Tear gas filled the air, Israeli militants fired off rounds from snipers and percussion grenades went off all around. A 19-year-old American photographer holding his camera up to catch the moment was shot dead from helicopters above.
This was the scene aboard the MV Mavi Marmara, painted by Kenneth O’Keefe, ex-U.S. Marine and activist, in his speech at K-State on Tuesday night.
A flotilla of six ships, raided by Israeli militants on May 31, was en route to a blockade of the Gaza Strip while bringing humanitarian aid and supplies to the region.
Nine passengers aboard MV Mavi Marmara were killed in the raid. O’Keefe and others on the flotilla were arrested and detained by Israeli security, where O’Keefe said they were left without food and water and beaten.
As an activist, O’Keefe speaks out against American imperialism and its support of Israel in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Although an American-born citizen, he is now a resident of London and a citizen of Ireland.
“The power of indoctrination is not something to be overstated. It is very dangerous and it allows us to be manipulated, to be ignorant enough to support things that don’t benefit us.”
This was O’Keefe’s message as he spoke in Forum Hall in the K-State Student Union on Tuesday night.
O’Keefe said the ability of the media and government to use propaganda to further their agenda is one of the most dangerous parts of the world today. He said many events in history, like U.S. involvement in WWII and the Vietnam War, have been direct results of false information given to the American people.
He said the situation is no different for the war in Iraq.
“The fact is we invaded on a pack of lies, and those lies were well-known to those of us who had our eyes open and looked beyond the mass media, the propaganda machine,” he said. “That invasion, that occupation has led to an amount of suffering that can be hard to fathom for us.”
O’Keefe said the real reason for the invasion of Iraq was not because of weapons of mass destruction, but rather to establish permanent military bases in the region and to take control of the oil reserves.
O’Keefe became a U.S. Marine at the age of 19 and served in the Gulf War. He said he saw the abuse of power firsthand in the military and has dedicated his life to fighting crimes against humanity.
One topic he has spoken about and fought for is the rights of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and the right the Palestinians have to what is present-day Israel.
After WWII and the harsh treatment Jews faced, the United Nations designated land in Palestinian territory for them to settle. This U.N. partition allocated more than half the territory to the 15 percent of Jews in the area, and left the 83-percent Palestinian population to live in the rest of the region, now present-day Israel. Over the last six decades, the Palestinians have continued to lose land and have been forced into smaller and smaller portions of the region.
“One of the many lies that is being told over and over again is that this is a conflict that has been around for thousands of years, it’s about religion and it’s about the terrorists that want to drive all the Jews out to sea. That is a lie,” O’Keefe said. “The real problem is the theft of land and denial of human rights and killing of innocent people.”
O’Keefe denounced the support the American government gives to Israel, and said by supporting them and giving them weapons, the American government is aiding the problem.
“Can we believe that those people who are defending themselves in their homeland are the terrorists and we somehow are innocent?” he said. “It is exactly the opposite. We are the terrorists and we are funding state-sponsored terrorism.”
O’Keefe said the American people and those around the world are being withheld the truth about the conflict. He said the truth is the Palestinian people are simply defending the land that is rightly theirs, but they are portrayed in the media as the enemy.
“If you believe the narrative, if you believe the propaganda, basically the Palestinians are a bunch of radical fundamentalist, Islamic freaks that want to kill all the Jews and hate us for our freedom, and that’s who they are,” he said. “The Palestinian people are much more patient, much more compassionate, much more humane than we are by any stretch.”
O’Keefe said the Palestinians treat Americans with open arms. He said they will share everything they own, treat Americans as honored guests, and all they ask for is a basic amount of respect in return.
He said the one solution for the conflict would be one state, with equal rights for every person.
“I would argue that one of the most important things that we as people need to do is expand our circle of compassion and to see people all around the world as our family,” he said.
Those in the audience gave O’Keefe a standing ovation after his speech, and many students in the audience said they were glad they took the time to come and listen to the speech.
Maxwell Gabel, junior in psychology, history and political science, said O’Keefe’s openness and bluntness about the topic was refreshing.
“It was a lot more interesting than I expected,” he said. “It was definitely worth my time.”
O’Keefe’s straight-forward approach was appreciated by many in the audience, but some felt his biased approach created problems as well.
“I think there’s a bigger picture than the side he presents,” said Amanda Perser, freshman in open option. “He also is relying on the very tactic that he condemns. I think it’s a good way to deliver his viewpoint – it’s also a good way to get people riled up when they don’t believe the same thing.”