by Cynthia McKinney
December 30, 2008: Oh, what a day!
I’m so glad that my father told me to buy a special notebook and to write everything down because that’s exactly what I did.
When we left from Cyprus, one reporter asked me, “Are you afraid?” And I had to respond that Malcolm X wasn’t afraid; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t afraid. But little did I know that just a few hours later, I would be recollecting my life and mentally preparing myself for death.
When we left Cyprus, the Mediterranean was beautiful. I remember the time when it might have been beautiful to look at, but it was also filthy. The Europeans have taken great strides to clean it up and yesterday, it was beautiful. And the way the sunlight hit the sea, I remember thinking to myself that’s why they call it azure. It was the most beautiful blue.
But sometimes it was rough, and we got behind on our schedule. We stayed on course, however, despite the roughness of the water and due to our exquisite captain.
There were no other ships or boats around us and night descended upon us all rather quickly. It was the darkest black and suddenly, out of nowhere, came searchlights disturbing our peace. The searchlights stayed with us for about half an hour or so. We knew they were Israeli ships. Who else would they be?
They were fast, and they would come close and then drop back. And then they’d come close again. And then all of a sudden there was complete blackness once again and all seemed right. The cat and mouse game went on for at least one half hour. What were they doing? And why?
We’d been rammed by the Israelis. How did we know? Because they called us on the phone afterwards to tell us that we were engaging in subversive, terroristic activity. And that if we didn’t turn around right then and return to Larnaca, Cyprus, we would be fired upon.
We quickly grabbed our lifevests and put them on. Then the captain announced that the boat was taking on water. We might have to evacuate. One of my mates told me to prepare to die. And I reflected that I have lived a good and full life. I have tasted freedom and know what it is. I was right with myself and my decision to join the Free Gaza movement.
I remembered my father’s parting words, “You all will be sitting ducks.” Just like the U.S.S. Liberty. We were engaged in peaceful activity, a harmless pleasure boat carrying a load of hospital supplies for the people of Gaza, who, too, are sitting ducks, currently being bombarded in aerial assault by the Israeli military.
It’s been a long day for us. The captain was outstanding. Throughout it all, he remained stoic and calm, effective in every way. I didn’t know how to put my life jacket on. One of the passengers kindly assisted me.
Another of the passengers pointed out that the Israeli motors for those huge, fast boats were U.S. made – a gift to them from the U.S. And now they were using those motors to damage a pleasure boat outfitted with three tons of hospital supplies, one pediatrician and two surgeons.
I have called for President-elect Obama to say something. The Palestinian people in the Gaza strip are seeing the worst violence in 60 years, it is being reported. To date, President-elect Obama has remained silent.
The Israelis are using weapons supplied to them by the U.S. government. Strict enforcement of U.S. law would require the cessation of all weapons transfers to Israel. Adherence to international law would require the same. As we are about to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, let us remember that he said:
1. The United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, and
2. Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about things that matter.
I implore the president-elect not to send Congress a budget that contains more weapons for Israel. We have so much more to offer. And I implore the Congress to vote “no” on any budget and appropriation bills that provide more weapons transfers, period.
Israel is able to carry out these intense military maneuvers because taxpayers in the U.S. give their hard-earned money to our representatives in Congress and our Congress chooses to spend that money in this way. Let’s stop it and stop it now. There’s been too much blood shed. And while we still walk among the living, let us not remain silent about the things that matter.
We really can promote peace and have it if we demand it of our leaders.
We lived to tell the story: Lebanon rescued us
Jan. 1, 2009 – Yesterday, we met with the president of Lebanon, the chief of the military and the interior minister, who all thanked us for responding and risking our lives on a mission of mercy; we profusely thanked them for rescuing us.
What would we have done, stranded out at sea, prohibited from reaching our destination, low on fuel, with a badly damaged boat if Lebanon had not accepted us? Lebanon sent their ships to find us. Lebanon rescued us. Lebanon welcomed us. And we are truly thankful.
Even at that, the report that came to us yesterday after the captain and first mate went back to Sour (Tyre) to inspect the boat was that it was sinking, the damage is extensive and the boat will take, in their estimation, at least one month to repair. Tomorrow, we will bring the Dignity from Sour to Beirut. And now, we must decide what to do and from where we will do it and how we are to get back to wherever that might be.
My personal – and I know the group’s – thanks must go to Al Jazeera that allowed three of their reporters to be onboard with us on our voyage. As a result, Al Jazeera carried the story of the Dignity live, from castoff in Cyprus when our spirits were high, right up through the menacing maneuvers of the huge, super fast Israeli ships before they rammed us, the Israeli calls on the ship phone after the ramming calling us terrorists and subversives and telling us to return to Cyprus (even though the Israelis later claimed that they didn’t know who we were, they knew enough about us to tell us where we had come from), and the fact that we didn’t have enough fuel to follow their instructions, right up to their threat to fire at us if we didn’t turn around, ending with our beaten-up boat limping into Sour harbor in Lebanon.
Al Jazeera carried our story as “breaking news” and performed a real service to its audience and to us. Al Jazeera called the Israelis to inquire about the incident right as it was happening and I am sure the Israelis were prepared to leave none to tell the story. Al Jazeera told the story and documented it as it was happening.
I apologized to him that my tax dollars were being used in such a despicable way. And Sami’s crime according to the U.S.? Born in Sudan, and reporting for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, Sami was the wrong color, the wrong nationality, the wrong religion, reporting for the wrong news outfit, telling us the truth about a wrong war. And for that he survived incarceration for six long years. Sami al-Hajj, Guantanamo prisoner number 345.
Another incredibly committed journalist who was with us was CNN’s Karl Penhaul. Karl reported the truth even when his own station was repeating Israeli disinformation. The fact that we were traveling with these alert journalists added to the flat-footedness and obvious crudeness of the Israeli response. Sadly, Israel has changed its story too many times to count, and that’s because they are not telling the truth.
We lived to tell the tale. Karl’s incredible reporting, just a portion of our story, can be seen on CNN, where there’s also video and a photo of our damaged boat. A little more of the story and film of the extensive damage can be seen here. [The videos appear to have been disabled on the CNN site as of Jan. 4, but CNN's main video news clips are posted here following this story. - ed.]
This video and the photos of Karl’s report are particularly interesting given that Israel claims that our boat was only scratched and that, in actuality, our captain, while trying to outmaneuver them, damaged their warship.
I’m told that CNN only played my full statement once – and that’s the time that it aired live. Of course, they cut the reference to the U.S.S. Liberty. What are they afraid of?
Last night I was on PressTV.com, along with others who were on the Dignity, and we debated a representative from WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. I reminded the audience that the Palestinians don’t have nuclear weapons, depleted uranium munitions, white phosphorous, or F-16s, but the Israelis do. The facts, however, tend to get garbled after being processed by the “Grand Wurlitzer” organ of state-sponsored disinformation utilizing the world’s press.
With the truth clearly on our side, Israel has been reduced to releasing the ridiculous bombast below, given to me by a reporter who came to our hotel in Beirut for a visit. With their multiple, conflicting stories, it is clear that the Israelis did not expect us to live to tell the truth.
On the drive from Sour through Saida to Beirut, we were welcomed like heroes because our ordeal had been seen by everyone on Al Jazeera. The mayor of Sour came to welcome us. The mayor of Saida insisted that we stop there, on our way to Beirut, for a special ceremony.
But there was something else that was visible along our drive, and that is the devastation that Lebanon, itself, has received as a result of the Israeli war machine. The scars of the war are still evident everywhere. I will write more on that tomorrow.
And one final note: President-elect Obama roared like a mighty lion onto the political scene, but now he is as silent as a lamb in the face of the death and destruction that is happening in Gaza. As we approach the birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let us remember what Dr. King said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
And after five days of aerial bombardment by Israel, the carnage in Gaza continues.
Here is the palaver that the Israelis put out for public consumption. It is pitiful that a powerful and mighty country like Israel would be reduced to publishing something so petty and weak as the following press release dated Dec. 30, 2008:
“Office of Media Affairs
“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Israel continues to take its humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza seriously. Border crossings into Gaza remain open, and every effort is being made to deliver aid to the Palestinian people. Nearly 100 trucks carrying relief supplies entered Gaza on the 28th & 29th of December and additional shipments are arriving. Israel is working closely with UNSCO, UNRWA, the Red Cross, and WHO to ensure the entry of the required aid, especially food and medical equipment.
“Unfortunately, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has taken it upon herself to commit an act of provocation, leading a small boat of supposed assistants into the conflict zone. She endangered herself, her assistants, and the vessel’s crew. The Israeli navy hailed Ms. McKinney but the former Congresswoman failed to respond, thereby leading to the incident. We regret that during this time of crisis, while Israel is battling with the terrorist organization of Hamas and defending its citizens, that we are forced to deal with Ms. McKinney’s irresponsible behavior.
“Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast
“1100 Spring St NW, Ste 440
“Atlanta, GA 30309-2823
“Michael Printy Arthur
“Director of Media Affairs
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Cynthia McKinney: Gaza relief boat attacked by Israeli military
This is the CNN video that Cynthia McKinney believes was broadcast only once. This version includes her allusion to the U.S.S. Liberty.
Aid ship almost sunk by Israeli gunboat
CNN correspondent Karl Penhaul was aboard the 60-foot Free Gaza vessel Dignity when it was attacked. Severe damage to the boat, behind him in this interview conducted after it docked in the Lebanese port city of Sour (Tyre), is visible to the forward port side, and the front left window and part of the roof had collapsed.
The Dignity was carrying crew and 16 passengers – physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus, human rights activists, including former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and several journalists – who were trying to reach Gaza through an Israeli blockade of the territory.