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Iowa Activists Protest Gaza Aid Ship Massacre
Saturday, 05 June 2010 20:17
by Michael Gillespie

About 40 Iowans rallied at Nollen Plaza in downtown Des Moines on June 2 to protest Israel’s massacre of civilian aid workers and activists during an attack by Israeli military forces on the ships of the Free Gaza flotilla in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Gaza on May 31.

“Sounds to me like [the Israeli Navy commandos] were super aggressive. They killed people, and they hurt a lot of people, and I think that’s insane,” said Gil Landolt, a member of the Des Moines chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Landolt expressed disapproval of Israel’s siege of Gaza and illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of the West Bank.

“The Palestinians have a right to their homeland and to raise their families in peace,” said Landolt.

“The Israeli government is no longer defending itself,” said Ismael Hossein-zadeh, a professor of economics at Drake University.

“They are defending an illegal siege, they are defending starvation. It seems to be a mad kind of policy,” said Hossein-zadeh.

The Israeli attack on the aid ships will further isolate Israel from the international community of nations and increase international support for an end to the siege of Gaza, said Hossein-zadeh.

“It’s a travesty; it’s a blatant massacre; it’s a war crime,” said David Goodner, a community organizer and a Des Moines Catholic Worker.

“It’s the most recent in a series of war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel has committed, the first being the 40-year-old occupation. The second Lebanon War in 2006 was a war crime. The invasion of Gaza and the bombing of Gaza in 2008 was a war crime. The blockade of Gaza and the starvation of Palestinians in Gaza are war crimes and crimes against humanity. And this massacre is a war crime. Enough is enough. It’s time to put an end to this,” declared Goodner.

“The international community, which had given Israel the benefit of the doubt in the past, and which had given Israel a pass in the past, is done. ... The American people, unfortunately, are being fed a whole lot of bullshit by the mainstream media ... I think that for the most part they’re on their way to recognizing what’s what and are about ready to call a spade a spade,” said Goodner.

“There’s a non-violent popular resistance movement in the Occupied Territories, a coalition of Palestinians, Left-wing Israeli Jews, and International Solidarity Movement activists. They’re using non-violence as an effective means of ending the occupation. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it,” said Goodner.

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“The non-violent popular resistance movement is broad-based , it’s international, and it’s effective, and that’s why the Israelis are deliberately and brutally trying to repress that movement, because they know its effective and they’re scared of the change that’s lapping up on their shores,” said Goodner.

“For allegedly being the only democracy in the Middle East, I think it’s an absolute travesty they way Israel is trying to censor and control the release of information about the massacre. They have a duty no matter what the circumstances are for a full and transparent disclosure of the facts. They should not be in control of the investigation. There needs to be a full and transparent investigation by the United Nations or some other recognized body of the international community, because as we’ve seen from the attack on Gaza in 2008 we cannot trust Israel to police itself,” said Goodner.

Goodner said allowing Israel to conduct its own investigation of the assault on the Turkish humanitarian aid ship the Mavi Marmara, “would be like putting the fox in charge of investigating the massacre at the hen house.”

“I’m here today to help end the siege of Gaza,” said Sana Akili, a former lecturer in the College of Business at Iowa State University in Ames and a former chairperson of the Ames Interfaith Council.

“We need to speak up, as Americans. The blockade, the suffering, is intolerable. I have children, and I understand what the children of Gaza are going through. To help the children of Gaza is my main cause today,” said Akili.

Kathleen McQuillen, Coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s Iowa Program, organized the rally.

“We are focused today on the attack by Israel on a relief convoy of civilians in international waters. We are focused, too, on the siege of Gaza, which led to this tragedy,” McQuillen told the crowd.

“At this time we know at least nine people were killed and scores wounded. The propaganda machine of Israel attempts to lay blame on the relief workers who were attacked. In the wake of military commandos rappelling onto the ship, with Israeli naval ships and helicopters surrounding it, somehow the world is asked to believe the international relief workers are the aggressors.

“We will not be blinded by the lies. The aggression is the forty-three-year occupation of Palestinian land, the four-year siege on Gaza, the aggression is the imposed hunger and the denial of medical care, the denial of rebuilding materials for homes destroyed in Israel’s 2008 – 2009 war on the imprisoned Gazans. Finally and clearly the aggression is the armed commandos landing on the ship loaded with humanitarian supplies headed to bring relief to the suffering people of Gaza.

“Aggressors too are those who fund the violence, those who provide diplomatic cover every time the international community tries to hold Israel to account. Could this latest attack have been prevented had the US supported the call for accountability from the Goldstone Report? Instead the US congress and [the Obama] administration did everything it could to dismiss and bury that report,” McQuillen told the crowd, reading from a prepared statement.

The statement calls upon Senators Harkin and Grassley of Iowa to work to “close the checkbook to Israel … to [be] an honest broker in the peace efforts between Palestine and Israel, or … for the US to get out of the way and let the international community work for a just peace in that region.”

Des Moines Catholic Worker community founder and member Frank Cordaro also addressed the crowd.

“Here we are again. Naked aggression by the state of Israel, on innocent people. But, you know what? These folks [who were killed] are like us, activists. When the government doesn’t do it, when the government won’t break the embargo, we will. We’ll bring humanitarian aid,” said Cordaro.

Catholic Workers provide meals, clothing, and hospitality services to the poor through their hospitality houses in cities across the United States and in other countries. Activists with Catholic Worker experience were on the Free Gaza flotilla vessels that were hi-jacked by the Israeli military.

“Many of us have done these things. Those 10 to 15 people who were killed could have been any of us, people who want to do the right thing, take the lead, push the government to act. And here we are again. All they were trying to do was bring humanitarian aid to over a million people who are in an open air prison.

“[The Israelis are] not even telling us who was killed. They’re hiding that. But when we do find out, we’re gonna find out they were folks just like us. The burden now is back on us. What are we going to do about it?” asked Cordaro.

Former Catholic Peace Ministry executive director Brian Terrell and 2007 Bishop Maurice J. Dingman Peace Award honoree Rev. Chet Guinn also addressed the crowd and accompanied McQuillen, Cordaro, and about 15 other Iowa activists to their senators’ offices to meet with staff and present a statement in protest of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and U.S. support for Israeli war crimes to their elected representatives.

In Sen. Harkin’s office, Darrell Mitchell, a retired Methodist minister who lives in Marshalltown, read the statement and presented it to Sen. Harkin’s State Director, Robert X. Barron.

Kathleen McQuillen and several others delivered the same statement to Sen. Grassley’s office, where Fred Schuster, Sen. Grassley’s Business and Economic Liaison, accepted it.

The mood in Sen. Grassley’s office was cordial.

“It’s sad when things like this happen, but history tells us that when things like this happen, things change. So, tell Senator Grassley to get ahead of history here and do the right thing, start holding accountable the state of Israel for its violent, war-like actions,” Cordaro told Schuster.

In Sen. Harkin’s office tension was palpable at times as several activists spoke to Barron expressing in no uncertain terms their disappointment with and strong disapproval of Sen. Harkin’s support for Israel and for bills funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Terrell criticized Sen. Harkin for his votes in favor of funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saying, “I think Senator Grassley is probably following his conscience as he is voting the way he is voting, and I don’t believe Tom is. I’m sorry, I just don’t.”

Elton Davis spoke in support of Terrell’s comments saying, “I don’t see how we can really work together or have an egalitarian relationship when we see who is funding his campaigns. I just think there’s no way Tom would vote against his self-interest. And, looking at who is funding his campaigns, a matter of public record, we see how much money AIPAC is giving him.”

“We are, I think, in the mainstream of history as far as conscience is concerned, about moral judgments in international affairs, and Tom should take us more seriously. I think it’s very perplexing and troubling that he does not,” said Rev. Guinn.

McQuillen strongly criticized Sen. Harkin’s vote in favor of the resolution affirming Israel’s right to defend itself at the time of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli invasion of Gaza and attack on the defenseless captive civilian population of Gaza that killed some 1,500 Palestinians.

“It’s outrageous that he did that,” said McQuillen.

“I want to applaud Senator Harkin for not signing the letter sent to [President Obama] recently, organized by AIPAC, that called on the president to ‘get back in line’ on Israel. I think 80 senators signed it; Senator Harkin didn’t. We applaud that. We expect to see another important step. There is legislation to fund Israel’s missile defense system. It passed out of the House at 400 to 4 or some ridiculous number. We expect Senator Harkin to be a NO vote on that, and on all these other bills for funding for Israel. He needs to step out of this. This is a terrible situation. All of these atrocities against the Palestinians happen because Israel is never called to account. They were brazen enough to attack people, internationals, in international waters. They thought it was their little secret inside Palestine. Well, it’s getting out. Senator Harkin needs to take some responsibility and lead,” McQuillen told Barron.

“Israel is committing piracy in international waters, 40 miles off the coast of Palestine. When we defend Israel for doing that sort of thing, what does the rest of the world think of the United States?” asked Mitchell.

“We’re trying to get him back to his roots. You know, the guy’s got to have an exit plan. He’s not going to live forever. Maybe he can turn the corner on his roots and reclaim some of that validity he had when he exposed the Tiger Cages,” argued Cordaro.

During the Vietnam war, as a Congressional aide Harkin was instrumental in exposing the infamous Tiger Cages of Con Son Island. Harkin’s photographs of the cages and tortured Vietnamese prisoners, published in Life magazine in July 1970, resulted in an international protest that led to the transfer of hundreds of prisoners.

“The emblematic issue in the Middle East is Israel. We’ve been so long backing them no matter what. If we are going to change the course of our behavior and the Israeli state’s behavior, this is a moment for a guy like Tom Harkin to take an historic stand that will help the whole country get out of our numbness to the lies we’ve been feeding ourselves. We’re really out there. Our soul is at stake. Harkin’s soul is too,” said Cordaro.

“I speak with a little authority on souls. I’ve been in the business,” said the former Roman Catholic priest. The remark drew general laughter from his listeners.

“Frank, you’re absolutely correct. I can verify,” responded Guinn, a retired Methodist minister.

“There you have it,” said Cordaro over continuing laughter, “ecumenical agreement!”

The exchange broke the tension and the discussion continued as Guinn noted that Israel and its supporters in this country are pushing for a US attack on Iran.

“Israel wants us to initiate a war against Iran and they are fabricating reasons for it,” said Guinn.

“If we could get our act right on the state of Israel, there might be some hope for us,” said Cordaro.

Chris Cowan of Ames, a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, spoke about a recent visit to Palestine during which she met a Palestinian family in East Jerusalem who Israeli settlers had evicted from their home of 60 years at gunpoint.

“They were living on the sidewalk in protest because their home had been unjustly taken from them. I went into the tent on the sidewalk where these people were. I knelt down and I spoke with one of the elders in the tent. I told her that I was very sorry that she had lost her home. And of course, right away, she knew that I wasn’t from Britain or Australia, because I don’t have that kind of accent. She asked me where I was from. I told her I was from the United States,” said Cowan

“She looked at me with grief and anger in her eyes, and she said, ‘Why? Why? How can you support these people? You ask me to make peace with these people. If they took your home, and didn’t give it back, and you were on the sidewalk, could you do that? Could you make that peace?’” said Cowan.

“I think we need to see the pain of a people who have been vilified and called terrorists so their voices are not heard. We need to speak their truth, out loud, in the West,” said Cowan.

McQuillen requested a meeting with Sen. Harkin, who has promised to meet with his constituents in Iowa who labor in behalf of peace and social justice.

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