By RHONDA COOK
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Saturday, July 04, 2009
With Cynthia McKinney due to appear in an Israeli court Sunday, the mother of the former congresswoman decided to skip a weekend family reunion in Alabama just in case State Department officials need any documents to get her released from jail.
McKinney has been in custody since Tuesday when she and 20 others were swept up by the Israeli Navy while allegedly trying to sail through a navy blockade. The group says it was attempting to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza.
The formidable one-time lawmaker and the rest of her group could have been released soon after they were taken into custody but they refused to sign a document admitting they violated Israel’s blockade. All will be held at least until Sunday, when they are to appear in court.
“I didn’t go [to the family reunion] because I didn’t know if they needed special papers for Cynthia, like a birth certificate,” Leola McKinney said Saturday. “I wanted to be in place.”
Leola McKinney said she had not spoken with her daughter since shortly after she was taken into custody on Tuesday. “I don’t even know where she is or who she’s with,” Leola McKinney said.
Cynthia McKinney and other members of the “Free Gaza Movement” left Cyprus Tuesday on the Greek-registered ship Arion.
Their ship was stopped when they tried to pass through the Israeli Navy’s security blockade at Ashdod. The group was taken into custody and their ship was seized. Israeli officials promised to deliver by ground all of the humanitarian supplies that were on the boat.
Family, friends and supporters say Cynthia McKinney believed she was in international waters and was free to pass.
“The Israelis hijacked us because we wanted to give crayons to the children of Gaza,” Cynthia McKinney said in a recorded statement delivered via telephone and posted on the internet site YouTube.
The office of the Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta said in a statement released Friday, “According to Israeli law Ms. McKinney and her fellow crew members were suggested to sign a form acknowledging their deportation… Since Ms. McKinney has refused to do so, she is expected to appear before an Israeli judge on Sunday, July 5, and afterwards be returned home as soon as possible.”
Leola McKinney said her daughter did not sign the document because it was in Hebrew. “She didn’t know what she was signing,” Leola McKinney said.
Civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Atlanta-based Coalition for the People’s Agenda, said he and others have spoken by phone with the Consulate General of Israel.
“Whatever happened, there was no harm done,” Lowery said. “She was not carry munitions, but medicine. We hope Israel will show compassion and release her and let her go on to deliver the much-needed medicine to the Gaza Strip. … If she were carrying guns, that would be a different thing. [But] she was carrying humanitarian aid.”
Lowery said Israeli officials had assured him that Cynthia McKinney was “getting VIP treatment. I don’t know how you get VIP treatment in j-a-i-l.”
Israeli officials blame Cynthia McKinney and her group for the controversy, saying they were looking for confrontation to attract publicity. The officials note that Palestinian Authority and the rest of the international community had agreed to the off-shore blockade to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.
Leola McKinney said the trip would have received no “publicity if they had been allowed to deliver supplies to Gaza. They [Israel] made an issue out of it by taking the boat and escorting them into Israel.”
Billy McKinney, Cynthia McKinney’s father and a former state legislator, said his daughter was only trying to show “the devastation in Gaza… Anybody who has a humanitarian spirit would not want to see those people live in those conditions.”
Leola McKinney said she spoke to her daughter when she was first taken into custody and she sounded OK.
“It’s just the stress of being there,” Leola McKinney said. “I’m anxious and concerned because, until she gets back on U.S. soil, I won’t be contented. I really don’t know what she’s going through over there.”
We just spoke to the passengers. Everyone is OK, but the situation is still very tense. They continue to be surrounded by Israeli warships which are threatening to open fire. The Israeli Navy is actively jamming all navigation systems in violation of international maritime law, endangering the people on board.
Former U.S. Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, speaking from on board the SPIRIT, stated, “I am extremely angry. We demand that the Israeli government call off their attack dogs. We are unarmed civilians aboard an unarmed boat delivering medical and reconstruction aid to other human beings in Gaza. Why in God’s name would Israel want to attack us and threaten our safety and welfare. I call on President Obama and the international community to intervene now to prevent this situation from escalating with potentially drastic results to the civilians on board.”
Since the boat’s navigation equipment is being jammed, it has turned westward in order to stay in international waters.The Captain and crew are working from the most ancient of navigation equipment…the compass to stay clear of Israeli waters.