Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

Early Monday morning, at 4:30 AM  local time, commandos from an Israeli military helicopter assaulted the lead ship of the Gaza Freedom flotilla while it was still in international waters.  Soldiers droped from the air in full combat mode and fired live ammunition at the unarmed activists—killing somewhere between ten and twenty people and wounding dozens.

I have at least four friends on that flotilla, all women.  They are part of a group of seven hundred activists who include members of parliament from many European countries, retired US diplomats, a nobel prize winner and many caring, committed human rights activists.

Both actions had the same intent—to break Israel’s siege which has turned Gaza into one giant, open-air prison since 2007.     Israel has long surrounded Gaza with fences and barbed wire, and Israel controls all the openings, save for the Rafah crossing where Egypt is nominally in charge but answers to the tune that Israel calls.   The siege has destroyed the Gazan economy.  Students cannot leave Gaza to take up scholarships and the sick cannot leave to get medical care.  Almost half the Gazan people are dependent on humanitarian aid for bare survival.  Since the Israeli assault in 2009 that killed fourteen hundred people and destroyed over four hundred homes and eighty public buildings,  building supplies have been embargoed.  The flotilla carried needed construction materials, children’s toys and humanitarian aid.

Israel has captured the ships, forced them into harbor at Ashdod in Israel, arrested the activists and embargoed the media.  They have not released the names of the dead.  I believe and hope that my friends are okay—but I don’t know for sure.   Let me tell you about them:

Huwaida Arraf is one of the organizers.   She’s a brilliant Palestinian-American law student, married to an Israeli American Jew.  It could have been a romeo-and-juliet romantic tragedy, but she and her husband, Adam Shapiro, easily cross the cultural divide and work together for justice.  They were among the founders of the International Solidarity Movement, which brings internationals into the West Bank and, at one time, Gaza to support nonviolent resistance against the Occupation.

Col. Anne Wright—I met her first with Cindy Sheehan when they came down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Anne’s a tomboy crone with a down-to-earth sense of humor.  She still carries a slight aura of her years in the military and the diplomatic corps—you sense she’s on a mission.  And she is, now—ever since she resigned her diplomatic post in protest against the Iraq war, she’s been on a mission of peace.

Hedy Epstein, eighty six, was on the Gaza Freedom March.  She is a Holocaust survivor.  She told me her story when we were stuck in Cairo, kept back from Gaza by the Egyptians.  She was just a child when the Nazis took over Germany, and one day the principal of her school came and told her she was no longer allowed to go to school, because she was Jewish.  She went home to find her house locked and boarded up.  Her father was arrested; her mother in hiding at her aunt’s.  After weeks of terror, she was sent to England on the kindertransport, the special trains that took children to safety.  The rest of her family was murdered.  I heard Hedy on the radio a few days ago—just a snatch of an interview.  “Don’t give me your tears about the Holocaust,” she said.  “I lost my entire family.  Don’t desecrate their memory by using it to justify Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians.”

Caoimhe Butterly—she was our contact in the Balata refugee camp when I first went to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement in 2002.  She spent a year living in Jenin, standing as a witness whenever the Israeli army invaded.  I can still picture her, striding throught the camps like a red-haired Celtic Amazon Goddess, larger than life, towering over the rest of us and utterly fearless, with the kids from the camps calling after her…Cuiva! Cuiva!  She would walk up to a tank and place her hand over the muzzle.  She’s been shot once, already, in the leg—and thrown out of the country.   Whatever is happening to Caoimhe, I know she’s glad to be there.  She would feel much, much worse to be somewhere else, reading about it happening to other people.

I could have been on that flotilla—might well have been had I not gone on the Gaza Freedom March last winter and expended all the time and energy and money I could spare at the moment.   Instead, I’m in the most idyllic place imaginable—the Village Building Convergence in Portland, Oregon, one of the most creative and inspiring political actions anywhere, ever—with hordes of sweet, beautiful, loving young people transforming neighborhoods with natural building.  The sheer contrast is making my head ache.

Partly, I feel horrible that I’m not there with these four brave women I feel proud to call my friends.  Partly—if I’m honest—I feel relieved and grateful not to be.  And partly, I feel guilty for feeling relieved and grateful

So, I do what I can do.  I write—as if I could pin them with words, fix them into existence, bring them alive on the page and hold them to life.  That’s what I do.  It’s very little.  But this is one of the moments when all of us are called to do at least some little thing, to raise our voices against a huge injustice.

Below are some links—to information, suggestions for actions.   Call, write, go to a demonstration—at the very least, read and educate yourself.  This world is too bright and beautiful a place to collude by our silence with murder.

Website of the Free Gaza flotilla:

Video and breaking news:


10 comments to Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

  • Julianne Jaz

    Starhawk, thank you so much for sharing your friends who are part of this Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Speaking their names, giving us details of their lives, makes this all the more real to those of us who are here… I’m offering my prayers for those who were murdered, as well as for the safety of those who are still part of this mission.

  • Brooke

    Thank you Starhawk.

    Here is a link with an interview with Huwaida Arraf:

  • laura

    Thanks for this heartfelt post, Starhawk, always appreciate your perspective and insight.

    Here’s another link for a petition that calls to ‘investigate the raid and end the blockade’:

  • Sweet Heart, thank you so much for this post. I am still shaking with anger, with disbelief. My heart is sore. Yet I do hear a loving song of transformative possibility emerging, spreading unstoppably through the winds of the worlds. I am offering up prayer/spells for your friends specifically, but also for all of those brave souls who dared to sail into the maelstrom.

    May we all dare to dwell in beauty, balance and delight.

  • Linda Sang

    Beautiful post, Starhawk. I’ll be spreading the link far and wide.

  • Salam,
    If you care for the gazan people:
    a. Don’t send expired medication as this only cause trouble.
    b. make sure you deliver through the UN or the Red Cross because otherwise goods are being confiscated by Hamas which just sell them on to raise money and this never goes to the people who needs it.
    c. make sure it’s actually needed. A lot of people just assume everything is needed although many goods are being sold for half price than in egypt/jordan/lebanon because there is so much. So pay attention to what you choose to donate.
    d. don’t listen to Hamas and Abbas because they steal everything they can and never invest the money in us. A lot of us work in the Israeli settlements, when you ban their products you are actually causing our people to lose a lot of their jobs.

    Thank you
    Salim Abdul-Karem (writing from Gaza)

  • Thomas.Tallis

    As an Israeli Pagan, I have never fully understood the need of the Reclaiming community to support a population who by and large would have them beheaded, if only they could accomplish such a feat.
    Every value upheld by Liberals worldwide is being denied daily in the Palestinian territories, not by Israel – but by the Palestinians themselves.
    It was the Palestinians who elected Hamas, an organization which seeks to establish a Muslim Palestinians state instead of the Israeli state.
    The Hamas stands firmly against freedom and equality by executing homosexuals, secular activists and women who refuse to submit themselves to religious discrimination.
    After years of foreign aid to the Palestinians, nothing has changed.
    The Palestinians uphold death as a higher value than life, still prefer Sharia law over democratic values and elect murderers as leaders.
    Yet, the Liberal world stands by their side.
    What is this nightmare?

    • Thomas, I suggest you read through some of my archives on my main website, I’m always saddened to hear Pagans express prejudice toward any people–and racism occurs whenever you start lumping all of one people together and stop seeing them as individuals with real differences. That kind of thinking might arise from fear–but in fact it makes you less safe, less able to make alliances with those in the Palestinian community who might also want peace, and is behind Israel’s pursuit of policies that are unjust, inhumane, destructive, and ultimately self-destructive.

  • […] shield again and was wounded during an IDF operation in Jenin. One of her admirers described how Butterly “would walk up to a tank and place her hand over the muzzle.” Butterly was an organizer […]

  • […] shield again and was wounded during an IDF operation in Jenin. One of her admirers described how Butterly“would walk up to a tank and place her hand over the muzzle.” Butterly was an organizer […]

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