Back from Greece, Massachusetts Activist Discusses Gaza Flotilla

Article excerpt

At a July 8 press conference in Northampton City Hall, Massachusetts activist and Audacity of Hope passenger Paki Wieland described her efforts to reach Gaza as a member of the Gaza Flotilla Two.

"We challenged the ridiculous notion that the people of Gaza are children and need to be taken care of [by Israel]," she said. "They're an occupied people."

More people know about Gaza now than did three weeks ago, Wieland added.

Wieland was among 37 Americans on the U.S- flagged vessel, which was stopped by the Greek coast guard about 45 minutes after departing for Gaza the previous week. When the ship returned to port, U.S. citizen John Klusmire, captain of the Audacity of Hope, was arrested and jailed by Greek authorities in Piraeus. Wieland, a Northampton resident, was among five Americans arrested later by Greek authorities in front of the U.S. Embassy in Athens where they engaged in a hunger strike in protest of Klusmire's arrest and detention.

"When the American captain of the boat was put under arrest and incarcerated, we thought the least the American government could do was visit him, which they didn't do," Wieland said, "and certainly, of course, to advocate for his freedom."

According to Wieland, the Flotilla effort was successful in once again focusing public attention on the plight of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and under a punishing siege in Gaza.

Israel blockaded Gaza in 2006 after Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. have declared a terrorist organization, won parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza alike that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter certified as fair and legitimate. Carter has characterized U.S.-supported Israeli actions against Gaza as criminal.

Wieland told this reporter that she had previously visited Gaza in March 2009-about a month after Operation Cast Lead, Israel's attack and invasion that took the lives of some 1,400 Gazans, mostly civilians, including women, and children.

"I have seen the conditions on the ground," she explained. "It was terrible. We met with people who had lost family members. …