EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW- The Ex-American soldier on the Gaza Flotilla

By Majed Iqbal- This year in May, the world witnessed the attack on the Flotilla peace convoy to Gaza by Israeli forces where nine people were killed on board. Whilst commentators described this as a an act of International piracy, three months on, Israel continues to deny cooperation with a UN investigation into the Israeli naval raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, where its soldiers would be questioned.

“We said very clearly, ‘Israel will not cooperate with or participate in any panel that demands to investigate IDF (Israel Defence Forces) personnel’,” said spokesperson Mark Regev.

Three months on too, an ex- American Soldier who renounced his US Citizenship and boarded the humanitarian mission on the flotilla to aid Gaza is now organizing a massive flotilla with a 1000 passenger ship planned for June 2011.

Ken O’Keefe, who describes himself as a world citizen was on the Flotilla when it was attacked.

“I saw the first dead body within five minutes of the Israeli attack. This was the first person murdered, he had a bullet shot through the middle of his forehead”

Israel continues to argue today that the aid convoy was armed and had ulterior motives.

“We did not have weapons on the boat. This is a lie. Previous to departure our boat was checked thoroughly by Turkish officials, who were to that point a staunch supporter of Israel”

“The fact of the matter is this attack was illegal from the start. This was clear from the beginning. It was an act of piracy. If Somalis attacked ships with humanitarian aid workers in international waters, it would’ve been war! There would’ve been calls for an invasion of Somalia!”

On the boat Ken was able to use his military skills as he caught and disarmed two of three Israeli commandos who had got onto the boat.

“I had their loaded pistol. We could have killed them. But truth is we disarmed them and they were given medical attention and were then released. The Israelis were the attackers, we were the Humanitarians”.

Ken has been an avid activist for the Palestinian cause. On his website he challenges the designs and hegemony of Israel which has had complicit backing from leading Western powers.

“The truth is that Israel was founded with British and United Nations complicity in Israeli terrorism. The truth is that the formation of Israel, if played out before the eyes of the world, would be uniformly denounced as unlawful and war crimes charges would have to be filed in order to affect justice. Everything I have said above is 100% true yet the propaganda machine makes these truths little known in most of America and much of Europe”.

Ken had already been on other expeditions to help the Palestinian cause and he had been to Gaza once before. This time round he was going to go there to establish business links for Aloha Palestine, a social enterprise that would establish trade and help rebuild the Gazan economy.

“I was going this time to conduct business meetings with business men and trading partners for Aloha Palestine. I honestly didn’t think we were going to be attacked, partly because I was on the first Free Gaza boats that sailed into Gaza successfully in August, 2008”.

Plans are already underway for the June 2011 Flotilla and Ken believes “intelligent, disciplined, fearless direct action can end the blockade.”

“We need to end the blockade. It’s not just about aid. We need to challenge the roots of the problem”

Next June will see an International Flotilla movement that will have people from all nations gathered together under one banner and one mission to challenge the Israeli blockade.

“The first mission to Gaza by sea in August 2008 was the first in 41 years. So it can be done. Nobody can logically argue that it can’t be done. And the recent Flotilla expedition established the tremendous power we have to ultimately end the blockade, we exposed the crimes of Israel where Israeli forces killed innocent civilians. We exposed the truth. The next step is ending the blockade once and for all”.

Ken firmly believes that people of conscience, acting together is all that is needed to effect justice in Palestine.  The May event was able to galvanise world attention whilst even the EU and America had to issue statements of condemnation.

“It would be naive to suggest that the Arab Governments will bring any change or would break the blockade. Egypt contributed to blockade whilst others still trade with Israel. All we have got is lip service comments being made from Arab Governments.”

“The Turkish government acted in a strong way on this issue because the people in Turkey acted powerfully, they compelled meaningful action on behalf of the government. It would’ve been suicidal for the Turkish Government to have not co-operated. In fact the Turkish Government has been closely allied with Israel”.

Whilst forces in the region are making things harder to bring about this much needed change, Ken remains absolutely confident.

“Rafah is now open for people. It’s still not the ideal situation as it needs to be completely open. However, the flotilla proves we can create meaningful change if we are serious. There was no change possible before this if we hadn’t done this!”

A study conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2009 cast doubt over Israel’s survival beyond the next 20 years.

The CIA report predicted “an inexorable movement away from a two-state to a one-state solution, as the most viable model based on democratic principles of full equality that sheds the looming specter of colonial Apartheid while allowing for the return of the 1947/1948 and 1967 refugees. The latter being the precondition for sustainable peace in the region.”

“When people suggested in the late eighties that apartheid will come to an end in the next five years, many thought they were crazy! In my view the Zionist Israeli project is living on borrowed time, there is no room for the racist ideology inherent in Zionism in the 21st Century, the only thing standing in the way of justice in Palestine is us, people of conscience, if we unite, Zionism will be replaced with something that benefits all people in that region.”

“If we commit ourselves to this plan, we can break the blockade. We will lead and they (Israel) will follow IF we do what we are capable of, we can do it, Israel will not have a choice. Just like the Apartheid regime of South Africa”.

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