Linking the Current Gaza Crisis to the 1967 Attack on the USS Liberty (and to 9/11)-- My Editorial in the Northfield News (MN)
The following guest column was published in the Jan. 17, 2009 issue of the Northfield News:
Remembering Another Gaza Attack, 1967
With yet another crisis unfolding in the Middle East, we watch once again the drearily familiar scenes of aircraft strikes, burning buildings, and dead and wounded civilians. Since the attacks this time are in the Gaza strip, it’s perhaps a good opportunity to recall another attack that occurred on June 8, 1967, just a few miles of the coast of Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea. In that attack, however, the victims were not Palestinians, but American sailors aboard the defenseless US Navy communications ship Liberty, who were machine-gunned, rocketed, torpedoed, and even napalmed– in a synchronized and pre-meditated operation carried out by the Israeli military.
The bewildered men on the ship could not call for help, because their radio frequencies had been jammed by the attackers, and their antennae had been carefully destroyed at the onset of the attack to prevent just such communication. Nor did they initially have any idea who was attacking them. “We still didn’t know who was shooting at us or why; only a few men had seen the Israeli markings on the helicopters...” writes Lt. James Ennes, who survived the attack, in his book “Assault on the Liberty.” That the ship was meant to be sunk was obvious, and the men were happy to hear the abandon ship order. Any hopes, however, of escaping in life boats were dashed: “Lurking lazily a few hundred yards away, patiently waiting for Liberty to sink,” writes Ennes, “the men on the [Israeli] torpedo boats watched the orange rafts drop into the water.... When within good machine-gun range she opened fire on the empty life rafts, deflating two and cutting the line on the third.” Ennes then relates that the torpedo boat stopped to pick up the remaining raft, before speeding away to leave the Americans to an apparent watery grave.
In the end the ship did not sink. Thirty four sailors were killed in the attack, and many others, including Ennes, survived with serious wounds. The agony of these men was only beginning, however, as they would discover the attack on them would be swept under the carpet by their own government and mostly ignored by the media. The Israelis admitted to the attack, but with the absurd excuse that it was an “accident.” The official inquiry conducted into the attack– described by Ennes as a “whitewash”– accepted that excuse. Interestingly, that inquiry was conducted under the auspices of Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., the father of the John McCain who was the Republican nominee for the recent presidential election.
What were Israel’s motives to attempt to sink a ship belonging to its ally, America? We have to consider the possibility that the ship was meant to be sunk leaving no witnesses, and no indication of who the attackers were. In that event, the attack could have been blamed on Israel’s enemy Egypt, and Americans would have been whipped into an anti-Muslim frenzy similar to what happened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
When we contemplate the events surrounding the Liberty attack and its disgraceful aftermath, we have to ask ourselves some difficult questions about what is going on today in Gaza. Is Israel really our friend, deserving of many billions of our dollars in aid, and unquestioned diplomatic support for its actions? And can we really trust the official narrative of events leading to the current conflict– especially the nature and origin of the alleged Hamas rocket attacks, which never seem to harm Israelis, but provide such a handy excuse for the deadly rataliation carried out by Israeli warplanes? Such questions might not normally occur to us, until we remember what happened aboard the Liberty, when it was our own countrymen bleeding and dying under the bullets and bombs.