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Originally published June 2, 2010 at 4:25 PM | Page modified June 2, 2010 at 5:35 PM

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Guest columnist

U.S. shares responsibility in Freedom Flotilla confrontation

The United States' special relationship with Israel gives it a special responsibility. Guest columnist Jen Marlowe writes that because the U.S. has failed to pressure Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the U.S. shares in responsibility for the Freedom Flotilla.

Special to The Times

THE Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla offered plenty of cause for outrage: Israel opened fire on international civilians; the attack occurred while the boats were in international waters; information about the attack has been entirely controlled by Israel.

But the greatest outrage, perhaps, is that the ongoing and illegal siege strangling the Gaza Strip needed to be challenged by a group of courageous international activists at all.

Since 2007, the entire international community, led by the United States, whose special relationship with Israel also gives it a special responsibility, has failed to apply meaningful diplomatic pressure to bring an end to the crippling siege on Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants.

The six-ship flotilla was delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, in an effort to break Israel's ongoing blockade of Gaza. The blockade has not only prevented access to basic supplies, but also restricted Gazans' freedom of movement, turning the small coastal strip into an open-air prison.

The boats were about 50 miles off the coast of Gaza and Israel when the Israeli navy intercepted them. Commandos boarded the largest ship and opened fire, killing at least nine civilians and injuring scores more. The boats were taken to an Israeli port and the passengers detained.

I spent 36 hours tormented with worry about friends on those boats. Was Osama Qashoo, a Palestinian-British filmmaker, among the fatalities? Was Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American and the chair of the Free Gaza campaign, among those injured?

Israel imposed a near total blackout on information, refusing to release the names, numbers or nationalities of the casualties. The only eyewitness statements came from the commandos who stormed the boats. The passengers, including some international journalists, were unable to challenge Israel's official version of the events. They were held incommunicado for nearly two days, without access to lawyers.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session throughout Monday night, deliberating a response. Though the council condemned "those acts which resulted in the loss of at least ten civilians," the U.S. managed to ensure that the condemnation was not directed specifically at Israel. Also, the statement fell short of demanding an independent investigation. Instead, the council called for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."

Without specifying the investigation be independent, the council is suggesting that an Israeli military investigation will suffice.

Time and again, the Israeli military and government have proved to be unable or unwilling to adequately investigate itself. Take the case of Olympia-based human-rights activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer in the Gaza Strip while protecting Palestinian homes from demolition. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President Bush a "thorough, credible and transparent investigation." The official U.S. position remains that such an investigation never occurred.

Despite clear knowledge of Israel's prior failed investigations, the U.S. government obstructed the Security Council from calling for an independent investigation in the flotilla attack, choosing instead to continue to offer special protection for its friend, Israel.

The United States is also the only permanent member of the Security Council that has not explicitly called for an end to Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip. The fact that the illegal blockade on Gaza has been tolerated for more than three years is what necessitated the Freedom Flotilla. The U.S. has consistently refused to pressure Israel to adhere to international law and end the siege and occupation; therefore, the U.S. shares responsibility for the slaughter of the activists onboard.

Jen Marlowe is a Seattle-based author, filmmaker and human-rights activist. Her work centers primarily on Palestine, Israel and Sudan. She lived in Palestine and Israel for five years, and has visited the Gaza Strip more than a dozen times.

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