The US State Department issued the following terse warning on June 22:
The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel… On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt.
The statement comes as a new “Freedom Flotilla” led by a US vessel, The Audacity of Hope, is preparing a to sail for Gaza—despite last year’s deadly repression. Now, six members of Congress ed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) have written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to ensure the safety of US citizens onboard aid flotillas to Gaza. The Members note that while Israel has the right to defend itself, the measures it takes must “conform to international humanitarian and human rights law,” and that the US must also work to protect its own citizens:
We write to express our concern for the safety of American passengers on the US ship The Audacity of Hope, which will set sail for Gaza in the next few days. We request that you do everything in your power to work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board…
We wholeheartedly support Israel’s right, and indeed its duty, to protect its citizens from security threats. The measures it uses to do so, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law. We are encouraged that The Audacity of Hope organizers have stated that their cargo “is open to international inspection” and that they “are fully committed to nonviolence and the the tenets of international law.
In addition to Rep. Kucinich, the letter was signed by: representatives William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Sam Farr (D-CA), Bob Filner (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
The letter comes as other governments are taking a much harder line on protecting the activists aboard the flotilla. “Israel must exercise all possible restraint and avoid any use of military force if attempting to uphold their naval blockade,” said Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore. “In particular, I would expect that any interception of ships is conducted in a peaceful manner and does not endanger the safety of our citizens or other participants.” (ThinkProgress, June 25)