Transcript of 9/04 Interview with Peace Activist, Ann Wright
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CS: Welcome back to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox. I am your host Cindy Sheehan and you are listening at CindySheehansSoapbox.com, as usual.
I am back here in California after our wonderful Re-creating Revolutionary Communities or Bust tour that went from Eugene Oregon down to Fresno and many stops in between.
We had just so many exciting adventures and we talked to so many people who have been creating revolutionary communities or want to help us create these systems outside of these diseased systems that we live under today.
I have been sending out blasts and information about the tour that we were just on so you can check that out at CindySheehansSoapbox.blogspot.com.
We’re planning another tour in the spring of 2012 that will go from the West coast to the East however far people want us to stop in their communities. So that would be a gigantic loop around the US. We’re very excited about this project and we’re very excited about the tour that just gave us so much energy and we think we were able to inspire and motivate people in the communities that we stopped in.
Well today we have a very dear Soapbox friend and my very dear personal friend Retired Colonel Ann Wright and she is going to talk about the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and she is going to talk about her recent trip to South Korea.
Ann, welcome back to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.
AW: Well thank you Cindy. It is a pleasure to be on your show again. It’s been a long time.
CS: Well I think you may be the person we’ve had on the most on Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox. It’s always great to talk to you. How are you doing? How are you holding up?
AW: I’m doing well. I’m back from the Gaza Flotilla after almost two months of being in Greece trying to battle the Israelis. Now I’m back in Hawaii trying to take a little break and just got back from a quick trip to South Korea to be there to work with south Koreans on protesting the construction of a Naval base on a beautiful, pristine little island off the coast of South Korea.
CS: Let’s talk about these things you have been up to. First of all tell me and my listeners--I haven’t seen you since probably April in New York I think was the last time that we actually physically bumped into each other. But tell my listeners what you, well tell them all about the Gaza Freedom Flotilla first of all. That was quite, as you said, a battle wasn’t it?
AW: Oh it was. You know last year in the 2010 flotilla. That’s when the Israeli’s attacked the six ships on that flotilla. I was on one of them. Not the Mavi Marmara the one where nine people were murdered and 15 shot. But this time we had 10 boats as a part of this flotilla that were composed of 22 national campaigns and our US campaign was US Boat to Gaza and we named it the Audacity of Hope as a challenge to US policy as well as Israeli policy.
The Israelis decided they would give us diplomacy this time to try to prevent the flotilla from leaving the waters of Greece and in a diplomatic offensive that started about, well in the springtime, they strong armed lots of countries to try to prevent their nationals from going on the flotilla. But in Greece that’s were they really applied pressure so the Greek government ended up not allowing the boats to sail to Gaza. So it was a real battle within Greece for us to try and keep putting pressure on the Greek government to change it’s mind and finally our US boat tried to escape and break free after 2 of the vessels had already been sabotaged in acts of terrorism by the Israeli Mossad.
We tried to break free and leave and were stopped by the coast guard 3 miles out in the high seas and commandos readied to board us if we did not turn back around. That precipitated of course good protests by our passengers in front of the US embassy on Independence Day where our hunger strikers were arrested twice. Here it is on Independence Day, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, that’s what our country stands for except at the US embassy. It was quite a scene there where the police were arresting in front of the embassy US citizens on Independence Day.
CS: Tell about what you mentioned, the acts of sabotage of two boats by Mossad and what happened then. What gave you the idea that it was Mossad that had done it?
AW: Well the propeller axles, one was in Greece and one was in Turkey, were cut, were sliced in the same manner and although the Israeli government had not yet admitted the responsibility for it they did last year admit that two of the boats on that first flotilla were sabotaged that the steering mechanisms were damaged by Massod. So it is just too suspicious that in two different countries the same type of acts of terrorism were done to the ships in cutting the shafts to the propellers. So I think that Israel will eventually admit that they did that. In the meantime there is just no doubt in my mind that they were the ones behind that.
CS: What is the situation in Gaza right now? We know that recently Israel had started another campaign against them because allegedly rockets have been shot from there to Israel but it seems like that is not exactly what happened anyway.
AW: Well it’s true there has been an increased level of violence. It started again about four weeks ago when a group of people came across the Egyptian border in to Israel and shot up an Israeli bus, killed five people and wounded I think 14 others. Israel has yet to although they initially said that they felt these were militants that had come from Gaza into Egypt back through the border in to Israel. Those claims have been silenced now. They have not been able to provide any evidence at all that it was actually militants that came from Gaza. You know there are other groups in the Middle East to include those that were in Egypt that have been furious that the Egyptian government have been selling oil to Israel when in fact the pipeline that brings oil into Israel from Egypt has been attacked numerous times.
But anything that happens in Israel is immediately blamed on Gaza militants and is used as a rationale for massive retaliation of RPG’s, Apache Helicopters blowing up all sorts of stuff and of course killing innocent civilians. So that’s one of the hot spots now. Of course it comes within a month of discussion within the UN about the future of Palestine.
So the Israeli’s are doing everything they can to put blame on to Hamas and people in Gaza for anything that happens. So it’s very good to be suspicious and keep prodding to find out who’s really behind these acts that the Israeli’s keep using for retaliation against the people in Gaza and the West Bank.
CS: Speaking of that, this is a little bit off subject but what you just said made me think of something. We’re coming up very closely on 10th anniversary of Sept 11th 2001. There’s still many, many questions about what exactly happened on that day. However, whatever happened that day the US government used that to event to go into Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have a new regime that is still saying we were attacked on 9/11 to continue to the wars that were started but to start some of our own. Do you see any parallels with that and what is happening in Israel?
AW: Well certainly using any sort of incident to curtain civil liberties, to curtail protest, to make people afraid so that they won’t challenge government policy there are definite parallels. Israel does that to scare the Israeli population to make sure that the Israeli citizenry are scared to death of anything called a Palestinian. And it’s tragic now the racism that the state of Israel sponsors. The second-class citizens, the Palestinians, are Israeli citizens and yet are treated so horribly by the government that has given them citizenship. The parallels are very strong and it all boils down to authoritarian government, ours and theirs, who are trying to curtail descent and trying to keep the public in each one of those countries as sheep unwilling to challenge government policy.
CS: Well tell us, I know to raise money to buy a boat from the US for the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and to equip it and all of the campaign was a long one for you guys. And I know you were involved, you’ve been on the show talking about it many months ago. Tell us about the process of getting the boat and what you had to go through and, is this something that is being talked about for next year?
AW: Surely, I mean oh what a dream that was. When I came back from the first flotilla, there were only fourteen Americans that were on that first one out of 700 people. When I came back I felt it was critical that we the US public, the US citizens have our own boat to not only challenge Israeli policy but our own US policies. So the whole group got together and we formed a committee and started fundraising for this boat that we were going to call “The Audacity of Hope” to be right in the face of the Obama administration.
We initially thought that if we could raise three hundred and fifty thousand dollars based on a budget given to us by groups that had tried to get boats to Gaza earlier that that would be it. We could buy a boat and outfit it and be ready to roll with that. And so we fund raised and fund raised and fund raised. Oh my God, I was, and many others were out and about all year long fundraising and thank God the generosity of the American public was just heartwarming. People said, "yeah, we’ve got to challenge these policies." and so we raised that money. In fact we raised more than that which was good because it turned out like with most things that deal with boats it never costs what you think it’s going to. That’s the reality. So eventually we ended up fund raising and getting about four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And with that..
AW: Yeah I know it’s amazing. I’ve never, you and I both have been involved in a lot of projects and they are definitely shoestring budget projects. This one, it just goes to show you that if you come up with a concept that really hits the heartstrings that people, in small amounts of money, we didn’t have any major donors, it was all small amounts, they will respond. With that money we went on a search. I was part of the search committee. Laurie Arbeiter, our good friend Laurie Arbeiter and Jane Hirshman and myself. None of us had ever had anything to do with boats before we were the search committee.
So we scoured several countries for boats. Finally found one and got it purchased and outfitted and in my opinion it was the best boat in the flotilla. It was one hundred and four feet long. We had it outfitted with 10 days of food and water to be able to be out on the high seas for a long period of time in case we got stalled out there. But little knowing we would be stalled in Athens as the Greek government forbid these ships to sail for Gaza. But win we did try to sail to escape we were met with commandoes and dragged back to the port.
And then our captain was put on trial, and then fasts going on in front of the embassy, and huge outpourings of telephone calls and e-mails o the State Department and the US Embassy to complain about all of this. We ended up getting a heck of a lot of publicity for the flotilla, which in turn was the question of, "why is the flotilla going to Gaza?" Then you could talk about the issue of Gaza. So although we didn’t make it to Gaza still the publicity for what’s going on and the terrible plight of the people of Gaza out there for the world to see.
CS: What are the plans for next year?
AW: Well we have, there was one of the 10 boats that made it as far as forty miles off the shore of Gaza before it was stopped by the Israeli military. That boat did not sail from Greece. It sailed from France and so it was not caught up in the Greek prohibition against sailing. So we have nine boats that are left and needless to say they will sail again. We’re not saying at this point from where and we’re not saying when. But they will sail again and we will not stop these flotillas until the Israeli government and the US government end the blockade of Gaza. We’ll just keep going and going and going.
CS: Well right on! I find that the pro-Gaza, the free Gaza movement and pro-Palestinian movement in the United States is small but they’re very dedicated and committed aren’t they? Isn’t that movement?
AW: Indeed it is and between working for the Gaza flotilla and that concept about things like the divestment, boycott and sanction program but it’s unbelievable what an impact the last two years that program has had. People are going into their markets and merchandise stores and checking to what is in there and what has been, that comes from Israel but it’s actually products from the occupied territories which is illegal for an occupier to use those things like the Ahava beauty products the mineral resources. So the BDS program is going strong.
In your area the Bay Area and up in Portland Oregon is a remarkable public education tool which is posters that have been allowed to be put on buses and cable cars in the San Francisco area and the Portland area that say, “isn’t it time the US ends military aide to Israel?” They’ve gone through the process of getting the city counsels to approve these messages. It does cause great discussion and controversy in these communities. That’s what we want. We want the discussion of what’s going on in the West Bank in Jerusalem and in Gaza.
CS: Well as you know the pro Israeli lobby is very well funded and very strong so that shows great courage for those cities to allow those posters to be put on the buses and BART.
AW: It really does. It’s a change from last year. What happened in Seattle where some similar types of messages went up and then the Seattle board for their public transportation system caved to tremendous pressure from pro-Israeli groups and had them removed. So this time we hope that both Portland and San Francisco hold strong and say that this is not, it is you know a statement of fact about US government aide and isn’t about time to stop the three-billion dollars a year that we give to the Israeli military just in military aide alone.
CS: Right. Ann we have about 5 or 10 minutes left. Tell us about your recent trip to South Korea.
AW: Yes, I went there last week in support of South Korean activists who are trying to stop the construction of a naval base on a pristine island called Jeju Island, which is one hundred miles off the mainland of Korea.
This Naval Base which is under construction much to the dismay of the people who live along this beautiful coastline on this tropical Island. I mean it’s really remarkable how close it is to South Korea and in one way it is in a strategic area. It’s to the west of Japan, to the east of China and to the south of Korea. The Koreans say they need yet one more military base and as you well know from your trip to Korea a couple years ago the whole country is filled with military bases: with US bases, South Korean bases and of joint bases. I mean it’s one of the most militarized countries in the world and yet the Korean government at the behest of the US government who wants to have a foothold a little bit closer into the Chinese mainland and it wants to have naval vessels that are carrying the aegis missile system to be a part of the US missile system. So they’ve convinced the Koreans to tear up one of the beautiful islands. And as we well know the Koreans have an activist community that is strong and brave.
CS: Yes they do.
AW: Holy Smokes (laughing)
CS: They are pretty radical
AW: While I was there the mayor of this little village who is furious that this beautiful place that has a very unique shoreline, it’s not a beach it’s actually volcanic clay that’s there that’s quite gorgeous, just gorgeous. The place has been designated as a world heritage place for God sakes and that’s the place they want to put this base. The little island is known as the Island of Peace. It’s known as the Women’s Island. It’s the place where women, free divers, dive for marine life that they come back up and sell. So it’s unique and women are really taking a leading role in trying to stop this naval base. While I was there the mayor of this little town of Kang Jeong heard that they were going to be moving a giant crane in the bay and he went racing down there to try to stop the crane from moving. They did a wonderful mobilization.
They have a community center. They have a siren system that is louder than the tsunami warning system here in Hawaii. When that thing goes off the whole island knows something is happening and little ladies that are the farmers that are out on their lands farming you know with their big brimmed hats their jackets on to protect them against the sun and knee boots, rubber boots, all of a sudden they just throw down their tools, their implements, and hop on their little motor scooters, you see a whole convoy of women on these little motor scooters racing to see what’s happened. What emergency’s going on? The emergency was trying to stop this crane and five people got arrested in stopping it. As the police were bringing them out of the naval base we had a blockade at one of the gates. They brought us through another gate the fast runners raced down and got in front of the trucks that was bringing them out stopped it and then everyone caught up with it and surrounded it and then the police came, the riot police to protect the van. And then a remarkable thing, all of a sudden there were probably about 400 citizens that were there that then surrounded the police and wouldn’t let the police move for hour there was a standoff with the police being encircled by the people.
Well tragically the mayor is still in jail and a Catholic priest who is along the lines of Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Fr Louis Vitale who challenge everything, he’s also now in jail because he climbed on top of the police van trying to exhort the crowd to stay firm to not let this van move. So it was really quite a thrilling sight to see. And certainly neat from our, from the US perspective to put pressure on our government to say that we, the US don’t need to be pushing other governments to have more military bases for our own strategic purposes. So calling the State Department and the Department of Defense to say lay off the, don’t push for this base would be a useful thing to do. Because the Korean embassy, if you call them in Washington and complain about Jeju Island becoming a military base they will say call your state department, call your defense department it’s out of our hands. So let’s try to get this stopped.
CS: That’s a problem everywhere that I’ve gone and you know this too, the people don’t want US bases or military installations anywhere near them. But against the wishes of the people of the area the US government, the local governments or the national government collaborate to overrule these people.
When I was in Okinawa I went to this beautiful beach on one of the Islands of Okinawa and the people don’t want a US marine base extended there and in fact they were going to put landfill right in the middle of the ocean for a landing strip and those people went out in boats and they took over the construction platform and they wouldn’t leave. And every time a construction ship went out they would be out in their little kayaks and rowboats blocking them. But they asked me, the people asked me: "Japan and the US are supposed to be democracies how come they don’t listen to the people?"
AW: Well that’s the truth. All these governments that claim to be democracies including our own they don’t listen to the people who say we want the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended; that we want accountability for torture; that we don’t want drones to be used as assassination vehicles for the United States and yet neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration are listening to the people.
The people of Japan and Okinawa and South Korea are certainly finding themselves in the same position, but we have to just keep pushing. The people in Okinawa have had a dramatic effect on US foreign policy. They have forced the removal of US marines from Okinawa a portion of them who are tragically are going to be sent to Guam and now the people of Guam have mounted major protests saying they don’t want the population of their Island increased by 25 percent which is what would happen with these marines coming in. So it’s the expansion of the US military and the moving around of US military forces that is something we have to be internally vigilant on and raise our voices and help those that are challenging these things.
CS: Well Ann, what’s the next step for you?
AW: Well I will be going back to the mainland next week and be working on the October 6th event in Washington DC where Stop the Machine and try to tie together all of the issues of the economic national crisis, the wars, you know all of these things together and try to find a platform that’s similar to what you did a year ago with Peace of the Action on the mall and trying to have a foundation where people from all over the country can come in to be there to put pressure on congress and the administration to stop the wars, to you know the whole range of things the issues that we have been working on for so long. So that’s the next big one and continuing to speak all over the country and like you raise our voices about things that we are remarkably dedicated to keep talking about until our governments listen to us.
CS: Well I’m going to be sticking pretty close to home for a while because Janey’s going to have her third baby in a couple weeks.
AW: Oh my goodness how wonderful…wow!! My what a little family she’s got, that’s great.
CS: It’s another little boy.
AW: Give her a hug for me.
CS: That will be my 4th grandbaby so I will be home for a while. But I just wanted to fill you in on something I learned last night. When I was checking in to work out at my gym I had one of my peace shirts on and the guy that checked me in looked at my shirt and said,” well wars are good for our economy," and I said, ”well if wars are good for our economy then we should have a great economy because we are in about 6 wars right now. How come our economy sucks?”
AW: Ain’t that the truth.(laughing)
CS: So we have to keep connecting those dots. It’s so nice to hear from you Ann, and hear about all your adventures and just you know, keep yourself strong and don’t forget to get plenty of rest along the way.
AW: Oh I will do that and you too. I’m going to be in California in the middle of October. I’m going to the Bioneers and I’m going to be speaking up around your area so let’s get together. I look forward to seeing you.
CS: Oh absolutely, that would be great.
AW: Okay, we’ll be in touch.
CS: Okay Ann Wright talk to you soon,
AW: Okay, love you.
CS: Love you too.