Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ridley's Trip to Gaza: Day 3

International interest is growing over daring plans by the Free Gaza campaigners to break the Israeli siege judging by yesterday's press conference in Cyprus.

The two-boat peace mission to sail into the waters off Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison where 1.4 million Palestinians are fighting for survival against the medieval, Zionist blockade has really captured the imagination of others. And now we are hopeful that a flotilla of ships will join us in our mission to highlight the Israeli-imposed injustices on the innocent people of Gaza.

The excitement has even spread to the Gaza Strip where we are told tens of thousands of people are expected on the beaches to greet the historic blockade-busting peace activists. The only blot on the horizon is speculation over exactly what the Israeli military will do to scupper the historic waterborne mission. You see we, as in the peace activists, are bracing ourselves for the worst.

Israel has a history of using immense force to crush anyone offering the slightest goodwill gesture and hope to the Palestinians who are now the victims of a slow genocide. The brutality of the Israeli military was recalled yesterday when organizer Greta Berlin revealed to the media the names of our two peace boats - Free Gaza and SS Liberty. The latter is in memory of a war crime which happened on the fourth day of the 1967 Arab Israeli War when the intelligence ship 'USS Liberty' was steaming slowly in international waters, 14 miles off the Sinai Peninsula.

The Second World War freighter had been converted into an intelligence vessel by the top-secret US National Security Agency, and packed with the latest signals and electronic interception equipment. At 1400 hrs, 8 June, 1967, a squadron of low-flying Israeli Mystere and Mirage-III fighter-bombers repeatedly attacked the American vessel with rockets, napalm, and cannon.

The bombing lasted 20 minutes, concentrating on the ship's electronic antennas and dishes. The 'Liberty' was left afire listing sharply. Eight of her crew lay dead, a hundred seriously wounded, including the captain, Commander William McGonagle. At 1424hrs, three Israeli torpedo boats attacked, raking the burning 'Liberty' with 20mm and 40mm shells. At 1431hrs, an Israeli torpedo hit the 'Liberty' midship, precisely where the signals intelligence systems were located.

Twenty-five more Americans died. Israeli gunboats circled the wounded 'Liberty,' firing at crewmembers trying to fight the fires. At 1515, the crew was ordered to abandon ship. The Israeli warships closed and poured machine gun fire into the crowded life rafts, sinking two. As American sailors were being massacred in cold blood, a rescue mission by US Sixth Fleet carrier aircraft was mysteriously aborted on orders from the White House. The Israeli attacks killed 34 US seamen and wounded 171 out of a crew of 297, the worst loss of American naval personnel from hostile action since World War II. Less than an hour after the attack, Israel told Washington its forces had committed a 'tragic error.' So, it is with good reason that the Free Gaza Campaign organizers were reluctant to tell the media exactly when we are setting sail from Larnaca in Cyprus on a journey of 241 nautical miles.

We are still keeping the exact location of the boats a secret, but I can tell you that they are now on course for Larnaca. And I can also tell you that myself and filmmaker Aki Nawaz flew out of Cyprus last night for a secret destination to rendezvous with the two boats so our Press TV documentary will capture every moment for our viewers. We should be re-united with our fellow passengers some time this week to break the siege of Gaza and raise international awareness. So, if you have a boat in the region set your course for Larnaca and let's have a Dunkirk-style flotilla steaming for Gaza. We can no longer rely on the weasel words and actions of Western politicians to rein in Israel from continuing its brutal policies towards the Palestinians.

Let's take on the Zionist State using nothing more than people power to show how much we really do care. The most powerful weapon to combat the violence of the Zionists will be the non-violent actions of peace activists. We have spent the last week training in non-violent resistance techniques and while I will freely admit a few of us have fears and concerns, every one of us is determined not to be intimidated or bullied by Israel. I have previously mentioned the amazing Holocaust-survivor Hedy Epstein, who could celebrate her 84th birthday at sea.

She actually learnt to swim to qualify for this trip. Once we reach Gaza, the plan is to return to Cyprus with Palestinian passengers and establish a ferry service, giving priority for people seeking medical treatment and students prevented by Israel from studying abroad. If you, like us, believe might is not right then pray for us, support us and - if you have a boat - come sail with us. See you on the beaches in Gaza ... Insh'allah.

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