Former Congress member Cynthia McKinney arrived back in the United States Tuesday following her deportation from Israel. McKinney was one of twenty-one activists seized by the Israeli military in international waters last week as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. We speak with McKinney and with filmmaker Adam Shapiro, who was detained and deported, as well. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Former Congress member Cynthia McKinney arrived back in the United States Tuesday, following her deportation from Israel. McKinney was one of twenty-one activists seized by the Israeli military in international waters last week as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Also aboard the Free Gaza boat was the Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire.
Last week’s trip was the Free Gaza Movement’s first since it aborted an attempt in January after the Israeli navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board. That sailing had come just weeks after an Israeli navy vessel deliberately rammed another of its boats, almost forcing it to sink.
Well, Cynthia McKinney joins us now in Washington, DC. And we’re joined here in our firehouse studio by Adam Shapiro. He was filming the Free Gaza trip last week. He is a Palestinian human rights activist, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. Both former Congress member McKinney and Adam were detained for the past week and just deported back to the United States.
Cynthia McKinney, why did you go? What happened to you in the Israeli jail?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, I went because there’s a gross injustice that is being carried out every day. This is my second attempt to get into Gaza with the Free Gaza organization. And for two times that I’ve attempted to get in, two times I’ve been thwarted by the Israeli military. The cause is the rights, the human rights, of the Palestinian people.
Of course, the world saw Operation Cast Lead, where the United States-supplied F-16s, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, DIME weapons, were rained down on the defenseless people of Gaza. And, of course, we wanted desperately to get in to take humanitarian relief supplies. And both times that I’ve tried to go with Free Gaza, they’ve been thwarted — we have been supported thwarted by the Israeli military.
Now, were you on the boat that was rammed?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I was on the Dignity. And yes, it was rammed in international waters. It absolutely —
When was this?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: This was in December, just a day or so after the outbreak of Operation Cast Lead. I was contacted by Free Gaza and asked to go within twenty-four hours, and I said, yes, I would go.
I wanted to play for you a comment made last week by the Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev, who dismissed the humanitarian mission of the Free Gaza Movement.
MARK REGEV: Israel, every day, is allowing humanitarian support to reach the people of Gaza — foodstuffs, medicines, energy and so forth. This boat was not about that. This boat was about political activists, who have been apologists for the Hamas regime, who have nothing whatsoever to say about Hamas’s brutal treatment of the people of Gaza.
Former Congress member McKinney, your response?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, clearly, we just had a visit to Gaza by President Carter, former President Carter. And 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 the — unfortunately, the Palestinians are treated worse than human beings. I challenge the Israelis to respond to what President Carter had to say.
Former Congress member McKinney, tell us about the jail. Were you able to reach the Obama administration while you were there?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, the jail was very interesting. In fact, the first most interesting thing that I witnessed was the seemingly endless stream of people of color who were being processed as we were being processed. And on my cell block, there were women from Africa and Asia who thought that they were going to Israel because Israel was the Holy Land. And many of them, not all of them, but many of them, had United Nations refugee status. They had been certified by UNHCR as refugees. But what they were told as they faced the threats and intimidation and then, of course, the pick-ups from the police is that the United Nations is not in Israel.
Adam Shapiro, you are a Palestinian rights activist, long known for this. You were on the boat. You were roughed up. You were filming when the Israeli military came on board. Describe what happened.
Well, they boarded us. Four Zodiac ships, as well as eight naval warships, surrounded our boat, and they came immediately towards the wheelhouse, where I was, along with the captain and one other crew member. And I was documenting the whole trip and filming as they boarded the ship. Two soldiers came after me immediately, recognizing, I think, that they don’t want any footage of what’s happening, and they don’t want the world to know what — how they behave. I tried to keep the camera as long as I could, but I was pummeled repeatedly in the back and the arms. I was choked, and eventually, you know, they got the camera out of my hand. They have since taken all of our tapes, all of our flashcards, all of that. And so, we don’t have a record to show the world of what happened on board. The rest of the time, we were detained in one room of the ship, as we spent the better part of six hours navigating back towards an Israeli port, where we were then processed and ultimately jailed and deported.
There was an Al Jazeera reporter on board, as well?
There was an Al Jazeera reporter and cameraman. And they lost all of their footage and their camera, as well.
Their computers was taken?
Their computer was taken. It was completely reformatted and erased. And so, again, we don’t seem to have a record to show the world of what happened.
And your response to the Israeli spokesperson, Regev?
Well, I mean, Mark Regev is known for his colorful descriptions of how great life is in Gaza, as far as Israel is concerned. However, all of the reports, including the most recent International Committee for the Red Cross report, shows that the number of trucks Israel is allowing into Gaza is completely insufficient for what is needed. And so, yes, it is true, he can say that, yes, Israel allows foodstuffs and medicines to get in, but two trucks a day or twenty trucks a day is far inferior to what’s needed. And we have seen that since the international outcry following January’s attack has subsided, the number of trucks that Israel allows in has decreased.
And so, what we are saying, we are — Free Gaza is a humanitarian effort to bring in the kinds of medicines and foods that are needed. But Free Gaza is indeed also a political organization, in the sense of we are a human rights organization, and human rights for Palestinians is inherently political. And we are challenging Israel politically, too, and I think this week has been a success for those of us who are fighting for Palestinian rights. We weren’t able to get into Gaza, but we have shown the world the true colors of Israeli occupation and the double standard by which the United States and other countries are dealing with Israel.
Congress member — former Congress member McKinney, we only have ten seconds. But you’ve just been deported. What are your plans right now?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, I would like to see the children of Gaza have the coloring books and the crayons that we had on board with us. I would like to see the houses that have been destroyed rebuilt. I would like to see the lives rebuilt of the people of Gaza. And I would like to see the people of Palestine have, enjoy their human rights.
Do you think President Obama is heading in that direction?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, I think you can probably answer that as well as we can, because while we were in detention, the foreign ministry of Ireland made protests and asked the government of Israel to release its nationals. Several members of Parliament in the United Kingdom —
We have five seconds.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: — also wanted —
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: — to censure Israel. Nothing from the United States.
Cynthia McKinney, Adam Shapiro, thank you so much.