After Israel trip, participants reflect on Gaza flotilla raid

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

If Bill Young needed an exclamation point to make his trip to Israel and the ongoing problems it highlighted more personal, the recent Gaza flotilla raid certainly could play that role.

“It had great meaning for me because I was just there. It was miles from where we were,” said Young, president and COO of Buford, Dickson, Harper & Sparrow. “That’s pretty intense.”

Young was part of five St. Louisans taking part in a trip to the Jewish State sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The group returned from the visit, which included a trip to the Gaza border, on May 17, just two weeks before a raid by Israeli soldiers on a Turkish-flagged convoy turned deadly. Nine were killed in the incident in which Israeli forces boarded the vessel as it tried to run the nation’s blockade of Gaza. The killings have drawn condemnation from sources worldwide, particularly Turkey. Israel has maintained that its troops acted in self-defense after being attacked with clubs and knives.


Interviewed after Wednesday’s open meeting, in which the group spoke to a few dozen attendees at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the participants had varying reflections on the raid’s meaning. Young said he had interacted with residents in a number of border towns and could see why there was such concern about he situation in nearby Gaza, long used as a base for launching attacks on neighboring Israeli villages.

“The intensity of the people worried about rockets coming over is something you could cut with a knife,” Young said. “So I understood from a military perspective why it was done – because of the fear of weapons coming in.”

Rev. Earl Nance, Jr., pastor of the Greater Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, said the incident had clearly clouded the Jewish State’s image.

“It brought to mind what I heard Benjamin Netanyahu say, that everyone agrees that Israel has the right to defend itself but when they do they are criticized for it,” he said. “There’s a perception problem there with how Israel responds to those kinds of perceived attacks and that has to be dealt with.”

James Buford, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, said he understood the need to stem the flow of weapons to the area though he said he wished the convoy could have been blocked rather than boarded.

“I don’t disagree with them stopping it,” he said. “I disagree with the manner in which they did it.”

He said he thought that perhaps the raid might provide a chance to look at the larger situation in the region.

“This may be an opportunity to revisit the Gaza Strip situation because it’s certainly hurting Israel in world opinion and it doesn’t seem to be stopping the anger and the infiltration of weapons,” he said. “Experts greater than I have said that the Gaza quarantine is not working in terms of the security of Israel and maybe another approach needs to be taken to secure that area.”

Still, Buford said that he understood the Jewish State’s difficult position and said the nation had a legitimate reason to block the ship.

“I think Israel had the right to stop that flotilla, to keep them from entering the waters if they were potentially a threat to Israel,” he said. “You can’t just let boats, whether it’s a flotilla or an army, come onto your land in an area that was agreed to be secure and compromise it.”

The Rev. E. G. Shields, senior pastor at Mt. Beulah Missionary Baptist Church and president of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, also reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.

“I think Israel will continue to inspect those ships and they have a right to do that because if weapons are being smuggled into the Gaza Strip they have a right to see to their own safety,” he said. “Having been there I don’t have any reason to doubt that they were provoked but it’s unfortunate and I hope that as other flotillas come through we don’t have a repeat of the same thing,” he said.

Rev. Emery Washington, Sr., a retired priest and member of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, said that it was difficult to tell who was right and wrong from the grainy footage of the incident shown on television.

“I couldn’t make out very much from the pictures I saw so I really don’t have any idea of what happened,” he said, “except that I do know that Israel is very anxious and it seemed as though they had given warning to Turkey and they didn’t heed the warnings. It’s life and death with them – they had to react, so I can understand that.”

Young echoed that feeling.

“Was it overboard?” he said. “Who knows? We weren’t there.”