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Honoring the Turkish Sacrifice
Lawrence Swaim--July 31, 2010--

Just a few weeks ago, on May 31st, the Israelis intercepted the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing at least nine people while boarding the Turkish ship Mava Marmara in international waters. That bloody tragedy changed everything, despite desperate attempts of the Israeli government and US proxies to spin the story. In fact, the propaganda of the Israelis—posturing themselves as pitiful victims, and portraying the real victims as terrorists who deserved to die—was so utterly lacking in remorse and coherence that millions around the world were shocked and disgusted.

The humanitarian items on the Marmara were mainly collected by the Insani Yardim Vakfi, or IHH, a Turkish non-governmental organization (NGO). Originally organized for relief to Bosnian Muslims after the Serbian genocide, it is active in 100 countries, and has a consultative status with the UN. Although generally referred to as “Islamist” or “Islamic” in the West, it helps people in need regardless of religion. The IHH has been engaged in helping to rebuild Gaza’s port (as well as New Orleans after Katrina), but openly opposes Israeli apartheid—which is probably why Israel began in 2008 to refer to its members as “terrorists.” It also suggests that Israel may have deliberately used deadly force to discourage other NGOs from openly defying Israel’s system of collective punishment.

Although the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was not an official project of the Turkish government, the willingness to criticize Israel’s Gaza policy has been a defining political initiative of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan. His party, the AKP, is heir to several important Islamist groupings, and has been remarkably successful in defining itself as a politically-astute, moderate Islamist party. Erdogan is strong on human rights, has more female representation in Parliament than any other party, and has brought the Kurdish parties into parliament. But it is his courageous and unprecedented defiance of Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza that has won him the most respect—in Turkey, in other Muslim-majority countries, and among human rights activists in the West.

The Marmara tragedy gave President Obama a chance to observe that the Gaza blockade was “unsustainable,” causing the Israelis to loosen its embargo slightly. There’ll be a price for that, of course—the US will have to accept a sham investigation from Netanyahu, and US politicians will obediently parrot the Israeli line. On June 14th, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and its political allies tried to suppress a mass meeting at a church in Brooklyn featuring three survivors of the attack on the Marmara, stating that it was organized by “terrorists” and asking the State Department to prevent speakers from entering the country! (They succeeded in keeping one man out.) The strategy of the Israel Lobby couldn’t be clearer—suppress discussion of the Flotilla killings and denounce anybody who dares to criticize them as a “terrorist.” Look for strong neo-con pressure on the Treasury and State Departments to designate the IHH as a terrorist organization.

In 1932 Albert Einstein defined the values of Judaism as a thirst for knowledge, a love of justice, and an ingrained striving for personal independence. The political class of Israel wants to throw out this magnificent tradition, and instead encourages Jews to worship the apartheid state. But the Jewish prophetic tradition will never be silenced by idolotry, religious nationalism and state violence. On June 14th, American Jews for a Just Peace (AJJP) announced that it would be the US coordinator for a ship manned solely by Jews, and that they would attempt to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza in early August. They are reportedly keeping their location secret for fear the Israelis might blow up their ship.

While others talked about injustice in Gaza, the Turks acted—and so must we all. The world must bring down Israeli apartheid just as it did apartheid in South Africa. Luckily, the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel is both non-violent and effective. A settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict is necessary to free the world from the threat of religious war. Support for BDS against Israel’s blockade is a good way to honor those that died on the high seas on that tragic morning of May 31st, 2010.

IFN is circulated nationally, and is the largest Muslim newspaper in the US.

Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation. His column addresses current affairs from an American Christian and Interfaith perspective. The Interfaith Freedom Foundation can be contacted at P.O. Box 6862, Napa CA 94581, and is a public-interest nonprofit that advocates civil rights for religious minorities, and religious liberty for all.

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