A flotilla bound for Gaza carrying food, medicine and other humanitarian aid was intercepted and seized last week by the Israeli Navy. The Women's Boat to Gaza had set sail from the Spanish port city of Barcelona in mid-September in efforts to break the ongoing Israeli blockade. Organizers say the Israeli military seized the boat and detained the 13 human rights activists aboard in international waters about 40 miles away from Gaza's shore. The Israeli military towed the boat to the Israeli port of Ashdod and detained the women for up to four days before deporting them. We speak to passenger Ann Wright, retired Army colonel and former U.S. diplomat. Her recent article is titled "Women's Boat to Gaza Participants See the Israeli Imposed Perpetual Darkness on Gaza." Wright spent 29 years in the military and later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the State Department.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A flotilla bound for Gaza carrying food, medicine and other humanitarian aid was intercepted and seized last week by the Israeli Navy. The Women's Boat to Gaza had set sail from the Spanish port city of Barcelona in mid-September in an effort to break the ongoing Israeli blockade. Organizers say the Israeli military seized the boat and detained the 13 human rights activists aboard it in international waters about 40 miles away from Gaza's shore. The Israeli military towed the boat to the port of Ashdod and detained the women for up to four days before deporting them.
AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by one of the participants on the Women's Boat to Gaza, Ann Wright. She is a retired Army colonel, former U.S. diplomat. Her recent article is headlined "Women's Boat to Gaza Participants See the Israeli Imposed Perpetual Darkness on Gaza." Colonel Wright spent 29 years in the military, later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the State Department. In 2001, she helped oversee the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, where she served as deputy chief of mission. In 2003, she resigned her State Department post to protest the war in Iraq.
Ann Wright, welcome back to Democracy Now!
ANN WRIGHT: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Describe this ship of women that set sail and why you did it and what happened.
ANN WRIGHT: Well, the mission of the Women's Boat to Gaza, of course, was to bring international attention to the continuing Israeli blockade, naval and land blockade, of Gaza, this 25-mile-long tiny strip, five miles wide, with 1.9 million people living in it, a brutal blockade which controls all the electricity, the food, the -- everything to come into Gaza has to come through Israeli hands now. It used to -- Egypt was a part of it, but they've really blocked their southern border. So, our flotilla was to bring international attention to this continuing blockade.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what happened, if you could give us a sense of when the Israeli military confronted the boat?
ANN WRIGHT: Well, it was actually a confrontation 34 miles off the coast of Gaza. The Israelis have kind of learned a different lesson from having -- after they've murdered nine people, and subsequently a 10th person died from the 2010 flotilla with the Mavi Marmara, and 50 other people wounded. They knew that this was a boat of women, of unarmed civilian women, trained in nonviolent action, led by a Nobel Peace laureate and two members of Parliament, one from Algeria, one from New Zealand. And over the course of the three legs of this trip, which was 1,715 miles -- it was a long trip, let me tell you -- almost three weeks of educational activities, though, in Barcelona, in Ajaccio, Corsica, France, and then down in Messina, Sicily, Italy. So, we were doing an educational thing as we were heading toward Gaza.
The Israelis boarded the boat. It was very interesting. There were 30 people on the Zodiac boat that came up next to us. And when they came up, it was -- the front part of it, the bow of it, had women sailors on it. Women sailors were the first ones to board our boat.
AMY GOODMAN: These are the Israeli sailors.
ANN WRIGHT: The Israeli sailors, yes. They were not in combat gear. They had baseball caps. They had long-sleeved jerseys on, GoPros. So, the Israeli military has kind of learned a lesson. I wish they would learn the same in their treatment of Palestinians, though, because the treatment of us internationals was very different from what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate you mentioned, Mairead Maguire, one of the 13 women on the Gaza flotilla. She released this prerecorded video message in anticipation of being detained at sea.
MAIREAD MAGUIRE: My name is Mairead Maguire. I am the Nobel Peace laureate from Northern Ireland. If you're listening to this, then you will know that myself and all of the women who sailed on the Women's Boat to Gaza have been arrested and are in detention in Israel. We were arrested, kidnapped illegally in international waters, and taken against our wish into Israel. This has happened to me before. We will be deported and, tragically, not allowed back to see our friends in Palestine and in Israel. This is totally illegal. As men and -- as women from many countries, we uphold our freedom of movement in any part of our world.
So, for those who can help to call for the release of all those on the Women's Boat to Gaza, please do so. But even more importantly, because it's not about us, work for the freedom and human rights, the lifting of the blockade against the people of Gaza and for the freedom for the Palestinian people and peace in the Middle East. We can all do this together. It is not a dream. And we are here in person because we care for human rights, for human dignity for the Palestinian people.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, one of the 13 women on the Gaza flotilla that was boarded by the Israeli Navy, women soldiers. And you were taken to Ashdod and then to a prison and then released, is that right?
ANN WRIGHT: Yes, that's correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, tell us, though, about the situation in Gaza, why you would risk doing this. One of the ships didn't even make it.
ANN WRIGHT: Well, that's correct. One of the ships had engine problems leaving Barcelona. And we had women from all over the world that had come in, and they were great people who continue to speak about the tragedy of Gaza. As we approached the coastline of Gaza, it was unbelievable. To the left, you could see all of the lights of Israel. To the right, a very distinct line, was darkness, all the way to the south, and that's Gaza.
And that exemplifies what's going on there, that the lack of electricity, usually less than four hours a day, the lack of medical supplies. Dr. Fauziah Hasan, who was our medical doctor from Malaysia, she said her organization, MyCARE Malaysia, is trying to reduce the time for operations, which -- in Gaza, which now go on to 2025, there are people lined up. And they're trying to reduce the time that people who need life-saving operations have it. The issue of food, of water, of sewage -- all of these things make for the United Nations now saying, by the year 2020, Gaza will be uninhabitable.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet the Obama administration, while continuing to increase its criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, does nothing about the situation.
ANN WRIGHT: No, in fact, they give them $38 billion in military and other type of aid, which will be used to hammer the Palestinians both in Gaza and in the West Bank.
AMY GOODMAN: This $38 billion, the largest military funding package the U.S. has given any nation.
ANN WRIGHT: Any nation. And it will be used in the training fields of the Israeli military, which are in Gaza. Gaza is the place where military experiments are done, using U.S. military weaponry and done by the -- by the IDF.
AMY GOODMAN: You're former U.S. military.
ANN WRIGHT: Yes, I'm a colonel, 29 years in the U.S. military. And I say the U.S. military and our government are complicit in the crimes against the people of Gaza and the West Bank by the use of our military hardware and by the training that the Israelis give us and we give them.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to the aid on the boat?
ANN WRIGHT: Well, actually, it was -- the aid was really minor. I mean, it was us coming as representatives of the international community. We only had a little 50-foot boat. We really weren't carrying substantial amounts of anything other than goodwill from the international community.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you deported?
ANN WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. Now I have a 20-year deportation, 10 years from 2010.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave it there. Colonel Ann Wright, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, former U.S. diplomat, was one of the 13 women on the Zaytouna-Oliva, the Women's Boat to Gaza, attempting to break Israel's nine-year naval blockade on Gaza.