By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
Dr. Paul Larudee of El Cerrito, California is a well known peace activist, speaker, fund raiser, and international traveller. He has been a Fulbright-Hays lecturer and has spent a total of 14 years in Arab countries. Recently he has been published in the Contra Costa (California) Times and Counterpunch.
He has found considerable pro Palestinian sentiment among the people putting them ahead of the media which, in turn, is ahead of the government. Paradoxically, in the US despite heavy Zionist influence, there is much support among Jews for Palestinian rights.
His current affiliation is with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Free Palestine Movement (FPM). Dr. Larudee was one of the founders of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), an organization which broke the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza in the late summer of 2008. At that time two ships sailed from Cyprus to the shores of Gaza, Palestine and broke a decades long blockade. While the ships held only a token amount of goods for the people of Gaza, the symbolism of the journey was celebrated by humanitarians through out the world and became an inspiration to those who followed.
Dr. Larudee left the Free Gaza Movement to form his own group, The Free Palestine Movement. This organization has been recognized by the United Nations.
Dr. Larudee was also a member of the six ship flotilla that attempted to sail to Gaza this past May, a journey marred by the Israeli massacre of peaceful activists on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. He was injured by Israeli forces during his participation. Dr. Larudee dismissed the allegations that the Mavi Marmara was in any way involved with Hamas because of its IHH sponsor. IHH, he insisted, is a humanitarian organization with world wide scope in its charitable works. He also pointed out that in the UK and in Western European countries, the governments distinguish between the military arm of Hamas and its legitimate charitable functions. Only the United States and Israel issue blanket condemnations. The government of Turkey and the various NGOâ€™s within its borders are highly empathetic to the people of Palestine in general and to this coming mission in particular.
For next flotilla, Turkey will send ships and passengers comparable in number to that which they sent this past May.. The IHH has recovered its vessels from Israel. While the vessels are in need of considerable repair, it is expected that they will be ready for the next trip.
This coming Spring another flotilla will sail to Gaza, this one made up of hopefully twice the number of ships – 12 - that sailed this year. In addition, the FPM plans to fly an airplane into a Gaza airstrip. This idea is not new to Dr Larudee, and at first the flight was to be token – a small single engine craft, much as the first two ships to sail to Gaza were largely symbolic. Present plans, however, call for a larger airplane holding from 15 to 20 passengers. The craft will be a short takeoff and landing (STOL) airplane and will avoid flying over Egyptian and Israeli airspace. The cargo will be token.
This flotilla will bring needed goods to the beleaguered people of Gaza. These materials will include building supplies, educational supplies and medical supplies.
FPM intends to recruit high profile individuals, particularly Americans for this flotilla. Former U. S. Ambassador to Ecuador Samuel F. Hart and USS Liberty survivor Joe Meadors plan to be on this journey as they were on the past one. Peace activist and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney will also join this flotilla as will civil rights leaders James and Phil Lawson. Ms McKinney was on board a vessel headed to Gaza from Cyprus when Israeli naval forces attacked the ship forcing it to make shore in Lebanon.
At present it is the intent of Dr. Larudee and those who lead the FPM to present the a small ship which they have called the Liberty to the people of Gaza as a gift.
Dr. Larudee has found considerable pro Palestinian sentiment in his travels. Any reservation about aiding Palestinians is more likely based on political considerations.
Prepatory to the flotilla Dr. Larudee and his organization are in contact with a committee in Gaza composed of representatives of NGOs there.
Passengers from the flotilla who wish to stay in Gaza and work and observe will be able to with permission of the people.
Flotilla vessels may bring people from Gaza on the return trip depending on the consent of the countries these people wish to enter
Thank you Dr. Larudee for your time. Thank you also for the help you have given and will continue to give to the beleaguered people of Palestine.
To learn more about the Free Palestine Movement and to contribute, please access their web site at: www.freepalestinemovement.org.