Just last week, Col. Ann Wright was in Pakistan meeting with families who lost loved ones during U.S. drone attacks there earlier this month. She touched down in Spokane just hours ago, and tonight at 7 pm will make a presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church on the impacts of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on her first hand experiences with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
After her quick stop in the Lilac City, Wright will head back to the Middle East, this time to Gaza. There, she is helping to spearhead an effort called Gaza’s Ark to build a boat that can be sailed out of Gaza’s blockaded port, carrying Palestinian products for international trade.
In 2003, out of protest to the Iraq War, Wright resigned after serving a total of 40 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State. She has since been advocating for peace through picketing, writing and speaking. Wright has protested at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, and was on the Gaza freedom flotilla when it was attacked by the Israeli military in 2010.
The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) is hosting Wright’s appearance tonight. Liz Moore, director of PJALS, says it’s exciting to have Wright here because of her journey from being a retired colonel and State Department diplomat to a peace activist.
“When we look at the U.S. and the world, it’s important to lift up voices of folks who have been in that system and have seen it from the inside and who have chosen to speak out and oppose it,” Moore says.
Tonight’s event is free, but Wright is speaking as part of an effort to raise funds for Gaza’s Ark.
The Inlander caught up with Col. Wright after her flight touched down and was able to ask her a few questions.
Inlander: Tell us a bit more about your decision to resign from the State Dept. in 2003.
Col. Wright: I ended up resigning 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. I didn’t really believe the Bush Administration’s rhetoric on weapons of mass destruction, because we had sanctions on Iraq for years. It mystified me how that came up, and I resigned because I knew it would be horrible for the Iraqis to go through and it would increase anti-Americanism around the world.
Inlander: What have been some of the most moving experiences you’ve had since becoming a peace activist?
Col. Wright: One of the most moving was going to Gaza in January 2009 after the Israeli attack – the 22-day attack that had killed 1,400 and wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless -- and to see the level of destruction from those 22 days of attacks, it mobilized me to start working on behalf of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza.
Inlander: What was it like to be involved in the 2010 Gaza freedom flotilla and to be attacked?
Col. Wright: The Israelis attacked all six ships in the 2010 flotilla. They executed six people and wounded 50 on the Mavi Marmara. People were beaten up and tazered and hit by paint bullets. I was not injured but I saw others badly injured.
Inlander: Tell us more about your current project, Gaza’s Ark, and what the goal for that endeavor is.
Col Wright: This time, rather than sailing into Gaza, we’ll renovate a boat already there and we will sail it out filled with exports -- beautiful embroidery and crafts made there. There is a blockade in both directions. The Israeli government does not want anything coming in or out of Gaza. They are essentially trying to strangle them so they can’t make money on exports or bring goods in unless [the government] okays it. The naval blockade has been going on for 41 years.
Inlander: If all goes as planned, how soon could we see Gaza’s Ark make its first expedition?
Col. Wright: If we can raise enough money to purchase and renovate it, we’re hoping to have it done by end of next summer. So hopefully the ship can sail with a cargo load of wonderful products in late summer or early fall of 2013.
Inlander: What do you hope audiences will take away from your presentation tonight?
Col. Wright: I hope they come away with a better understanding of the horrific effects that the Israeli naval and land blockade are having on 1.7 million people living in the tiny little place called Gaza. Gaza is just 25 miles long and 5 miles wide. They are being slowly strangled by this blockade. I hope people understand the disastrous and illegal nature of this and will be compelled to take action to get our government to stop protecting the Israeli government as it commits these criminal acts on the people of Gaza.
Inlander: What can people who want to spread the word of making peace in the Middle East do here at home in the Inland Northwest?
Col. Wright: Here in the Pacific Northwest there are a lot of strong Palestinian solidarity groups that track what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza, and they make sure members of their community know what is happening there. So people can join with those groups to learn more about what is going on there.
*The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane organizes a Palestine and Israel Human Rights committee that meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month at 5:30 pm in the Community Building, at 35 W. Main Ave.
Jo Miller of The Inlander contributed to this story.