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Ex-Lawmaker: We Were Arrested for Trying to Give Crayons to Children

The Final Call, News Report , Askia Muhammad Posted: Jul 30, 2009

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - At last, former six-term Congress member and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney arrived in the Gaza Strip carrying humanitarian aid July 15.

Ms. McKinney's delegation is part of the group Viva Palestina, which conducted another aid mission from Europe earlier this year. This time the group entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Ironically, Ms. McKinney's entry came just over a week after her deportation from Israel for trying to reach Gaza by sea. She was one of 21 activists kidnapped by the Israeli military in international waters as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid.

This is the third time Ms. McKinney has returned to the embattled area. Last July 7 she was deported from Israel. She was on The Spirit of Humanity which was seized on the open seas by the Israeli military June 28, as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. They were then taken to an Israeli jail, before they were deported.

Also aboard the Free Gaza boatcalled The Spirit of Humanitywas Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire.
I went because there's a gross injustice being carried out every day, Ms. McKinney told The Final Call following her release from the Israeli jail. This is my second attempt to get into Gaza with the Free Gaza organization. And for the two times I attempted to get in, two times I have been thwarted by the Israeli military. The cause is the human rights of the Palestinian people.

In January on another Free Gaza attempt to deliver aid, the Israeli navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board. Just weeks before that, an Israeli Navy vessel deliberately rammed another Free Gaza boatThe Spirit of Dignitywith Ms. McKinney on board, almost forcing it to sink.

The most interesting thing I witnessed was the seemingly endless stream of people of color who are being processed as we were being processed. And on my cell block, there were women from Africa and Asia who thought they were going to Israel because Israel was the Holy Land, Ms. McKinney continued.

And many of them, not all of them, but many of them had United Nations refugee status. They have been certified by UNHCR as refugees, but what they were told as they faced the threats and intimidation from the police is that the United Nations is not in Israel, said Ms. McKinney. The women are left there to suffer.

Ms. McKinney was shocked to see the disproportionate numbers of Blacks inside Israeli jails for common criminal offenses, reminiscent of U.S. jails, disproportionately filled with non-Whites.

But Israel dismisses Ms. McKinney as an apologist for Israel's sworn enemy in GazaHamas. Group members are called terrorists by Israel even though Hamas was the winner of municipal elections in Gaza to determine which Palestinian party would legally govern that territory. Ms. McKinney refuses to back-off.

We just had a visit to Gaza by President Carter. Former President Carter, Ms. McKinney said. Basically, he acknowledged that with the complete and utter devastation that the people of Gaza experienced at the hands of weapons that were supplied to Israel by the United States, he said that unfortunately the Palestinians are treated worse than animals.

I challenge the Israelis to respond to what President Carter had to say, Ms. McKinney demanded.

The Israelis high jacked and arrested us because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza. We were detained, and we want the people of the world to see how we have been treated just because we wanted to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, Ms. McKinney said.

The Israeli authorities tried to get the passengers to confess that they had committed a crime, that they had illegally entered Israel.

In Washington, supporters organized daily vigils near the Israeli embassy for the Free Gaza 14. Some of the original Free Gaza 21 had already been released when the protests began.

The response (of the U.S. government) has not been the sort of response that in your memory and mine would be the case of even U.S. citizens, much less U.S. Congress people, former or current being pirated at sea and kidnapped and taken under custody by any country or element. I think there would have been a great hue and cry and even perhaps some intervention by military means, John Judge, a former member of Ms. McKinney's congressional staff told The Final Call.

Americans taken hostage are generally responded to with military force, or covert operations, or certainly public statements of outrage. But not in this case. This is the exceptionalism that seems to surround both these issues of Israel-Palestine, and Cynthia McKinney herself.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, denounced the unlawful naval seizure by an Israeli gunboat on the high seas of a ship carrying medicine and reconstruction material to blockaded people of Gaza, according to a UN statement released electronically from Geneva.

This Israeli action implements its cruel blockade of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits any form of collective punishment directed at an occupied people, Mr. Falk said. Such a pattern of continuing blockade under these conditions amounts to such a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions as to constitute a continuing crime against humanity, said the human rights authority.

Let's change the world together and reclaim what we all need as human beings: Dignity, Ms. McKinney said in a statement. I appeal to the United Nations to get these women of Ramle, who have done nothing wrong other than to believe in Israel as the guardian of the Holy Land, resettled in safe homes, she said of the women whom she met in the Israeli jail.

I appeal to the United State's Department of State to include the plight of detained UNHCR-certified refugees in the Israel country report in its annual human rights report. I appeal once again to President Obama to go to Gaza: send your special envoy, George Mitchell there, and to engage Hamas as the elected choice of the Palestinian people, her statement concluded.

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