Nine civilians died last year when Israeli special forces boarded ships trying to run an Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. When 10 ships try to run the blockade again later this month, Southeast Portland activist Erin DeRamus plans to be on board.
DeRamus, 31, an acupuncturist at the Native American Rehabilitation Association, became committed to the Palestinian cause during a 2008 visit to the West Bank. On June 21, she'll join 300 people from dozens of countries in Athens, before the flotilla sets sail later this month. Among the 35 Americans signed up on DeRamus' boat is author Alice Walker.
We asked DeRamus about delivering aid, helping Hamas and fear of dying.
WW: Last year's flotilla included some aid. Is that happening again?
Erin DeRamus: Because Hamas is considered a global terrorist group, the American ship will not be taking any aid. We will be taking letters on our boat from people in the [United States] to people in Gaza.
The Israeli government says this isn't really about aid, it's just a provocation.
A provocation is keeping an entire population imprisoned. That is provoking a response, and it should provoke a response.
The Israelis also say you're just giving support to Hamas.
We have nothing to do with Hamas. This is civilian-to-civilian support. When governments no longer support the people, this is people trying to help each other out.
Palestinian deaths get little media attention. When Westerners die in actions like this, it makes headlines. Are white lives worth more?
They aren't, and they shouldn't be. But because of the way the Western powers control the world, it's been easy to put an us-and-them label on things and really minimize Palestinian lives.
What about those who will say you're just a privileged American inserting yourself into this situation?
I grew up poor. I don't come from a privileged background. [But] we do live in a privileged place where we don't know what displacement looks like. We don't know what it's like to be removed from land that our grandparents called home. We live on occupied territory. Just because you're up and on top doesn't mean you should be OK with people being treated this way in the world.
Are you afraid to die?
I'm worried about bodily harm for sure. If I don't die, I will likely be beaten.... I have a good sense about myself, and I'm going to try to keep as safe as I can. But there's always that sense. That's a risk that has to be taken.