Michael Slate Interviews Ann Wright on the 2018 Gaza Freedom Flotilla:

“I see what's happening and my humanity says I have to speak out”

April 16, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following is an interview with peace activist Ann Wright, aired on March 13, 2018, on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica radio. The entire interview can be heard at themichaelslateshow.com. The Michael Slate Show airs every Friday at 10 am Pacific Time on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles. The show can be streamed live here and people can listen to or download archived shows here.

Revolution/revcom.us features interviews from The Michael Slate Show to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theatre, music and literature, science, sport, and politics. The views expressed by those interviewed are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere by Revolution/revcom.us.

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Michael Slate: I am really pleased to welcome back to the show Ann Wright. Ann is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a former U.S. diplomat who resigned from the U.S. government in 2003 in opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. Ann is a deeply committed peace activist and she became active in Palestinian solidarity issues after visiting Gaza in 2009 after the 27-day Israeli war on Gaza. Ann has sailed on three of the more than two dozen Gaza Flotillas including the more recent 2016 Women’s Boat carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Ann is going to talk with us now about what’s going on with the new Gaza Flotilla scheduled for sometime this summer. Ann, welcome back to the show.

Ann Wright: Thank you Michael! It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Michael Slate: Let’s get into this. What is the Freedom Flotilla Coalition and the upcoming 2018 Gaza Flotilla?

Ann Wright: Well, we are going to have a flotilla. Last year we had two boats—one of them just didn’t work as we were taking off from Spain so we ended up with one boat, the Women’s Boat to Gaza. This time we’ll have four and two of them will be starting out in Scandinavia because part of this is to have educational events all the way to Gaza, all through Europe so that we can continue to talk to people about the horrific, horrific conditions in Gaza and mobilize support for Palestinians. By the year 2020, only two years from now, the World Health Organization says that Gaza will become uninhabitable because of the lack of water, the lack of electricity, the sewage problems that are going on there. The blockade of Gaza has just been horrific for those people, those two million people in there. So we sail to educate people about what’s happening and to let the Palestinians in Gaza know that we’re not forgetting them, that we are going to sail boats and hopefully we’ll be able to get in there.

Michael Slate: Now this year it looks like you’re planning on a bigger kind of outreach where people and boats are coming from a lot of different directions on the way to Gaza. And there is even one grouping of boats that are going up rivers through Europe and then coming out and meeting up with the other people off of the Gaza shore. Let’s talk about that.

Ann Wright: Sure, we hope to have four boats, that’s what we’re planning on, and two of them will come down the waterways from Scandinavia going through Central Europe, through the waterways, rivers, canals. They’re shallow draft boats as one would expect but that really gives us the opportunity to reach more people that live along the waters, the rivers and canals. And then we’ll have two boats that will be going on the outside of Europe, going in the Atlantic Ocean and then making port visits on Atlantic ports in Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, Spain and then coming on in to the Mediterranean where the two boats will meet up eventually and then head to Gaza.

Michael Slate: Can you give people a sense of the horrendous conditions facing the people in Gaza? A lot of people only know what they see on the news, but they don’t really know, for example that, as you pointed out, it will be uninhabitable in less than two years. People need to really know about the conditions the people in Gaza are facing.

Ann Wright: Yes, since 2007, now 11 years ago, the Israelis put a blockade, a land and sea blockade around Gaza—which is only 20 miles long and 5 miles wide. The southern border abuts Egypt but the other three borders are totally controlled by the state of Israel as an occupying power so they are the ones that have the authority to stop anything coming in there. This includes food. In fact several years ago one of their ministers of health was quoted as saying, “We’ve put the people of Gaza on a diet. We’re only letting in a certain number of caloric quantities for each person and we’re lowering those quantities.” Right now, less than 4 hours of electricity are coming in per day. The Israelis control all of the electricity that comes into Gaza. It controls all of the water. It controls all of the telephones. It really has Gaza in a squeeze.

And on the naval side, the ocean side, the Mediterranean side, there is a port in Gaza City and 40 years ago the people in Gaza were able to export products and import products but for the last 40 years the Israelis have refused to allow international boats to come in. Although, in 2008 there were two little boats that came in carrying 44 internationals and that then took out some Palestinians that needed health care and some students that had scholarships and couldn’t get out. But really, since late 2008 there have been no international ships that have been allowed to get in. The Israeli Navy has been very brutal in stopping these boats. If you remember in 2010 they stopped our six boats. I was on one of them. The Mavi Marmara is the one where they used lethal force and killed nine people, executed them, unarmed civilians on a ship in international waters and they executed nine people and another person subsequently died from his injuries from his bullets. They wounded over 50 more on the Mavi Marmara. Every one of our boats, including two cargo ships was boarded forcefully. People were tasered, they were beaten up, windows blown out with percussion grenades. And then we were all arrested, taken against our will to a country we didn’t want to go to, Israel, and put in prison, then deported with a 10 year deportation so that now we cannot go into Israel, therefore we cannot go into the West Bank. They keep the boats, they steal the boats and this is larceny on the high seas. This is piracy, what they have been doing is piracy.

We sail to bring attention to what’s happening in Gaza though. That’s our purpose. We don’t want people to forget that they (the people in Gaza) are living in an open-air prison!

Michael Slate: There is an important difference between what's going on this year and what has been going on in the past. Let's talk about the theme this year, because it's not so much that you're trying to get into Gaza, but you're actually making a statement with the boats and the way that they're coming in, and what they're highlighting is the life, or the killing of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Ann Wright: Well, that's right. Can you imagine living in this tiny little place? It's one of the most densely populated places in the world. Two million people live in this tiny, tiny little area. They have no real control over their lives. Israel can turn off all the electricity any time they want to. They have 24-hour-a-day drones over Gaza. Any time they want to they can push a button and blow up a car that they say, well there was somebody in there that was going to threaten the state of Israel. But when you look at it, the numbers of innocent people who are killed in all these attacks are horrendous.

And right now, with the third Friday of the Great Return March, where Palestinians are non-violently approaching a fence that is set off by 1,000 feet of their own territory, which the Israelis have claimed is the buffer zone. But it's Palestinian territory where there should be agricultural products. But Israel has said, if you come in here we'll shoot you—rather than putting a border on their own land—use their own land if they want to have a border area.

But no, they put up a free fire zone, a kill on sight zone, and they have remote controlled machine guns that are set up so they can cover all of that territory. In fact a couple of years ago, it was a women's military unit that were the machine gun killers. They sit in air-conditioned rooms and watch videos of the area, just kind of like a drone pilot, and then they see someone—and they can do facial recognition. They know every single person there is in Gaza, because they know every building. They know every telephone there because it's an Israeli telephone exchange. So they just kill at will.

It's a horrific situation. The statistics are that half the kids in Gaza are having emotional problems—I would say it would be like 95% of the kids in Gaza—because of the horrific oppression that every single day you don't know whether your house is going to be blown up, or if you have a car it's going to be blown up, or what's going to happen. Because you hear these assassin drones above you. I've been there several times, like eight times, and you hear this hum-mmm-mmm-mmm. And you may not even be able to see it up above you, but you can hear this thing, and then all of a sudden, a flash, and that Hellfire rocket comes down and blows up a building.

Michael Slate: When I'm listening to you, it really does emphasize that there's a genocidal thing going on against the Palestinian people. People are just being wantonly killed. The Palestinian people are human and demanding that the world recognize that. Is that a big part of what's motivating folks like yourself to go to Gaza on this ship?

Ann Wright: Indeed it is. And in fact, our campaigns over the years, several of them have been named “Stay Human.” You stay human as an international thing; I see what's happening and my humanity says I have to speak out. I have to do something to bring world attention to what's happening to the Palestinians. And for the Palestinians to be non-violent in the face of the violence against them. Of course, there are some militant groups that have fired rockets into Israel, that's for sure. But look at the massive, massive Israeli military forces used against essentially an unarmed civilian population, how the Israelis kill at will, and are trying, as your earlier speaker said, trying to get the conditions so bad that people will be forced to leave because they cannot have any clean water, they can't have clean air. The concentration of fecal material in the air in Gaza is one of the highest in the world because the sewage plant is always the first facility that Israel goes after and blows up. And then they won't let spare parts come in to get it fixed. So, raw sewage is everywhere, and it dries, so the fecal material is in the air. And then the waters where fishermen, to try to get some protein for the people of Gaza, are forced to stay within, it varies from three to five miles offshore, having to fish in this polluted water because the Israelis have boats out there that will blow them up, kill the fishermen if they come out any further to try to get in cleaner water.

It is a horrific, terrible, nasty situation. The Israeli government is really conducting slow genocide on the people of Gaza.

Michael Slate: Can you tell people how they can get involved?

Ann Wright: The boats will sail from mid-May, and then be coming through Europe all through May. If you go online, we have a Facebook 2018 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, US Section. We've got information there. Or if you go on NationBuilder, 2018 Gaza Flotilla, we've got lots of information there. So the ability of people to make monetary contributions is great. Writing about what you feel about Gaza is important. And if you happen to be in Europe any time during the summer and want to help out and be on a ground crew and even possibly on one of the legs of this massive voyage, get in touch with us through NationBuilder and we'll talk to you about perhaps helping us out in Europe.



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