Monday, July 4, 2011

Hedy Epstein, Alice Walker and Yonatan Shapira - My Heroes

The Freedom Flotilla II has run into so many problems that it is very unclear which ships will actually sail, with whom, when, and of course what will happen to them when they arrive in the region.

In Israel, there has been a lot of political and media coverage, information, analysis, and disinformation about this flotilla. 99.9% of this has painted the flotilla and the activists as terrorists who are bent on destroying the State of Israel, who wish to harm our soldiers, as criminals.

To me, this is a sign that the flotilla really has the Israeli government and the army worried. As well they should be. 

Our leaders aren't really worried about a terror threat - even they have pretty much defunked their own attempts at disinformation - but because as long as the flotilla remains in the news, the story of the oppression of Gaza and its people also remain in the international and national headlines. The Israeli ministers, broadcasters and endless lines of experts may continue to try to paint Gaza as Heaven on Earth, that lacks nothing, and the siege as a perfectly acceptable and legal act, but these attempts only highlight their worry  about this flotilla and the noise it is making around the world. The attention that they are giving this flotilla, and other possible acts of civil disobedience against this unwarranted collective punishment, shows that they they know, deep down, that the siege is far from acceptable, far from legal, and the Gazans are lacking everything that has anything to do with human rights

One of the ships, The Audacity of Hope, has especially caught my attention. One reason is because I know, and love, one of the passengers - Hedy Epstein - an 86 year old Holocaust survivor who survived the Holocaust by being sent on the Kindertransport in 1939, before the war broke out (her parents, however, were killed). I met Hedy when I was on my post-doctorate, in the field of Conflict Resolution, at the University of Missouri in St. Louis in 2001. Her non-stop work for peace and social justice, her total dedication to human rights, takes one breath away. She is one of my heroes.

Alice Walker is another passenger on board, and another one of my heroes. I read The Color Purple three times in a row, because I couldn't get enough of its beauty, pain, and insights. Though I do not know Alice Walker personally (and Inshalla I will meet her one day), her constant struggle for social justice is also inspiring. She could have stayed home and worked on a new book project, but she chose to come and act for human rights. 

My third hero on this boat is Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli Air Force pilot. Yonatan has done what so few Israelis cannot even imagine - he thought deeply about what our military is doing to innocent people in the West Bank and in Gaza and decided that he could no longer be part of the war machine against civilian populations. In the video which follows, he speaks eloquently about the activists' decision to become part of the flotilla to Gaza. Yonatan gave up all of the social capital that comes with being a pilot in the Israeli air force to fight for justice. Yonatan is another one of my heroes.

I wish that I had the courage to do what these three people, and all the others on the boats, are doing: To undertake a concrete act, rooted in non-violence, against the oppression and immorality of the siege. I lack their bravery, and wish that, like them, I could overcome my fear and put my life on the line in order to stand up for justice and human dignity.

I write these lines here, hoping that they help, even in a very small way, to end the siege on Gaza and to stop the punishment of 1.5 million people. I write these lines in awe of these three heroes, and the others who join them, to let them know that they are not alone, and that we will continue to shout that the siege is wrong, that people deserve to be free, and that as long as we keep entire populations oppressed and imprisoned, we will remain imprisoned in our hate and fear, and know no true freedom, joy, life.


  1. Beautifully written and cogently persuasive. There is another shero on board, Kathy Kelly, whom I have known for decades. Her nonviolence is not only pure, it is rooted in selfless love for the innocents on all sides of all these terrible conflicts. I have the audacity to join you in hoping you connect with all these outstanding human beings. Thank you for your grounded voice from Israel.

  2. Julia,
    You are also my hero for your inspiration to Jews i the US to speak out for the right and responsibility of people to dissent against the blockade and the occupation. Thanks for your eloquent statement.