Israel Jails Nobel Peace Laureate

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow (July 7, 2009)

For the past week, 21 peace activists from a number of countries -- including Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Peace laureate from Ireland -- have been sitting in an Israeli jail.

They were arrested and held because they were crewing a ship carrying humanitarian supplies from Europe to Gaza, "breaking" the blockade of Gaza that the Israeli government has imposed. Their vessel was boarded and captured by the Israeli navy – according to the crew, in international waters.

Reports indicate that today the activist sailors will be deported to their home countries. At least one American – former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney –- was aboard.

Before looking at the possible importance of this movement in bringing peace and justice to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I want to note that there has been practically no media coverage in the US of these events. Not a peep in the NY Times, for example. A Nobel laureate jailed by the Israeli government – not news? I suggest that members and readers of The Shalom Center contact their local newspapers to ask why -- and to call for an end to the blockade.

This is the eighth vessel sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement to attempt to break through the blockade. Free Gaza is committed to nonviolence, and each of the vessels has been certified by Cypriot authorities as carrying no weapons, only medical supplies and other civilian goods to meet then needs of desperately poverty-stricken Gaza. In the wake of the Gaza War last December, which devastated many homes, neighborhoods, and public buildings, no reconstruction materials have been allowed in.

So The Shalom Center is helping provide medical supplies and similar civilian humanitarian goods to Gaza through trustworthy Israeli organizations like Physicians for Human Rights. Please make your TAX-DEDUCTIBLE contribution to this effort by clicking to --

Four-fifths of your donation will be used to purchase humanitarian supplies. One-fifth will be used by The Shalom Center to expand and encourage this effort in the US.


Forty-three years ago, in a book about the civil rights movement (From Race Riot to Sit-in -- Doubleday Anchor) I wrote that one of the most powerful forms of social action for change is embodying in the present the future that the activists are imagining. The sit-in movement worked exactly this way: the sit-inners imagined racially integrated public places where segregation was the law. They did not petition Congress or sue in court for changes in the law; they did not attack the drug stores, restaurants, and bus lines that imposed racial segregation; they simply desegregated those places themselves. They forced the owners and the state and federal governments to decide what to do with them: arrest them, kill them, or allow racial integration to happen and be accepted. Their actions created first the ripples, then the waves and ultimately the great tides of change that transformed America.

Along the way, some reviled them as troublemakers and criminals. But their principled nonviolence and the simple justice of their actions won broad and deep support.

The blockade of Gaza is cruel, unjust, and self-defeating. If it was intended to terrorize Gazans into turning away from Hamas as their political leadership, it has utterly failed. There is plenty wrong with Hamas – ranging from its organizational call for the dissolution of Israel to its willingness to use violence against Israeli civilian neighborhoods. But it has also offered cease-fires and truces, and abided by a cease-fire from June to mid-November 2008. It is not even clear whether Hamas or the Israeli government was the first to break that cease-fire. See for a report drawing on public Israeli intelligence sources.

But Hamas' actions – allegedly in response to the blockade -- do not justify the behavior of the Israeli government -- allegedly in response to rocket attacks. The same ethical reasons for condemning Hamas' attacks on Israeli civilians are ethical reasons to condemn Israeli attacks on civilians in Gaza. On both sides, other responses were and are possible.

Just as in the case of the sit-in movement in the US a generation ago, what we might call the "ship-in" movement to restore human cintact with and concern for the imprisoned people of Gaza is a valuable and ethical contribution to Middle East peace efforts. If Hamas were wise, it would explicitly and publicly abandon the use of violence against Israel and put all its energy into support for the nonviolent ship-ins.

Peace between Israel and Palestine almost certainly will come only in response to US action. The Free Gaza movement is one possible pressure point for change in US policy. If the movement were to grow as the sit-ins did, perhaps drawing support groups from far away as the Southern sit-ins did in Northern cities, and especially if Palestinians who live in Israel and in the allegedly "annexed" East Jerusalem, joined by some Israeli Jews, were to start blockading Israeli roads in a strictly nonviolent way -- not even stone-throwing -- this form of nonviolent direct action could make a great difference to US as well as European policy.

Let me remind you to make a tax-deductible donation to The Shalom Center that we will send on for humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.
Please make your TAX-DEDUCTIBLE contribution to this effort by clicking to --

Four-fifths of your donation will be used to purchase humanitarian supplies. One-fifth will be used by The Shalom Center to expand and encourage this effort in the US.

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Rabbi Arthur Waskow