GWEN IFILL: Now, for a closer look at the action and reaction surrounding the high seas standoff, we turn to voices on each side of the issue.
A short time ago, I spoke with Adam Shapiro, a board member of the Free Gaza Movement. He helped organize this trip, and his wife took part in the convoy.
Adam Shapiro, welcome.
How long has this flotilla movement been in the works?
ADAM SHAPIRO, Free Gaza Movement: We have been planning this flotilla since July 2009, when our last effort to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza was stopped by Israeli forces in the waters, and we were detained.
Upon release, we started organizing this flotilla to make it bigger, to bring in more partners and to attract as many ships as possible. And we ended up with six ships on this mission, three cargo ships, and two — and three passenger ships.
GWEN IFILL: So, let’s be clear. You were on a previous flotilla or a previous ship that tried to break this blockade.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Yes. In July 2009, I was on the Spirit of Humanity ship that was — we were stopped just outside of Gaza’s waters. And we were dragged into the Israeli port of Ashdod and detained for about 10 days.
GWEN IFILL: Have you been able to talk to your wife since last night’s events?
ADAM SHAPIRO: No. The last time I spoke to my wife was just moments before her boat was captured. Since then, her and all of the passengers have been held incommunicado. Even the injured are being held in secret locations in Israeli hospitals.
We have no access to the injured people. And even, unfortunately, the names of the dead have not been released by Israel, which, at this point, forces us to — to ask the question, why is Israel keeping the names of the dead a secret?
GWEN IFILL: Can I ask you a little bit about what — something you said a moment ago? You said the purpose of this was to break the blockade. But I have also heard that you said that this was a humanitarian mission. Which was its, or was it both?
ADAM SHAPIRO: Yes. It’s both. I mean, unfortunately, Israel has made humanitarian assistance to Gaza a political issue. So, Israel keeps a list of items that are permitted into Gaza and items that are not permitted into Gaza.
Many medicines, many machines that are needed for medical operations and medical procedures are not allowed into Gaza. Some basic foodstuffs are not allowed into Gaza to the Palestinians. And so Israel has taken a very radical policy through its blockade, and made humanitarian assistance a political issue.
The blockade itself is, of course, political. And, so, we are challenging the blockade itself and, in doing so, trying to deliver the much-needed humanitarian and reconstruction assistance that Gaza needs.
GWEN IFILL: As — as you know, Mr. Shapiro, they say — Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What’s your response to that?
ADAM SHAPIRO: I don’t need to respond to that. The World Health Organization and the United Nations and countless other organizations that are keeping track of statistics, keeping track of health records of the Palestinians in Gaza are repeatedly, virtually every week, coming out with a new report, a new document, new evidence that is showing that the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering a — a major humanitarian crisis, and that, you know, all health indicators are deteriorating among the people in Gaza.
Furthermore, it is a simple question also of freedom, that even — even if we take Israel’s word at it that Gaza is not a humanitarian crisis, and ignore the evidence presented by these health organizations, then we still have the basic fundamental question of the freedom of the people of the Gaza to come and go, to pursue education and work opportunities wherever they can in the world.
Gaza is an open-air prison. This has been what it was called by members of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Richard Falk and Desmond Tutu, among others. This is part of the problem as well.
GWEN IFILL: About last night’s incident, there are two basic disagreements about what happened. One is whether the people on board the ship were armed and whether that was part of your plan in breaking this blockade, to provoke violence. And the other is whether the ship was in international waters.
ADAM SHAPIRO: On your latter point, there is no doubt.
We have released all information about the location of the boats, according to the spot beacons. And I have not actually heard the Israelis dispute that the boat was in international waters. I think this issue is — beyond dispute. This boats were at least, at least 50 miles off the coast of Gaza.
So, I don’t really believe that that is at issue. And, certainly, all the countries around the world that are taking exception are taking exception to the part that Israel carried out this attack in international waters.
GWEN IFILL: And on the former point about whether you were armed and whether there was violence that was provoked here?
ADAM SHAPIRO: The Israelis, according to the initial reports that were being fed on our live stream coming off the boat that was attacked, including by international media outlets, were reporting that Israeli soldiers descended onto the boat firing at the passengers as they were descending, and that it is only after our passengers were injured and, in fact, one was killed that some of the passengers took up weapons of iron bars and whatnot and tried to defend themselves.
I personally don’t agree with the use of any kind of violence. We are a nonviolent movement. And we have tried to work in such a way. However, under those circumstances where live ammunition is being used in — in random firing in a very limited, small area, I can understand where people would want to try to defend themselves in some way.
GWEN IFILL: And…
ADAM SHAPIRO: And I think — we’re calling for an open, independent investigation into all the events that transpired on that boat.
GWEN IFILL: I just want to be clear. You’re saying there was no intention, no preparation to provoke or to respond with violence heading into this?
ADAM SHAPIRO: None whatsoever.
It would be — it is utterly absurd to think that we could face down a military with the strength and the kind of technology and weapons that Israel possesses. To even think for a second that we could use violence in any way that would be to our advantage, it’s utterly absurd.
Israel has always tried to portray its victims, whether they be internationals like Rachel Corrie or Tom Hurndall or Palestinians, as — to present the victims as the perpetrators. And I think we’re seeing the response of the world today.
France, the president of France, the foreign minister of France, other countries have come out and condemned the disproportionate use of force by Israel.
GWEN IFILL: Adam Shapiro of the Free Gaza Movement, thank you very much for joining us.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Thank you very much.