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The Entire World Waits for Washington’s Response to the Unprovoked Israeli Attack on the Human Rights Flotilla *updated*

May 31, 2010

**see ongoing updates throughout the day below**

Unfortunately, I think that President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice and Secretary Gates’ Memorial Day plans have just been cut short. Thank You Israel!

By now, everyone is aware of the events that took place in the wee hours of Monday. The Free Gaza Flotilla, which contained thousands of pounds of food, medical supplies, school books, wheelchairs and VIPs such as Irish Nobel Laureates, elderly Holocaust survivors, anti-occupation activists and European politicians, was attacked by heavily armed Israeli commandos and at least 10 activists have been killed and up to 40 wounded. Some reports say as many as 19 activists were killed. The Israeli military is reporting that four commandos were injured, zero were killed.

This video is from early in the attack:

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I watched the events unfold all last night into the morning on Al Jazeera and Turkish websites. Turkey provided two of the ships in the flotilla and is apparently so outraged that they are considering cutting all ties with Israel- Turkey is one of Israel’s few allies in the region so this could have a devastating effect, both economically and in terms of security.

I’ll tell you right up front where I stand- Israel has crossed a line- Israel admitted it had been preparing its commandos to intercept the flotilla for the past few days. By choosing to attack the flotilla at night and in international waters, they cannot claim to be the victims here, which is of course exactly what they are doing. Sadly, the US media is following the IDF talking points. The IDF is now claiming that the flotilla is an “Armada of Hate” whose sole purpose was to delegitimize Israel and thus, Israel’s heavy-handed tactics were justified. They are also claiming that the activists on board the ship attacked the commandos, who were dropped in by helicopter, and thus the commandos were merely engaging in self defense. While I have no idea what actually happened because I was not there, that explanation makes little sense. Everything about the Israeli military operation looks bad- it looks like Israel was looking for a violent engagement. To send a highly trained commando unit onto a civilian humanitarian ship in the dead of night cannot be written off as “self defense.”

The entire world, save the US, has reacted with outrage. The EU, the UN, Turkey, the Arab League, Mahmoud Abbas, Scotland and on and on have summoned Israeli ambassadors to explain why the flotilla was attacked with such a show of military force in international waters. The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting this afternoon.

The U.S. has issued a statement saying it “regrets the loss of life” and that they are waiting to determine what happened. While it is certainly well-advised to not make a full statement without ascertaining the facts, if the Obama administration thinks that they can sweep this under the rug or play defense for Israel, I think they are sorely mistaken. The entire world is waiting for Obama’s response and the implications of what happened last night go far beyond a simple naval interception of humanitarian goods.

One of the big problems for the U.S. will be getting accurate information. The IDF is in full spin mode and to say they are unapologetic is an understatement. The U.S. priority of getting to the truth of the matter is in direct conflict with the Israeli priority of ensuring that no evidence of human rights violations or criminal wrongdoing surface.

Rahm Emanuel, who has been in Israel for his sons Bar Mitzvah, was kind enough to invite President Netanyahu to the White House to meet with the POTUS tomorrow. Netanyahu has just cancelled. Smart move on his part.

Turkey is not taking this lightly, nor apparently is Israel’s other ally, Jordan:

Turkey has threatened Israel with unprecedented action after Israeli forces attacked an aid vessel, killing 10 peace activists headed to Gaza.

A shocked world has responded with outrage. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and warned of unprecedented and incalculable reprisals.

Two Turkish activists were reported to be among those killed in the flotilla. Ankara warned that further supply vessels will be sent to Gaza, escorted by the Turkish Navy, a development with unpredictable consequences.

Israel has sounded an alert throughout the country fearing rocket attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Arab League has called an urgent meeting on Tuesday to decide on a common response. Egypt is under pressure to end the blockade of Gaza while Greece has cancelled a military exercise with Isreal.

The world is waiting for the response from Washington, how will President Obama react to the provocation from America’s closest ally.

UPDATE: Read-out of Obama’s 15 minute call with Bibi:

4:21pm: From the White House press office, a “readout” (summary) of Obama’s call with Netanyahu:

This morning between 10:00 and 10:15 AM CDT, the President spoke by phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He said he understood the Prime Minister’s decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with today’s events. They agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity. The President expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals. The President also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.

Israel now saying the activists were really pro-Hamas terror supporters. But it doesn’t really sound like it. More here:

…According to the British Press Association, those on board the boats included Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire and a Holocaust survivor. Politicians from Germany, Turkey and Jordan, as well as doctors and nurses were also known to be on board.

The Free Gaza organization also said Henning Mankell, best— selliing Swedish author of the Wallender series, had been on board the Turkish Marmara when the Israeli military stormed it.

UPDATE II: MJ Rosenberg, writing over at HuffPo, points out the politically incorrect truth:

The usual suspects — AIPAC, the American Jewish this and the American Jewish that, Netanyahu, and the neocon gang — will offer their usual double talk about this massacre. Bottom line: the Israelis are the victims! But the massacre happened in international waters and the attack was launched by military commandos against civilians trying to relieve civilians suffering under an illegal blockade.

There is only one spot in this country where Israel will be able to sell the story that the humanitarian flotilla was the aggressor and that Israel is the victim here. That is the United States Congress.

By Wednesday, your favorite liberal Democrat (let alone Republican) will be mouthing the talking points AIPAC distributed this morning. Don’t let them get away with it.

For America’s sake, for the sake of the people of Gaza, and for the sake of the good Israelis who hearts are broken by the latest crime done in their name, we need to make Congress understand that America and justice — and, yes, the survival of the State of Israel — needs to come before the demands of AIPAC. Enough is enough.

UPDATE III: Bibi’s response:

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UPDATE IV:US response at the UN today. It seems to imply that the activists were largely at fault and it goes out of its way to not single out Israel for having any role whatsoever in the violence despite the fact that Israel did not have to use a special ops commando unit to stop the flotilla in international waters:

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President and thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco.

The United States is deeply disturbed by the recent violence and regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident last night aboard the Gaza-bound ships. We are working to ascertain the facts. We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully.

As I stated in the Chamber in December 2008, when we were confronted by a similar situation, mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by member states and groups that want to do so. These non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms should be the ones used for the benefit of all those in Gaza. Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances.

The United States remains deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians in Gaza, and the deterioration of the situation there, including the humanitarian and human rights situation. We continue to believe the situation is unsustainable and is not in the interests of any of those concerned. We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs. Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and the work of nongovernmental organizations complicates efforts in Gaza. Its continued arms smuggling and commitment to terrorism undermines security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

We will continue to work closely with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with international NGOs and the UN, to provide adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction materials, through the border crossings, while bearing in mind the Government of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

Ultimately, this incident underscores the need to move ahead quickly with negotiations that can lead to a comprehensive peace in the region. The only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and fulfills the aspirations of both parties for independent homelands through two states for two peoples, Israel and an independent, contiguous, and viable state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. We call again on our international partners – both inside and outside this Council – to promote an atmosphere of cooperation between the parties and throughout the entire region.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[emphasis mine]

Ask yourself this, if an Israeli civilian ship in international waters was attacked by a group of Muslim special ops at night by helicopter and killed and injured scores of people, would the US have issued the statement above?

I think not.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:10 pm

    This is one of Israel’s most shameful moments in recent memory. To attack a humanitarian convoy with military special forces in the dead of night- while not even in Israeli waters! And IF any of the activists tried to fight back, that is THEIR RIGHT under international law. Why is it with anything involving Israel only Israel gets to use “self defense”?

    Imagine if the situation were reversed and ships carrying Israel Jews was attacked in international waters by Turkeys military. My G*d it would be an act of war and the US would stand behind Israel’s right to self defense and probably give them another 500 gazillion dollars to wage the war.

    Watch as Schumer and Weiner and the other IDF apologists come out and try to paint Hillary and Obama into a corner on this.

    Stacy- I loved your comment over on TM about Schumer probably needing a diaper right about now…LOL! You are so right!

  2. Moshe Aaron permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:12 pm

    Stacey- any word yet from your State Dept. on the murder of 10-19 human rights activists in international waters?

    We’ll find out soon enough whether the US is still a super power with any moral standing whatsoever.

    My guess is the answer to that will be a big “no.”

  3. Tovah permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:14 pm

    This is a disaster! What was Netanyahu thinking? If they wanted to stop the flotilla they could have dropped lines into the water which would have tangled the propellers and then they could have peacefully boarded the ships. But to drop in from a helicopter with machine guns at 2am in the morning? It was a military attack!

    I am a strong supporter of Israel but this is an outrage and it may result in war against Israel.

  4. alinosof permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:20 pm

    Stacy, I share your outrage. At this point however, I don’t expect much from the current administration when it comes to Israel. Early on, the administration had an opportunity to set the course on Jewish settlements in occupied territories, but the president backed down under pressure from the Jewish lobby. May be they will prove me wrong.
    In the current debacle, the Israel government is outright lying by alleging that the activists on the cargo vessel were Hamas and Al Qaeda sympathizers and other assorted terrorists. Turkey was one of the sponsors of the flotilla and they insist that there were no arms in the ships. Why won’t Israel allow the journalists that were on board the various ships report and stream the images they recorded? Israel is the aggressor and they attacked the cargo on international waters! How can the US expect support from the Arab world and non aligned countries on other topics when the US does not condemn Israel various acts of aggression? North Korea and China will be paying close attention to the action of the US government.

  5. Tovah permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:25 pm

    Look at this propaganda from CNN:

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/05/31/gaza.flotilla.israeli.raid/index.html?hpt=T1

    The commandos feared for their lives and had to jump into the water to prevent being taken hostage?

    Unfortunately, if you want coverage of what is really going on, avoid CNN, NYT, WaPo, etc. Go to Haaretz, AJ English, BBC, etc.

    It’s a shame we dont really have an objective media when it comes to the middle east.

  6. alinosof permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:37 pm

    Right on Tovah. The reporting has been one sided in the American media, the usual suspects are spreading the propaganda from the Israeli government. For those who don’t have access to Aljazeera English TV, please watch the reporting on BBC, it’s more informative.

  7. discourseincsharpminor permalink
    May 31, 2010 3:07 pm

    I don’t understand how putting heavily armed commandos on small, crowded ships in the dead of night looked like anything but a tragedy waiting to happen.

    This abhorrent behavior will, of course, be tolerated because it’s Israel and to disagree with Israel in any way is political suicide. We will hear (over and over) that Israel needs to defend itself and our duty to help them do so. Well, in one week they have refused to sign the UN’s nuclear non-proliferation agreement, there have been reports of Israeli warplanes being fired on over Lebanon for repeatedly entering Lebanese airspace in violation of a UN resolution and not stopping after they were warned to do so (No comment from Israel.), and now this. They also are instituting a sort of media blackout surrounding the activists which, to me, is suspect. No one can get anywhere near them to ask for the other side of the story or even get their names to let family and friends know they’re alive. Last I heard they were being taken to a detention center that was set up for them, presumably to be questioned. I can’t think of any other nation that would have our unequivocal support under these circumstances. I’m beginning to wonder how far we’re going to go with our unflinching loyalty to our friend.

    A true friend will tell another when they’ve gone too far.

    • May 31, 2010 3:33 pm

      Israel was jamming the flotilla’s transmissions during the attack but it wasn’t completely successful. Israel is refusing to allow international observers or anyone other than IDF/Israeli officials to have any information. It’s a total blackout but this is what Israel does after each attack- they did it in Jenin, they did it during Cast Lead and they are doing it now. No surprise there. This will force the US to have to pick sides and take their word for it despite the obvious conflict of interest that Israel has in covering up any damning evidence of its wrongdoing. Unfortunately, I am sure the admin. will call on Israel to investigate itself, which is a joke.

      Interestingly, Secretary Clinton was scheduled to meet with the Turkish FM tomorrow morning- if that’s still a go I bet she’s going to get an earful.

      Here is the Turkish Prime Minister’s response to the Israeli allegation that the ships were filled with weapons and supplies for terrorists:

      Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, says the flotilla was carefully inspected before departure:

      ” I want to say to the world, to the heads of state and the governments, that these boats that left from Turkey and other countries were checked in a strict way under the framework of the rules of international navigation and were only loaded with humanitarian aid.”

      http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2010/05/31/live-coverage-israels-flotilla-raid

      For a country [Israel] that has legitimate security concerns you would think they would use diplomatic means to deal with some of these issues rather than shooting at everything that moves and alienating what few allies they have in the region. If Turkey and Jordan turn against Israel (which seems to be happening) it could embolden Lebanon and Syria to consider military action against Israel.

      Given that the US is running around to every nation on earth arguing for sanctions against Iran- largely to protect Israel- you would think Israel would not want to go around trying to provoke everybody and jeopardize its fragile relationships in the region. That’s why I don’t always buy the “security” argument – if Israel is really worried about a serious threat from Iran, the LAST thing it would want to do is alienate Turkey, who is a very effective buffer against Iranian aggression.

      At what point does Israel have to take responsibility for Israel’s actions (and the consequences)? I’m watching Bibi explain what happened- here’s the short version- Israel is a victim, the flotilla was suspicious, the commandos were “beaten and stabbed” and the flotilla asked for it, etc. etc..

      That’s rather hard to believe- the part about heavily armed commando units being beaten and stabbed. Where are all the stabbed and beaten special forces commandos? Why is it that Israel is always the victim in these incidents but it’s always the other side that has so many dead?

  8. rachel permalink
    May 31, 2010 3:46 pm

    apprently hillary has spoken to the defense minister and he has pinned the blame on the ships organizer surprise surprise. I don’t know what to say. This is not right . It would be so easy for the Iranian presidennt to point at Israel and say there is your rouge mad men with nuclear weapons stop them. UN held an emerceny meeting, I am afraid it will look like everyone is ganging up on Israel. North Korea sunk a south korean ship and some of these nations upset with israel havent said much about NK. I dont know its all so complicated.

    • May 31, 2010 3:57 pm

      Rachel- Israel will claim they are being ganged up on, but they always say that. The fact is, they had been preparing for this for days, there were nonviolent ways for Israel to block the flotilla’s movement once it entered their waters. Instead, they engaged in a full scale military assault in the dead of night on a civilian vessel carrying humanitarian supplies. In such a case, if the people on board responded violently- and that’s a very big if- that is still their RIGHT under law. They were under attack in international waters. To hear Israel tell it, they are the only nation on earth who has the right to self defense. Israel made a HUGE mistake in attacking the flotilla in international waters- they had no legal right to do so.

      Now, as for the US response, Israel has once again put Clinton, Obama etc. in a horrendous position. Basically the entire world has condemned Israel’s actions and if the US doesn’t, as you noted, Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah can then turn to their extremist supporters and say “look at what hypocrites the US and Israel are- they ignore Israel’s crimes and only focus on alleged wrongdoing from Muslim nations, etc. etc.”

      As for North Korea, I don’t think that matters much. Arab states have no power or control over North Korea – that’s largely a game that involves China, the US, the EU, etc.

      Again, for a nation [Israel] that claims [rightly so] to be so concerned about it’s own security, it has engaged in actions over the past year that practically ensure it will be less secure. Bibi’s actions for the past year make no sense whatsoever.

      • rachel permalink
        May 31, 2010 4:30 pm

        Stacy, the whitehouse is already beign called on to support Israel so we will see. The video is not helping all they do is show the video and say are these peace activists who are clubbing the soldiers. I have yet to hear any mention in our media that they were in international waters. The reason I mentioned north korea is because I really do think it matters in public perception, I mean UN hasn’t done much in reaction to the sinking of south korea sub, and turkey and the other nations not condeming north korea, but now an emergency mention swift action against israel has the perception of anti israel, countries pulling the ambassadors etc. What israel did was wrong, but it seems the ony time the UN or europe act swiftly is when it’s something to do with Israel. Israel has put the president and secretary clinton in a horrible position. As you stated Hillary is sure to get an earful from the deal from Iran to Israel.

  9. Tovah permalink
    May 31, 2010 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the updates Stacy!

    That video of Bibis response- Do you notice how he makes it sound like the humanitarian activists are the same as Hamas?

  10. Kevin permalink
    May 31, 2010 4:23 pm

    Oh my God- look at this from the IDF- to read it you’d think THEY were the victims of the military assault- they are saying they first used paint guns, that the activists tried to “lynch” them and that the activists were able to grab their helmets off their heads and get their weapons from them? Please! This is such Bullshit and if Clinton buys into any of it she shouldn’t have anything to do with the mideast conflict!

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-navy-commandos-gaza-flotilla-activists-tried-to-lynch-us-1.293089

    Funny how Israel attacks and yet they are the victim but none of their “lynched” special ops die- only the terrible pro-Palestinian aggressors! How lucky for the IDF!

  11. May 31, 2010 4:53 pm

    Rachel- I don’t disagree with you. I just think that given the regional implications and given two of the ships were Turkish and quite a few of the people were Turkish and Jordanian, it’s to be expected that they would be more involved in this than with the Cheonan. I agree that the Arab states have to be more consistent in their statements about international law and not solely focus on Israel, but so much of this is regional. For example, I haven’t heard anything from China about this flotilla situation but they certainly were the focus of attention with North Korea.

    My fear is that if the administration doesn’t take a pretty firm stand then there could be a huge backlash against not only the US but Israel. Some people are actually talking about war. Had Israel done this in its own waters instead of international waters, the US would have *slightly* more wiggle room (but not a lot). I just don’t know how anyone can justify using special ops in this situation- it seems like Israel wanted a confrontation.

    I don’t know. At this point, I don’t really think the IDF can be trusted to investigate itself given the statements its been releasing all day. They are totally in CYA mode.

    And looking at the article Kevin linked to above, the story from the IDF is changing about every hour- now they are saying they first used paintball guns? And the activists tried to lynch them? I find it hard to believe that a super-elite special forces unit was overcome by a bunch of activists wearing life preservers. Anyone who knows anything about the Israeli military should find that a bit hard to believe. Now, for all I know some on board may have fought back, but again, under international law given they were a civilian vessel attacked in international waters they actually would have the right to use deadly force to defend themselves- something the US media doesn’t find significant enough to point out. Also, why is it that in every confrontation where Israel is the alleged victim, the death toll is so one-sided?

    Also, keep in mind that the international community considers the ongoing blockade by Israel to be illegal under international law so I think for Turkey, Jordan, Egypt etc. this is a source of ongoing frustration- that Israel not only ignores this but that to add insult to injury, when people try to get through the blockade, they are killed. I am not trying to play apologist for sometimes bad behavior on the part of Turkey, the Palestinians, but this whole thing was totally foreseeable and all the cards are in Israel’s hands- they are the occupier, they have the military might and they control the passageway in and out of Gaza. And yet the US never holds them responsible for ANY of it.

    It’s very frustrating.

    If Secretary Clinton is forced to come out tomorrow and support Israel I’m going to have to not post about it because I don’t think I will be able to- it will be too upsetting. I understand the pressure she is under and I also understand it’s not just her call, but I really feel like at a certain point, the US needs to draw a line in the sand and I think the killing of tens of activists is that line.

    • rachel permalink
      May 31, 2010 5:23 pm

      Stacy I agree with a lot of what you said. I guess I really just don’t understand it. I don’t understand why a country surrounded by countries that hate it, and is on shakey ground with it’s one real friend would go looking for a fight. What does Israel have to gain by this?

  12. Kevin permalink
    May 31, 2010 5:15 pm

    Well, the other problem is that now that Turkey has officially said it searched the ships when they were docked there and that there were no weapons for terrorists, the US is going to be in the position of calling Turkey a liar. If the US accepts Israel’s crazy story, then by definition, they are saying Turkey is lying about searching the vessels.

    Turkey is very important to regional stability and the US is on shaky ground after the Brazil-Turkey deal was scoffed at by the US.

    This could end up in all out war and we here in the US will be dragged in because once again, Israel is too fucking stupid to just take their ships and block the passage to the Gaza port. They have a whole damn navy all they had to do was park their ships in front of the flotilla and they would not have gotten through. No, instead they engage in a full on military assault.

    • rachel permalink
      May 31, 2010 5:34 pm

      well john bolton just said that we in the us have been worried about the direction of the turkey government for sometime. That’s the set up to say turkey is not to be beleived, but honestly if these are your ships and your people on the ships are you really gonna say they had weapons for terrorists? Israel is gonna be left without a friend in a world except us because some of the congress here are loons and won’t let us do anything about Israel. I mean we signed an agreement in the UN for israel to state how many nukes it had and there was flake about that. Unfortunately if the president and the secretary come out too hard against israel they will get back lash from congress. If congress doesn’t care how israel treats the us vice president why would congress care how Israel treats peace activists shown weilding weapons. We need congress to stand up so the president can do something.

      • discourseincsharpminor permalink
        May 31, 2010 5:39 pm

        “John Bolton just said…”
        He is misguided. Why do people take him seriously. Our own Secretary of State laughed at the mention of his name during a CNN interview last year.

  13. Moshe Aaron permalink
    May 31, 2010 5:47 pm

    Please, the US must keep several things in mind:

    1. My government has kidnapped those on board the ships, placed them in detention and enforced a media blackout. Why? So that we (Israel) can control the PR spin- by disallowing those involved to speak up and tell their side of the story, Israel can plant the idea that the activists were a bunch of gun-wielding terrorists. Here in Israel we can get CNN international and BBC and all I have seen all day is Israeli officials and Israeli apologists (like Bolton who Rachel mentioned above) make unverified claims claiming the activists were aligned with Hamas. No can rebut them because those who know the other side of the story have been detained by my government.

    2. Israel used one of our most highly trained commando units- the idea that they were overtaken and disarmed by the activists, even IF some activists had pipes or knives (and we don’t know if they used such weapons against the commandos) it is very unlikely that the commandos would have been in hardly any danger at all given they were armed with assault weapons and very highly trained.

    3. Based on the few facts we know, Israel’s assault against a civilian vessel in international waters would give the people on board the vessels the right to use deadly force to defend themselves. We don’t know if they did- certainly we know that not one single Israeli died and claims of 4 injured commandos are unsubstantiated. You will not see this point made on your televisions.

  14. May 31, 2010 5:59 pm

    Very disappointing- US statement at UN today. Seems to blame the activists for their provocative actions:

    http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/142381.htm

    The US is the only nation to not denounce Israel in this matter.

    ps. I don’t know why that Netanyahu video automatically starts to play w/o hitting the “play” button. It’s like my own private hell having to listen to him for about the 80th time today😉

  15. Caren permalink
    May 31, 2010 6:31 pm

    Please Secretary Clinton, don’t let Israel get away with this! Abbas will not be able to negotiate because of this, Netanyahu has sabotaged the peace talks again!

    Israel has imprisoned the activists this is so wrong!

    If this were any other nation we would have spoken out strongly against this, where is our outrage?

  16. June 22, 2013 4:35 pm

    More love less fighting.

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