Protesters assail Israel over sea raid
Jewish groups defend use of force on flotilla
Pro-Palestinian activists in Boston yesterday condemned Israel’s deadly high-seas raid of a civilian convoy carrying relief supplies to the Gaza Strip, while local Jewish leaders defended the use of military force as the self-defense required to enforce what they called a legitimate blockade.
Israel’s takeover of the convoy, which sparked international criticism and could have far-reaching diplomatic repercussions, echoed loudly in the fierce debate in Massachusetts over who is to blame for the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Outside the Israeli consulate at Park Square in downtown Boston, some 100 protesters chanted, “Israel is a terrorist state,’’ and voiced outrage over the killing of nine passengers on the aid flotilla and the ongoing siege of the Palestinian coastal strip.
“The people of Gaza are suffering,’’ said Marco Elawad, 41, a Palestinian who lives in Norwood. “And what the Israelis are doing is wrong.’’
Just after 1 p.m., more than a dozen protesters, many wearing black clothing and holding signs declaring, “End the Siege in Gaza,’’ lay on the street in a silent 15-minute protest in front of the consulate building.
But leaders of prominent Jewish organizations blamed Hamas, which controls Gaza, for the fatal confrontation, saying the Islamic militant group remains determined to “eliminate Israel and to maintain the Gaza Strip as an armed base from which to conduct its campaign of elimination.’’
“Hamas’s unwillingness to make peace with Israel, and to make Gaza a place of opportunity, rather than a place of war, continues unabated and so, too, does the loss of life for which Hamas is responsible,’’ read the statement, issued by Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
The flotilla was organized by a pro-Palestinian coalition called the Free Gaza Movement, which is seeking to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians and breach the blockade, instituted nearly three years ago, after Hamas seized control.
Relatives of two activists with Massachusetts ties who were aboard the ships said Israeli naval forces acted without justification.
“This was an attack on a completely peaceful flotilla,’’ said Joseph Bangert of Brewster on Cape Cod, whose son remained in Israeli custody yesterday.
Fiachra Ó Luain, a 29-year-old Irish peace activist, was not injured in the raid as initially reported, according to the Israeli Consulate in Boston. He was slated to be deported to the United States shortly, along with more than 600 other passengers.
Bangert described his son as a “seed of peace’’ whose political activism was honed by living through the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in North Ireland. Ó Luain is a dual Irish and US citizen and often visits Cape Cod, Bangert said.
Katherine Sheetz, a 63-year-old from Woods Hole, was also in the flotilla and was expected to be deported. Friends and family said Sheetz, who spends much of her time in California, is a longtime peace activist devoted to the Palestinian national cause.
Her husband, Steve Greaves, called Sheetz a “generous, inspired, and wise woman.’’
“I am sure, as we speak, she is doing something in an Israeli prison to lighten someone’s load and add a little brightness to their day,’’ he said.
Sheetz, a retired nurse, was deported from Israel last year after taking part in a similar mission to Gaza. The Enterprise Newspapers on Cape Cod reported that in a recent e-mail to the newspaper in May, Sheetz denounced the Gaza blockade as “an act of war.’’
US Representative William D. Delahunt, whose district includes Cape Cod, met yesterday in Ankara with President Abdullah Gul of Turkey and called for a full, independent investigation of the raid. The casualties occurred on a Turkish vessel in the flotilla.
Palestinians have complained of widespread hunger and hardship among the more than 1 million residents of Gaza during the three-year-long Israeli blockade since Hamas took control. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into the Jewish state, from building up its arsenal.
Nadav Tamir, consul general of Israel in Boston, said his government was “deeply sorry’’ for the loss of life, but said the commandos came under fierce attack when they boarded the largest of six vessels in the flotilla.
“There were people were waiting for the soldiers with clubs and knives and chairs, and they actually tried to lynch the soldiers when they came down to the boat, which led to a situation that the soldiers had to shoot to save their lives,’’ he said.
“There was no assault on the flotilla. There was a clear decision to not let the flotilla get into Gaza. Unfortunately, the shooting happened because the organizers, or at least some of them, didn’t want the good of the people of Gaza. They wanted to create a provocation that led to this tragedy.’’