Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Candlelight Vigil for Activists Killed on Gaza Freedom Flotilla - Austin

An overall weariness seems to have settled with Palestine solidarity activists. ; The news of the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by Israeli forces that came early Monday morning was far less shocking among those who have kept up with Israels track record over the past years than it should have been. Although the attack was in international waters, on unarmed international civilians, and entirely illegal, Israels war crimes are starting to become old news as the Israeli government continues to get away with its abuses.

The vigil held in front of the Capitol Building Friday, June 1st, was then an uplifting and encouraging event as over 70 members of the Austin community gathered with candles to remember those who were killed and wounded on the flotilla and to remember the hundreds of activists who are still being detained by Israel. Several individuals shared words of inspiration and hope with the crowd and a general theme of patience and commitment to action resonated throughout the speeches.

With a recitation of a verse from the Quran, Imam Islam of the North Austin Muslim Community Center stressed the importance of working towards justice in times of severe oppression. If we see an injustice it is our responsibility to change it with our hands, our mouths, and our hearts. He also told the crowd that as they grieved for their brothers that grief is also mixed with a renewed hope that people will work towards justice and peace with nonviolence.

Others such as Ramsey Doany, a Physics student at the University of Texas, encouraged the crowd to stay strong in their dedication to justice and peace for the Palestinian people. He noted that while the situation seems more and more dire every day, there is still hope and a deep need for commitment from activists to educate and speak out against Israel's injustices such as the attack on the Gaza Flotilla.

Overall there is recognition among the Palestine activist community that little if anything has changed in preventing Israel from continuing to commit war crimes. Reverend Ed Hartwell argued, the Israelis are saying there is no humanitarian crisis... Well there is no new crisis. Its just getting worse and worse. Thats the crisis. For some, this fact has provoked more anger with Israel and the United States in the activist community.

At the protest held the day of the attack at Sixth and Lamar in Austin, people held signs that read F*ck Israel. While many disagree with this alienating language and the signs were asked to be taken down, there are still a great deal of people who are just fed up with Israel getting away with every grievous act they commit. The United States unwillingness to harm its relationship with Israel sends the message that Israel can get away with just about anything in regards to the Palestinians and therefore their war crimes have become increasingly more flagrant. Over the past year and a half Israel has continued to push the line farther and farther, first with Operation Cast Lead, then with plans for more settlements, then with the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, and finally, with this attack on international civilians.

Additionally, the siege on Gaza has destroyed the vitality of the citizens of Gaza who, for over the past four years, have been living on the bare minimum amount of food and water that the United Nations says a person can survive on. Over 10 percent of children under the age of five are now chronically malnourished and the 1.5 million people in the enclosed area are desperately in need of food and supplies to rebuild after Operation Cast Lead. Because Israel has refused to allow in enough food and has banned the importation of essential items such as concrete, fresh meat, and fabric for clothing, the Gaza Flotilla and the 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid it carried was not a trivial mission. But even in light of these circumstances and although hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of international civilians have been killed in the last two years because of Israels extreme force, the United States has done little more than publically slap Israels hand for media purposes. Now the Obama Administration has responded to the death of nine or more international civilians in international waters by saying it is merely regrettable. The increased frustration is certainly warranted.

However, despite this discouraging lack of progress, it is gatherings like the Gaza Flotilla Vigil that help the community remember that while Israels human rights abuses are horrendous and becoming ever more wearisome, the need for voices to speak out against Israels crimes is even stronger and can be found among those dedicated to fighting for peace. At the vigil, with four and seven-year-olds holding candles under their chins and people of different races and religions standing together, it was not the anger of the protest from the day before that ran through 70 peoples minds. But in the moment of silence that was held at the vigil, a renewed sense of hope for a lasting peace was felt among the Reverend, Imam, college students, families and Austinites alike.

Article by Leah Gilman Produced by Jeff Zavala A ZGraphix Production. http://zgraphix.org

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