“Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t give out.”
–John Lewis, one of the 1961 Freedom Riders
My friend Hedy Epstein joined the “Move over AIPAC” protests in Washington in late May. While she was there, she paid a visit to the office of her Missouri senator, Claire McCaskill. The 86-year-old Holocaust survivor informed an aide of her upcoming participation in the second Gaza Freedom Flotilla to break through Israel’s vicious siege against the people of Gaza.
The aide to Senator McCaskill told Hedy that the Senator “wants you to be safe.” Yet, if the Senator was like her colleagues, when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before Congress in May, she gave him 29 standing ovations.
The U.S. government proudly upholds its relationship with Israel. As the U.S. believes itself to be above the law, Israel, as a loyal U.S. ally, enjoys a comparable privilege to consider itself beyond the reach of the law, whether that of the seas or of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Netanyahu is clear about Israel’s intention to maintain the blockade on Gaza and so to keep 1.5 million human beings in desperation. He has been quite explicit that Israel is well prepared to deal with the 15 or more boats and thousand people from 40 countries soon to head toward Gaza.
The women and men who will board the U.S. Boat to Gaza object to the cruel imprisonment and impoverishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. In fact, they are willing to embody that objection and risk their well-being on this mission.
They know full well the lethal means Israel employs consistently and with utter impunity against Palestinians. They also know that global citizens concerned about human rights can be treated similarly, as evidenced by the nine people murdered last year by Israel’s commandos who took over the Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara.
By her words, actions, and ovations, Senator McCaskill has long demonstrated on whose side she stands. Ms. Epstein is likewise forthright and clear: She is standing with a growing number of those struggling for a decent life for the Palestinians, who have been dispossessed and demonized by Israel for over sixty years.
Fifty years ago, the Freedom Riders sought to hasten the end of segregation and, by doing so, they faced harassment, beatings, bombing, and defamation. As far as the white supremacists were concerned, the Freedom Riders were subversives.
In 1961 how many American senators expressed solidarity with such “subversive” citizens?
Likewise, those who are willing to defy Israel’s brutal policies and to defend the dignity of the Palestinian people are regarded by Israel and its supporters as subversive.
In 2011 how many American senators can utter one sentence of support for the people soon to board the U.S. boat, known as the “Audacity of Hope”?
Mark Chmiel is a member of the Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and author of Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership (Temple University Press, 2001).