I was on vacation the past two weeks and wanted to catch up with a few people regarding the attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla headed for Gaza. I listened to TV reports, read newspapers, and emailed people who I felt needed to be given a chance to respond to the coverage. I summarized the main points and turned them into questions. I managed to get hold of two people who agreed to give me time to answer these questions.
Below is an interview with Iara Lee, an activist and filmmaker who was a passenger of the Mavi Marmara, the flagship vessel of the humanitarian convoy. Lee managed to hide raw video footage and released it recently to show the Israeli claims were not accurate. You can read her blog as well as see the raw video footage here.
In this interview, Iara Lee discusses the claims made in defense of Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara.
Wazwaz: What instigated you to be part of this campaign and why Gaza? Why not another place where there is human suffering and persecution? Are you not practicing double standards and picking on Israel?
Lee: I am doing work in many parts of the world: North Korea, the Congo, Brazil, Iran etc. Our Cultures of Resistance network's main goal is to promote global solidarity and peace with justice worldwide. I literally work all my waking hours but there are so many conflicts in the world, I do all I can but we obviously need to engage a lot more people to make a dent towards more justice in this world. As far as Israel/Palestine conflict, for many years I have been involved in the effort to find a just peace in that region. I believe the dominant double standard is western nations condemning smaller, weaker nations for war crimes that they themselves are guilty of. As an American citizen, I feel an obligation to the Palestinian people as it is our tax dollars that support and maintain the brutal occupation of their lands. So to answer your question, it is the US government immoral behavior that got me involved. In my case there is no double standard, as I am a staunch supporter of international law in ALL cases of human rights abuses, across the world.
Wazwaz: A local Rabbi commented the Israeli defense story which is that the deaths of the nine humanitarian activists were a result of a conflict. She said, "I am convinced that the activists on all seven boats were angered by Israel’s decision to defend its blockade of Gaza with this military operation. Only on one boat, the Mavi Marmara, did some of the activists respond to the Israeli commandos with physical violence. In the conflict that ensued, tragically, nine people were killed." Since you were on this ship where the "conflict" was - how would you respond regarding this Israel defense story that the participants of this ship instigated the violence?
Lee: As our own footage will indicate, the passengers on the Mavi Marmara were not looking for a fight but were ready to resist attack as legal rights to self-defense. The fact is that Israeli commandos came in shooting. Please note that not a single Israeli soldier was killed -- to the contrary, their injuries were treated by passengers, as the NY Times published photos of passenger doctor treating Israeli injured soldier. If we really wanted violence, we could have easily injured those soldiers more, even killed them. Please also note that they were only injured in the process of being forcefully disarmed of their weapons.
Wazwaz: Can you describe briefly the first encounter you had with an Israeli commando on the Ship? How were you treated and what happened in the aftermath of the invasion?
Lee: The first thing they did was confiscate all media on board the ship - photos, footage, audio - everything. None of this was returned to the passengers. This is of course their attempt to control the narrative of what happened. Luckily, they are failing in this capacity. After keeping us captive at the lower deck with weapons pointed at us whenever we moved, they started handcuffing us and kept us restrained in stress positions. We were then, as kidnapped passengers, taken to Israel's Ashdod port and then on to jail in Southern Israel. Many other passengers, mostly males, were beaten and suffered various abuses in custody. Fortunately I was not among those. During our time in jail only after much persistence from our embassies, we were able to talk to them. As you see, one illegal action after another on their part...
Wazwaz: You managed, despite meticulous Israeli efforts, to sneak out raw footage of the attack. Every major network and mainstream paper kept replaying the IDF video knowing Israel stole all photos and video footage to counter its story. Had this been Iran, we would have heard analysis on how Iran violates freedom of speech and press. Yet, what we heard was the parroting of Israeli claims - with the full knowledge that all evidence of the participants were taken. Since you released your video - were you invited to any discussion taking place on this issue by any major paper or TV network? CNN, NY Times, etc.? Congress?
Lee: The American press is under strict orders to never contradict the Israeli narrative of anything - whether it be Lebanon in 2006, Gaza in 2008-09, Palestine on a daily basis or what happened most recently on the Mavi Marmara. So even though our footage contradicts the Israeli account of what happened in almost every way, I was never once invited by a major network to present this footage. But you can't stop info. Over 1 million people watched our footage on the internet, reposted it and it went viral. I also allow people to use the material to illustrate other survivors testimonies, people who want to make analytical short films, Al Jazeera used good chunk on their documentary, BBC just requested to do the same. I am not protective about the footage, the main goal is to make it available as public service, since Israelis stole/confiscated all other materials.
Wazwaz: In the aftermath of the attack, a campaign is being waged to project the Turkish Charity Organization, IHH as a terrorist organization. There were even calls by democrats to refuse visas to any members of the Flotilla. First have any of these members of congress contacted you to hear the opposing argument - since they took an oath to serve this country and not themselves? I am not aware of any Congressional hearings where Palestinians, especially those abused by Israel, have taken place. And second, what are your views on reconstructing the Flotilla activists as terrorists?
Lee: This is of course propaganda. Like our press, our congress is dedicated to serving the interests of the Israeli state, even over the interests of their own people here in the US. No one from congress contacted me. Keep in mind that the youngest of the Mavi Marmara victims - a 19 year old boy killed by four bullets to the head - is also an American citizen. Yet no US leader has called for an investigation. Such control of our leadership is accomplished through a very powerful, right-wing Israeli lobby. Without evidence, and with blood on their hands, all they can do is shout "terrorist" and blame the victims for their own murderous conduct.
Wazwaz: Having been on the ship where 9 people were shot 30 times at close range, and having interacted in the journey with people on the ship - what was your perception of the people on that ship? Did you hear calls to kill Jews, or language that was anti-Semitic? Do you recall these individual participants and if so can you share anything about their deaths or journey on the Flotilla?
Lee: The passengers on the boat came from all walks of life - secular, religious, old, young, male and female. During interviews I conducted many mentioned that they have nothing against Jews but the terrorist state Israel. It is preposterous that anyone on board called for death to the Jews or uttered any other anti-Semitic slogans. We all shared a commitment to NON-VIOLENT action against the illegal blockade of Gaza.
Wazwaz: Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney, the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively. In fact, both men were considered terrorists in their lifetimes. MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy. You mentioned on your Democracy Now interview that you were trained in non violence resistance. Can you explain non violence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?
Lee: There have been many "Palestinian Gandhis." Unfortunately such non-violent action is consistently met with brutality. Tight control of the media, however, means that the only information the world receives is that which justifies Israeli brutality. After the popular movie 'Avatar," residents in Bilin dressed up as the characters from that movie to protest the border wall. Their hope was that by dressing up as the sympathetic aliens from that popular film that the world might find some room in their hearts for the human beings suffering in Palestine. They were dispersed by tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets, and then never heard from again - least of all in the media.
Wazwaz: Thank you so much for your time.