotilla is not a terrorist fleet. It is not an arms shipment. The flotilla is, however, a statement about Israel, a judgment of its policies, and, in the end, the verdict will come directly from you.”

Senator Kirk, we are your constituents. It’s not too late for you to acknowledge that your earlier call for military action against us jeopardizes our safety and to reverse your claim which insinuates that we are dangerous people. We write with utmost respect for our collective responsibility to secure a better world, breaking the irrational cycle of military aggression and upholding basic human rights of all people.


Max Suchan, Chicago IL Kathy Kelly, Chicago IL Robert Naiman, Champaign-Urbana

Some Protesters Arrested With Mayor Gray Go To Trial In September

June 29, 2011 - A number of protesters that were arrested with Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials after Congress passed a budget deal detrimental to the District in April will take their case to trial in September, the Associated Press reports.
Budget Riders Protested By D.C. Residents, LawmakersCouncil Member Yvette Alexander handcuffed at a protest over the federal budget deal April 11. Some of the protesters arrested alongside her have opted not to pay the fine and take the case to trial.Courtesy of: Patrick Madden

The federal budget deal that narrowly avoided a government shutdown included language restricting the District's use of public funds for abortion, and lawmakers at the time also threatened to use the budget to restrict needle exchange programs in the District.
More than 100 people gathered on Capitol Hill April 11 to protest the budget. But most of the 40 people arrested during the protest that day paid a fine and were done with it.
Several of them said they wanted to keep the attention on the issue of District autonomy, however, and opted for a trial. A judge yesterday set the trial date for the remaining demonstrators for September 19.

Flotilla: Even state officials say Netanyahu, IDF spread lies

According to government sources, the army doesn't have any evidence that the flotilla activists are planning violent resistance, yet it publicly accuses them of conspiring to murder soldiers

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

The top story in two of Israel’s leading daily papers yesterday was a bombshell: The IDF unveiled plans by flotilla passengers to kill soldiers trying to stop the ships from getting to Gaza.
Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read paper, ran a headline declaring “Flotilla activists set to kill,” which was attributed to military sources (but only in the fine print). The story declared, “Intelligence information revealed violent plans.” In the inside pages, the headline declared that this flotilla is considered to be “more violent than the previous one.”
Maariv’s top story covered the same topic: “IDF intelligence reveals: Lethal acid on flotilla boats.” The free paper Israel Hayom had a smaller headline in the front page. “Fear: Flotilla activists will try to kill soldiers.” Haaretz is the only paper that didn’t give the story such prominence in its print edition, but it was the top headline on the paper’s website throughout the previous evening. The Jerusalem Post’s headline read “IDF: Some flotilla activists planning to kill soldiers.
You can view all front pages of the Hebrew papers in this pic, taken from the media blog Velvet Underground. Yedioth and Maariv are the bottom two.

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)
Chemical Weapons? Against the Israel Navy Seals, Air Force and war ships? Even as a suicide mission, it sounded too fantastic. And how could this flotilla be “more violent,” when the notorious IHH, whose members were on the Mavi Marmara last year, cancelled its participation? Who exactly is going to execute the soldiers with the lethal acid, 64- year-old Alice Walker? It was the kind of propaganda no thinking person could believe, yet the entire Hebrew media – even Haaretz! – went for it.
Luckily, it didn’t take Max Blumenthal to debunk this one. The media’s tone today was entirely different. Government sources have told Maariv that the so-called “intelligence information” was a spin by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reflecting “a Hasbara [propaganda] hysteria.”

“It’s unthinkable that in cabinet meetings we receive information according to which there are no threats of violent actions from the flotilla activists or [indication of] the presence of terror elements on the ships, and that at the same time, senior political sources, including the army, feed the media with information that is the exact opposite of what we were given.”
Information that the media was only to eager to swallow, one should add.
A day too late, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent was the voice of reason in his paper:

“There isn’t a shred of evidence that extreme elements will initiate resistance against IDF soldiers. There is no knowledge of the existence of firearms on the ships.”
The damage, however, was done. The reports of the murderous intentions of the flotilla activists traveled around the country and across the world. Not for the first time, a group of unarmed European and American activists traveling on old yachts was presented as a threat to the security of the region’s superpower. The only question is: for how long will the world continue to buy these kind of stories?
Maariv’s story today offers a comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, claiming the information that was passed to the media came from IDF spokesperson unit. In response to my question today, the IDF spokesperson’s office made it clear they stand behind the information that was released yesterday.

This story first appeared:

Voices for Creative Nonviolence issues URGENT Call to Action for Gaza Flotilla

Voices for Creative Nonviolence issued the following June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm CDT

Hello Friends, we have two suggested Urgent Actions to support the Freedom Flotilla II.

Please take time out of your day to take at least one of the following actions:

1.) Please call Senator Kirk's office and encourage him to rethink his position regarding using US Navy forces to stop the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. Instead, ask him to protect the flotilla so they can deliver aid and goodwill to the people of Gaza.

Contact Senator Kirk

Senator Wants US-Israeli Op Against Flotilla
June 29, 2011 | by Bryant Jordan

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., says the United States should "make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk."

Read more

2.) Midwest activists please call and e-mail the Greek Consulate in Chicago at (312) 335-3915 and tell them (in a civil manner): LET THE BOATS IN THE FREEDOM FLOTILLA SAIL! If you do not live in the Midwest you can find the nearest Greek Consulate by doing a search on Google.
You may also send them an e-mail using this link

Green Party: The US must support the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla aid boats, press Israel to end the blockade

WASHINGTON, DC -- Green Party leaders today called on the US State Department to support the Gaza Aid Flotilla, and to cease defending and assisting Israel's maritime blockade.

"The US should end its shameful complicity in the brutal siege on Gaza and pressure Israel to end its illegal collective punishment which has cost thousands of civilian lives in Gaza. The U.S. State Department should denounce the Israeli Navy's threat to use snipers and attack dogs against the 'Audacity of Hope' and other Freedom Flotilla II aid boats as intimidation tactics which clearly signal Israel's willingness to, once again, violate human rights and humanitarian law," said Muhammed Malik, co-chair of Miami-Dade Green Party ( and a member of the Green Party's International Committee ( Mr. Malik recently co-organized a rally near the Israeli Consulate in Miami in support of Palestinian rights and the Freedom Flotilla II.

The Green Party of the United States has supported the Freedom Flotillas to Gaza (, including the May 2010 fleet of humanitarian aid ships that were attacked by Israel in international waters near Cyprus which left 9 human rights activists dead and at least 50 wounded ( In July 2009, Cynthia McKinney, a former US Representative from Georgia and the Green Party's 2008 presidential nominee, was one of 21 human rights activists on board the Free Gaza relief boat seized by the Israeli navy in international waters when it tried to deliver medical and other humanitarian aid to Gaza in June 2009, in the wake of Israel's invasion of Gaza. Ms. McKinney and the other activists were held in an Israeli jail for several days.

The flotilla will begin its next voyage on or around June 24 with approximately 60 passengers, including Alice Walker, author of 'The Color Purple'; Col. Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Dept. in 2003 in protest of President Bush's invasion of Iraq; Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor; many other peace activists and journalists.

"The State Department has called the Gaza aid boats 'provocative' -- and this is entirely correct. By delivering humanitarian aid to Gazans, the Freedom Flotilla is undertaking a nonviolent, courageous, and justifiable act of defiance to provoke international outrage over Israel's actions in Gaza. The aid boats are calling attention to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, murderous treatment of Palestinian people, displacement of Palestinian families from their homes, and internal apartheid. The US must cut off all military aid to Israel until the Israeli government reverses its current policies," said Justine McCabe, co-chair of the Green Party's International Committee.

The Green Party of the US has called for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and UN directives, ends the occupation of Palestinian lands, and observes full and equal human rights for Palestinians, including the right of return.

Greens leaders have urged support for Palestinian and Israeli peace groups and called for an end to all violence targeted at unarmed civilians, insisting that regional stability and security for all the people of Israel and Palestine are not possible until peaceful negotiation resolves the conflict.

The Green Party has condemned Israel's persecution of Palestinian peace activists, including the 2011 arrest of Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh (, former associate professor of genetics at Yale University and member of the Green Party of Connecticut before he moved back to Palestine (

Greens expressed fear that peaceful resolution may be less likely after Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" (, which drew no protest from the White House. Contrary to Mr. Netanyahu's demand and President Obama's uncritical support for it, Israel-Palestine has always been multicultural, with Palestinians currently making up 20-plus percent of the population.

"We're very concerned that Israel will interpret the Obama Administration's refusal to criticize the attacks on peaceful aid boats as permission for even worse attacks on future flotillas. We urge the President to do the right thing -- to defend the Freedom Flotilla and see it as the equivalent of nonviolent civil disobedience by activists during the US Civil Rights struggle. We are embarrassed that Mr. Obama doesn't seem to understand this comparison," said Carl Romanelli, former Green US Senate candidate from Pennsylvania and member of the party's International Committee.


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Israeli Video Blog Exposed as a Hoax

A YouTube video featuring a man who presented himself as an American gay rights activist disillusioned with the latest Gaza flotilla campaign has been exposed as a hoax.

The man in the video, who introduced himself to viewers as Marc and claimed that the organizers of the latest flotilla of ships bound for Gaza had rejected his offer to mobilize a network of gay activists in support of their cause, was identified as Omer Gershon, a Tel Aviv actor involved in marketing, by the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian Web site.
As my colleague Ethan Bronner explains, pro-Palestinian activists, including the prominent American author Alice Walker, are planning to sail a flotilla of small ships from European ports toward Gaza to protest Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Just hours after the supposedly homemade video was uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, Benjamin Doherty of the Electronic Intifada pointed out that it had suspiciously high production values — most obviously, lights and what is known as B-roll — and was attributed to an activist calling himself Marc Pax, who seemed to have no other online presence.

While it remains unclear who produced the video, and Mr. Gershon has not responded to a request for comment, bloggers were quick to point out that people in three different Israeli government offices promoted it on Twitter soon after it was posted online.

As the blogger Max Blumenthal reported on Friday, one of the first people to draw attention to the video was Guy Seemann, who is an intern in the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

The same day, the Israeli government’s press office advised its Twitter followers to watch the video and follow Mr. Seemann’s feed.

After the Electronic Intifada revealed that the man in the video was an actor, the Israeli press office deleted its original message from Twitter and posted a new one, apologizing for having promoted “an apparent hoax.” The press office added, “We were duped.”

A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister told The Lede: “Mr. Seemann is a 25-year-old who is interning in our office. His tweet was a mistake on his part. It was done without authorization and without approval. His mistake has been pointed out to him.” Mr. Seemann, who denied that he had had any role in the production of the video and said that it had been sent to him by “a friend,” has deleted his entire Twitter feed. He declined to put The Lede in touch with the friend who informed him about the video.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Lede that its Twitter feed was also edited to remove a link to the video after it was “revealed to be not a documentary but rather a mockumentary.”

None of the Israeli officials responded to a request to comment on the accusation by pro-Palestinian bloggers that the government might have played a role in the production of the video.
The foreign ministry appears to have become aware of the video from a message posted on Twitter by David Saranga, a diplomat who also teaches at Israel’s Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy.* According to the institute’s Web site, Mr. Saranga has worked with students who were learning to use “traditional P.R. and marketing techniques to distribute” content about Israel “around the world, along with more Web-based approaches such as guerrilla marketing.”

Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian-American founder of the Electronic Intifada,suggested on Twitter that the video hoax was not a prank but part of a public relations campaign to support the Israeli government’s naval blockade of Gaza by seeking to tarnish the Gaza flotilla activists as homophobic.
While there is no evidence of homophobia by the activists, and indeed some of the participants in the new flotilla are gay, the Israeli actor featured in the video has recently worked with a producer who appears to be opposed to the flotilla campaign. The actor, Omer Gershon — who is a minor celebrity in Tel Aviv — recently directed and appeared in this commercial for Puma, which was produced by Elad Magdasi. The commercial is currently featured on the home page of Mr. Magdasi’s YouTube channel, which also features a link to videos made by “a nonprofit Israel advocacy organization” called Stand With Us.

The Stand With Us YouTube channel currently features a new video that argues that Israel’s military “lawfully enforces a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip,” which is necessary “to protect Israeli civilians from attacks by the terrorist organization Hamas.”

According to Stand With Us, the organization’s work “ensures that Israel’s side of the story is told.” Its YouTube channel also features a recent testimonial from Mr. Netanyahu, congratulating the organization “for marking another successful year of defending the truth.” Mr. Netanyahu told the group, “In creatively adapting to the online world, you are staying one step ahead of adversaries who are working day and night to delegitimize Israel.”

Update 1: Dina Kraft, a freelance journalist who has contributed to The Times, writes from Israel to point out that she has interviewed Omer Gershon in the past and tried to call him on Tuesday, but was unable to reach him. Ms. Kraft interviewed Mr. Gershon in September, 2009, as part of her research for this Times article about Tel Aviv. At the time, he was helping to run a popular nightclub in the city called Zippy Trippo.

In that article, Ms. Kraft pointed to Zippy Trippo as an example of “Tel Aviv’s ability to reinvent itself.” The underground club, she explained, had been just one year earlier, “a listening post for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, dubbed by its workers as the Facility.”

Update 2: On Tuesday, an Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that while similar efforts to forge what he described as “people to people” diplomacy have been undertaken by various government agencies, as far as he knew the prime minister’s office was not behind this specific video.

Also on Tuesday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that it “sent the prime minister’s office a series of questions inquiring whether the office was involved in the production of the video in any way. The premier’s office in response did not deny that that the government was involved in the video’s production.”

Finally, the organization Stand With Us said in a statement posted on Twitter: “We are not associated in anyway whatsoever with the maker of this fraudulent video.”

 This story originally appeared:

Obama Admin Warns of “Fines and Incarceration” if U.S. Citizens Set Sail with Gaza Aid Flotilla

Sec. Clinton suggests Israel has the right to use force on the flotilla.

A group of U.S. citizens is rejecting the Obama administration’s attempt to thwart their aid mission to the Gaza Strip, which threatens to leave them stranded in Greece. They are set to sail from a Greek port on a U.S.-flagged ship called "The Audacity of Hope," part of an international humanitarian flotilla carrying aid for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents. Flotilla members are taking part despite Israeli threats to intercept their ships. Nine people were killed in an Israeli attack on the first aid flotilla just over a year ago. The Audacity of Hope passengers have called for the U.S. government’s help in ensuring their safe passage. But instead, the Obama administration has told them not to set sail and even warned them they could face punishment back home. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Israel would have the right to use force to prevent the ships’ passage. The State Department called the flotilla "irresponsible and provocative" and warned that U.S. delegates could face "fines and incarceration." We play an excerpt from a press conference when State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland is repeatedly questioned about the Obama administration’s threat, but refuses to answer whether the U.S. considers the Israeli blockade of Gaza to be legal.

[Rush Transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: A group of U.S. citizens is defiantly rejecting the Obama administration’s attempt to thwart their aid mission to the Gaza Strip, which threatens to leave them stranded in Greece. Up to 50 Americans are set to sail from a Greek port on a U.S.-flagged ship called The Audacity of Hope, named after President Obama’s bestselling book. The boat is part of an international flotilla carrying aid for Gaza’s one-and-a-half million Palestinian residents. The first two ships of the 10 ships participating in the mission have already left from France.
The flotilla members are taking part despite Israeli threats to intercept their ships. Nine people were killed in an Israeli attack on the first flotilla just over a year ago. The Audacity of Hope passengers have called for the U.S. government’s help in ensuring their safe passage. But instead, the Obama administration has told them not to set sail and even warned them they could face punishment back home. Speaking to reporters, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Israel would have the right to use force to prevent the ships’ passage.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Well, we do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza. Just this week, the Israeli government approved a significant commitment to housing in Gaza. There will be construction materials entering Gaza. And we think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that, you know, try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: The State Department followed Clinton’s comments with a statement calling the flotilla, quote, "irresponsible and provocative" and warned that U.S. delegates could face, quote, "fines and incarceration." On Friday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was questioned about the Obama administration’s threat. Under repeated questioning, Nuland refused to answer whether the U.S. considers the Israeli blockade of Gaza to be legal.
REPORTER 1: Just to make sure, does the U.S. consider that blockade legal?
VICTORIA NULAND: I think the main point that we were trying to make in the statement was that we’ve got to use the channels that are safe, the channels that are going to guarantee that the aid get where it needs to go, to the people it’s intended for, and to discourage, in strongest terms, any actions on the high seas that could result in a conflict.
REPORTER 1: Right, but again, that doesn’t answer the question of the legality or the—whether the U.S. perceives that blockade as legal or not.
VICTORIA NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on legality here.
REPORTER 1: The people who are putting this together have a rather elaborate website, and they say that—on that, that the U.S. should be protecting the rights of American citizens, protecting their safety abroad. So that is the argument that they’re making. They’re very disappointed and shocked that the State Department would be warning people off. What do you say to that?
VICTORIA NULAND: It is in the interest of protecting both Americans and other citizens from around the world who might be thinking about engaging in provocative moves like this that we were putting out these warnings so strongly in the same season where we had this problem last year. We don’t want to see a repeat, and we do believe that those who want to aid Gaza can do so and need to do so in the correct manner.
REPORTER 2: Well, just one more on this, yeah. I don’t think you said it, but people at the State Department have said Israel has a right to defend itself against these flotillas. What exactly would it be defending against, though? That’s what’s not clear to me.
VICTORIA NULAND: Like all states, Israel has a right of national self-defense. Again, I don’t want to get into where the boat might be and law of the sea and all this kind of stuff. We are simply saying this is the wrong way to get aid to Gaza. The correct way to get aid to Gaza is through the established mechanisms, which are improving, which are open, and which can get aid to the people that it’s intended for.
REPORTER 2: But it’s just humanitarian aid, so I don’t see why it would be—Israel would have to defend itself, if it’s just humanitarian aid coming in.
VICTORIA NULAND: It’s the matter of all states to provide coastal defense, but I’m—again, I’m not going to get into the law of the sea issues here. We’re simply trying to make the point that we want this done in a way that not only is going to get the aid where it’s intended but is going to ensure that we don’t have dangerous incidents.
REPORTER 2: You believe that because there are established—already established means, the Israeli port where things are inspected and the Rafah Crossing, that in this case, being provocative is unnecessary and unwise, because it’s just not needed, there are other ways to do it. Is that—that’s the bottom line?
VICTORIA NULAND: That’s certainly the case, and we don’t want—we don’t want further incidents. It’s not in anybody’s interest.
REPORTER 3: Is the regular blockade a provocative act?
VICTORIA NULAND: I think we’ve gone as far as we’re going to go on this subject.
AMY GOODMAN: That was U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

This is a Democracy Now report