“Why We Sailed to Gaza” – A Conversation with Mairead Maguire and Yonatan Shapira

Please mark your calendar for the next Ta’anit Tzedek fast day, Thursday, October 21, 12:00 pm (EST), which we will mark with a conference call, “Why We Sailed to Gaza” featuring Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Israeli peace activist Yonatan Shapira.

Earlier this month, both Maguire and Shapira recently set sail on flotilla of boats attempting to break the siege of Gaza by bringing symbolic amounts of humanitarian aid to its citizens.

Maguire is a well-known Irish peace activist who co-founded the “Community for Peace People” during the period known as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. She  subsequently helped found the Nobel Womens Initiative, a group of six women Nobel Peace Laureates devoted to strengthening women’s rights and and advocating for justice and peace around the world.

More recently, Maguire has become involved in activism for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. She has sailed on three boats to Gaza, in October 2008 (when they reached Gaza), on June 2009 and then on the MV Rachel Corrie in June 2010. In 2009 and 2010, the boats were intercepted by the Israeli Navy and she was arrested along with all the passengers. On her most recent attempt, Maguire remained in prison as she fought Israel’s efforts to deport her. The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the decision to deny her entry and she was deported from Israel earlier this month.

Shapira was an officer in the Israeli Air Force and flew hundreds of missions over the territories in a Blackhawk helicopter squadron during the course of his eleven year career. Following a targeted bomb assassination of a Hamas leader that killed fourteen civilians in Gaza, he became a prominent Israeli “refusenik,” authoring the Pilot’s Letter – a 2003 statement signed by 27 Israeli pilots who publicly refused to fly missions over the Occupied Territories. Since that time, Yonatan has gone on to co-found “Combatants for Peace” a prominent organization in the growing Israeli Refusenik movement.

Shapira has also become a public supporter of the internal Israeli movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) known as “Boycott from Within,” and regularly participates in Palestinian nonviolence campaign in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. According to witnesses aboard the “Jewish boat” to Gaza earlier this month, Shapira nonviolently resisted when the IDF boarded the ship and was tazered repeatedly in the heart by the senior commanding officer.

Here’s the call-in info:

Access Number: 1.800.920.7487

Participant Code: 92247763#

There will be a question and answer period during the call –  please join the conversation! (Big thanks to our co-sponsors, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Shalom Center, and Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence.)

21 thoughts on ““Why We Sailed to Gaza” – A Conversation with Mairead Maguire and Yonatan Shapira

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      From an article in “The Guardian,” 9/26/10

      The Irene catamaran, carrying a total of nine passengers and crew members, set sail from the breakaway Turkish north of Cyprus because the internationally recognised Greek south imposed a ban on all Gaza-bound vessels in May, citing “vital interests.” Prior to the ban, international activists had used south Cyprus to launch eight boat trips to Gaza over a two-year span.

      Kuper said the activists were not seeking to stir controversy by leaving from north Cyprus, but that “practicalities” necessitated the choice.

      The Irene vessel plans to deliver children’s toys, medical equipment, outboard motors for fishing boats and books to Gaza residents.

      Kuper said the voyage was a “symbolic statement” intended todraw attention to what he called Israel’s “illegal, unnecessary and inhumane” blockade of Gaza.

  1. Stewart Mills

    Symbolism and symbolic acts are essential part of social change. When governments fail a people, individuals step in. Individuals by themselves often can only provide a symbolic act to make a moral position. If there is ethnic and religious violence then individuals can form a collective of individuals from the reputed warring parties as a symbol that peace is possible. If a government prohibits children’s toys, A4 note paper, chocolate and cement into a region, then persons with moral courage can bring such items into the region as a symbol of the injustice of the government.

  2. Y. Ben-David

    Just a correction to Kuper’s statement which said the voyage was “intended to draw attention to what he called Israel’s blockade of Gaza”.
    For some reason, everyone seems to forget that Gaza has a border with Egypt which is a brother Arab/Muslim state. So if there is a blockage, Egypt is part of it.

    1. Shirin

      Yes, you are entirely correct, Ben-David. To its deep shame the Egyptian dictatorship is part of it under coercion from Israel and the United States.

  3. Richard Kahn

    Just looking briefly at Mairead Maguire’s wikipedia bio, I can’t understand why Ta’anit Tzedek would want to associate itself with her after some of the things that she has done and said. Here are some highlights:
    On 29 October 2008, Corrigan met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza. She was photographed accepting an honorary golden plate depicting the Palestinian flag draped over all of Israel and the Disputed Territories
    In November 2008, Corrigan urged that the UN suspend or revoke Israel’s membership.
    At a joint press conference in Jerusalem, Corrigan compared Israel’s nuclear weapons to the Nazi gas chambers in Auschwitz.

    Granted, she has also done some tremendous things in her life, but can you speak to this concern, R. Brant?

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      By featuring Maguire on our conference call, we are not endorsing everything she “has done or said.” We might not support her choice of certain rhetoric she has used some occasions, but we certainly endorse and applaud the step she took by participating in the latest humanitarian flotilla to Gaza.

      This is the nature of creating coalitions: if everyone only saw fit to join together only with those with whom we completely agree down the line, we’d never find a way to create truly effective movements.

      1. Y. Ben-David

        Another progressive Jewish blogger told me he would make any alliance with “anyone who opposes Israel’s control of the West Bank”, even antisemites, radical Muslims/Arabs, etc. That’s why on some other progressive Jewish blogs have become major centers of expressions of outright antisemitism. If a progressive Jew feels closer to an antisemite than he does a regular Israeli, then do not be surprised if people like Foxman and most average Israelis put people like this into the categories of “enemies of Israel” and will ignore their “well-meant advice”. Alliances with people like Maguire will push those Jews who make them outside the Jewish community.

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


        I can’t vouch for your progressive blogger, but I am perfectly comfortable in asserting that Maguire is not an anti-Semite. (I would certainly not be “surprised” to learn that Abe Foxman thinks she is.)

        And it’s not for you to determine who is or is not “outside the Jewish community.”

      3. Richard Kahn

        How far does one take this? To be clearly hyperbolic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to sponsor a boat that would break the blockade. Would Ta’anit Tzedek have him on a conference call? I’m not trying to equate Maguire with Ahmadinejad, but I’m perturbed by organization that speaks in the name of “Tzedek,” but seems not to live up to its name. Does “Tzedek” refer to anything beyond being against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians?

      4. Richard Kahn

        Respond to my point. What would render someone unfit to be in the Ta’anit Tzedek camp? How about Ismail Haniyeh? I often disagree with YBD, but in this situation, I find it hard to believe that anyone who calls for the UN to revoke Israel’s membership is not an anti-Semite.

      5. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


        TT does not have scientific guidelines for “inclusion in the camp.” In the case of Mairead Maguire, we have a respected Nobel laureate and peace activist who participated in a campaign that we support – and we are interested in hearing from her on our conference call.

        I don’t think it’s very helpful to use extreme “what if?” examples to prove your rhetorical point. It’s time to end the spitting match now.

  4. Shirin

    I find it hard to believe that anyone who calls for the UN to revoke Israel’s membership is not an anti-Semite.

    Wouldn’t that depend entirely on the reasons behind the call for revocation of membership? If the objection to Israel’s UN membership is based on the fact that it is a Jewish state, and there is no objection to membership of other religiously, racially, or ethnically defined states, then it would certainly look suspiciously as if the objection is based on anti-Semitism. If the objection is based on Israel’s ongoing egregious violations of the UN Charter, for example, then one might disagree with revoking its membership, but it seems just a bit too easy to simply dismiss it as anti-Semitism.

    1. Richard Kahn

      Many other states violate UN resolutions (the former Iraq comes to mind), and to the best of my knowledge, Maguire does not call for their UN membership to be revoked. I generally would be wary of playing the “other countries do worse than Israel” card, but you opened the door by assuming it to be a valid argument in your post.

      1. Shirin

        I’m sorry i did not make my point clear, Richard, but I don’t see anything to be gained by trying to explain it to you or elaborate.

        I WOULD point out to you, though, that your analogy between Israel and Iraq has more holes in it than a sieve. Among other problems with the analogy, being kicked out of the UN would be a light slap on the wrist compared to the brutal suffering and out and out destruction to which Iraq and its people, who are in no way responsible for their tyrannical government and its actions, have been systematically subjected for the past 20 years and counting. In the mean time, Israel is free to commit whatever crimes and atrocities it chooses with complete impunity, and its people, who after all do choose and influence their government and its officials continue to benefit from their government’s violations of morality and the law.

        I DO think when we are too eager to cry anti-Semitism at every opportunity (or anti-Arab racism, or anti-Muslim bigotry for that matter) it diminishes the credibility and impact of our complaints when they are justified. For that reason I consider it dangerous to label as anti-Semitism (or anti-Muslim bigotry, or anti-Arab racism) what is really an objection to bad behaviour on the part of a Jew or a Muslim or an Arab individual or group.

      2. Richard Kahn

        In response to your discussion of Iraq:

        You’re basically saying that on the government to tyranny scale, we can tolerate anything on either extreme. So Iraq is free from punishment because it’s really tyrannical. Some utopian democracy that (doesn’t really exist anywhere) is also free from punishment. It is only a democracy like Israel, that has some tyranny but not enough for an exemption, that should be punished. So basically, if Israel were a dictatorship, Maguire would be wrong?
        I also fail to understand how revoking UN membership is a punishment to the citizens of the state.

      3. Shirin

        You would be far better off not to try to tell me what I “really” said. Your outlandish and self-serving interpretation is so much at odds with every detail of both the plain language and the intent of what I wrote that even if I were inclined to get sucked into one of those “that’s not what I said, THIS is what I said” things, I would still be speechless. If this is what you have to do in order to construct an argument then you really ought to take a critical look at your position.

        I have said what I had to say, and I think I said it clearly enough, so will say one thing more in response to your last comment, and then I am finished with this conversation. I do not consider punishment an effective method to use in any context, not in child rearing, not in teaching, not in animal training, not in managing employees, and certainly not in international relations. Punishment is a lose/lose proposition that will always end up having a negative effect if not in the short term, then certainly in the long term. It’s troubling that so few humans have figured that out by now.

  5. Y. Ben-David

    I have heard a variation on this theme from some Germans. They claim that the British and American peoples are, as a group, bloodthirsty war-criminal peoples from their actions in World War II against the Germans, primariy strategic bombing. On the other hand, the Germans, as a people, are pure and innocent as snow. How? Because the Third Reich was a totalitarian dictatorship, so we can blame the Nazis and SS for everything. The Western Allies, on the other hand, are democracies, so the people in those countries share a collective guilt.

    Radical Jihadist Muslims say the same thing. Whereas, as I understand it, tradition Muslim law forbids the indiscriminate killings of civilians, today it is persmissible to carry out an action like 9/11 since the US is a democracy, so its entire population is guilty of oppressing Muslims, so everyone is a legitimate target.

    1. Shirin

      Whereas, as I understand it, tradition Muslim law forbids the indiscriminate killings of civilians, today it is persmissible to carry out an action like 9/11 since the US is a democracy, so its entire population is guilty of oppressing Muslims, so everyone is a legitimate target.

      If that is how you “understand” it, then you do not understand it at all.

    2. Muhannad

      “Radical Jihadist Muslims say the same thing. Whereas, as I understand it, tradition Muslim law forbids the indiscriminate killings of civilians, today it is persmissible to carry out an action like 9/11 since the US is a democracy, so its entire population is guilty of oppressing Muslims, so everyone is a legitimate target.”

      If I understood what you are saying correctly, you are explaining the exremists’ “logic”, not the belief of all Muslims.If that is what you meant,then you are right. I have read in different places that ridiculous argument. But I also read and watched videos of Israelis using the same exact ” logic” to justify ” cast lead” : they elected Hamas,then they desereve to be bombed!!!!


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