After 29 years in the US military, Col. Ann Wright retired and became a diplomat. In 2003, she quit her position at the State Department in protest of the Iraq war. In May, she was aboard Challenger 1, one of six in a flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Movement to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, when it was raided by the Israeli Defense Forces. She plans to board a similar flotilla in October. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace, Wright gives an eyewitness account (7-9 pm Wednesday, July 28. $10 suggested donation. James A Little Theater, 1060 Cerrillos Road, 660-6848).
SFR: Were your anti-Iraq-war views unwelcome at the State Department?
Well, there were three of us that ended up resigning over the Iraq war. Each of us got over 400 emails from colleagues, US diplomats from around the world, who said they had mortgages and kids in college but, ‘You’re doing the right thing.’
What were you doing on the flotilla?
I was on the flotilla because I totally oppose the Israeli policy of quarantining and blockading the people of Gaza. It was a collective punishment for the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza for their election of Hamas.
Did, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, Israeli forces act in self-defense?
We were forcefully boarded in international waters by commandos on Israeli naval vessels, a total of 30 naval vessels. Our ships were civilian, carrying unarmed people, and had no weapons, which was well-publicized beforehand. International inspectors had checked to see if there were weapons and they found none. The Israelis had checked, too, and found none either.
Did you receive warnings and an offer to have the goods shipped over land?
Oh, absolutely. Israel had said that before; however, that’s not the purpose of this. It was to break
the blockade, which was an illegal blockade. And no one trusts that the Israelis would allow any materials on the ships to go in, anyway.
The accounts of the raid from the Israeli government and the Free Gaza Movement vary greatly, even with contradictory video footage. What happened?
Our captain had pulled off power to the ship when a large Israeli navel vessel came in front of ours. Our captain stopped the boat because we were not there to ram an Israeli boat. When that happened, the commandos from ships on both sides immediately boarded our ship, shooting grenades that blow out windows and eardrums, and with smoke. They threw passengers on the deck of the ship into glass. They fired paint bullets that hit people—one of the women on my ship was hit in the face. They used stun guns.
Following the raid, the Obama administration called for an impartial investigation but didn’t condemn Israel’s actions. What do you think of the US response?
[An impartial investigation] has not been formed at all. The Obama administration is in no way pushing for an international investigation…They’re accepting whatever the Israelis tell them. As a former US diplomat, I am very distressed that the Obama administration had such a weak response to the Israeli killing of nine people, including one American citizen.
Did you expect the violence?
I didn’t think the Israeli military would use lethal force.
Nine people died, but you’re going to do it again?
Absolutely, and I’d expect the Israeli military and navy would learn their lesson. The Israeli government has already acknowledged the international condemnation. They haven’t formally stopped the blockade, but they’re allowing more goods and materials to come into Gaza. We are raising money in the US to purchase a boat in the name of citizens to show we will challenge Israeli policy and also the complicity of the US government in that blockade.