Kenneth O’Keefe is a world citizen. As an anti-war activist and social entrepreneur, he renounced his U.S. citizenship on March 1, 2001 and burned his American passport on January 7, 2004 in protest to the United States’ Imperialism and called for the immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. O’Keefe is a former U.S. Mariner who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequently revealed the use of depleted uranium by the United States as a crime against humanity.
O’Keefe has taken part in a number of substantial anti-war movements and served as the director of Human Shield Action to Iraq. He founded a group of activists who traveled to Iraq to act as human shields to prevent the U.S.-led coalition troops from bombing certain locations during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In 2004 O’Keefe established an association known as the “P10K Force,” a group of 10,000 Westerners intended to act as international observers in the occupied Palestinian territories and help bring peace with Israel
In the fall of 2008, he served as a Captain and 1st Mate with the Free Gaza Movement, a direct action in which 46 people successfully challenged the Israeli siege of Gaza
O’Keefe was one of the international peace activists onboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was intended to end the Israeli siege of Gaza Strip.
Kenneth O’Keefe joined me in an in-depth interview to answer my questions on his anti-imperialistic viewpoints, the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the continued international controversy over Iran’s nuclear program, the chronic hostility between the United States and Iran and his experiences in the Freedom Flotilla mission.
Kourosh Ziabari: as an anti-imperialist activist, what’s in your view, the source of America’s enormous imperialistic power? America is a country with less than 400 years of history; however, it has successfully transformed the international order, dominated the less powerful countries around the world and revolutionized the global political equations. How is it possible for the United States to do so?
Kenneth O’Keefe: The world is full of illusions that are used by the rich and powerful to manipulate and control the people. The greatest illusion, and the one with the most devastating consequences, is that the American people and the Israeli, and the British, and numerous others, vote in their governments and hold them to account. Those who really control the governments are those powerful few who control the banking systems, the major multi-national corporations and, of course, the mass media. If you look beyond the faces of the presidents, prime ministers and politicians you will see that these governments’ policies remain virtually the same, no matter who is ‘leading’ these countries. These ‘leaders’ do not answer to the people they have pledged to serve; they answer to those who remain behind the scenes.
These powerful people and entities have key strategic needs in order to maintain power:
1) They must keep the people ignorant and disempowered.
2) They must keep the people divided. They conquer by dividing the people, never giving people the chance to unite; constantly fostering war by pitting the masses against each other
This system has been controlled by the same families for millennia, and people have been manipulated into a collective state of insanity throughout. Over the course of this tragic situation, empires have come and gone, each one giving way to the next. America is simply the latest in that repeating pattern, and it will fall like all empires do. However, the powers behind it, those controlling the banking, the governments and the propaganda, they will remain in place and prop up the next empire and the pattern will repeat.
We are constantly looking at the faces that these powers present to us, the puppets in effect. The powers themselves remain hidden, with many layers of separation between themselves and the people, and an intricate and complex legal system to protect and hide them. In the west this conspiracy has been called a theory, and everything is done to try and marginalize and ridicule the people who speak correctly about the way the world works. Until this system and those behind it are exposed, we will continue our cycle of self-destruction and continue marching towards a nuclear Armageddon. The most powerful weapon we have is the truth, and until we yield its full power, we will never have justice and peace in this world.
KZ: how is it possible to resist the American Imperialism while the absolute majority of powerful, wealthy states in the world are the stalwart allies of Washington and the other developing, underdeveloped countries are starving of insufficiency and poverty? Even the Non-Aligned Movement which consists of 118 countries isn’t capable of dictating its will to the United States and its European allies. One clear instance is Iran’s nuclear program which is favored and supported by the 118 members of NAM, but fails to prosper due to the objection of some 5, 6 European countries plus the United States. What do you think?
KO: I believe the process of destroying American imperialism is already in place. The truth is the most powerful weapon of all, and the rise in popularity of international news stations like Press TV, Al Jazeera English and RTTV is evidence that people are hungry for the truth they are denied. Despite a huge effort by the western/Zionist controlled media to keep people ignorant, and thus divided, they are losing ground to such important journalistic endeavors that disseminate a truthful version of world events.
The truth is on our side and it shall set us free. There are many creative ways to expose the truth, and we must use them to educate people about how they are being used to maintain the Zionist/Imperialist agenda that makes the rich richer, and the masses more impoverished. If we persevere, we can teach those in the west that the portrayal of Muslim peoples engaged in violent resistance as lunatics and fanatics is simply a means adopted by the Imperialist propaganda machine to divide and conquer. If people understand that the only beneficiaries of war are those who propagate it, we will break free from the tyranny of war, occupation and the monetary system that enslaves us all.
The people of the world, billions of us, can demand the transformation of the UN, or replace it with a genuine system that actually does the job the UN has failed to do since its inception. If we dedicate ourselves to the task, we can end the five permanent member state system that neutralizes any power this institution may wield.
The Non-Aligned Movement is important despite its inability thus far to effect the greater change required. The NAM is a solid foundation that we can build on.
The hypocrisy of Israel having undeclared nuclear weapons in the hundreds while an open nuclear program in Iran is grounds for war is beyond absurd. War can only take place if the propaganda machine is successful in keeping people ignorant. I believe that the pre-planned attack on Iran was scheduled to take place at least a year or two ago. The reason it has thus far not transpired is that those agents of the truth have worked tirelessly and effectively to expose the pending attack as the final confirmation of America’s monstrous imperialism and the use of Israel as its vicious attack dog. If America, Israel and Britain, the true ‘Axis of Evil’, attack, I believe the world will unite against them in a sufficient manner. Nonetheless, attacks on Iran, Lebanon and Gaza remain very possible; hence more and more investment in exposing the truth must be made.
Confronting the tyrants responsible for the blockade of Gaza is in my opinion a priority. That is why I am working with a brilliant team of people on organizing a massive flotilla, with large ships and thousands of passengers representing every nation on Planet Earth, to break the blockade. As well as the Turkish people, I see the Iranian, South African, Irish, Venezuelan and colonized, aboriginal peoples playing a substantial role in that mission.
When all is said and done, we have a choice between surrendering to our enslavement or fighting for a just and peaceful world. I feel that the only way to honor myself, my children and the generations yet unborn is to fight, with the truth as our ultimate weapon, until justice prevails.
KZ: Iran and U.S. have been at loggerheads over the past 30 years hostilely. Do you know of any way to bring the two nations closer together, increase the mutual understanding and promote peace, friendship between the two adversaries?
KO: The primary means of fostering a mutual understanding and friendship between these two hostile nations is no secret. I repeat my conviction that the truth is the ultimate weapon, and anything we can do to propagate the truth is our only option. The American people are a hard-working, idealistic and honest people who have been gravely deceived, to their own detriment. We must strive to educate them, not in a condescending, patronizing way, but with empathy, understanding that we too once believed the lies of those we trusted, and were misguided into actions that caused grave harm to others. Paying taxes is an example. We must teach them the true history of their nation, including its part in the formation of Israel. We must understand that arriving at and accepting the truth is a slow and often painful process, especially when the realization of the damage caused by our own actions dawns. Most importantly, we must be there to welcome those who have traversed the painful road to the truth, and embrace them as our brothers and sisters.
KZ: some analysts suggest that the reason behind the United States’ unconditional support for Israel lies in the fact that Washington wants to maintain its interests in the Middle East through a proxy representative. Some others believe that United States supports Israel on an ideological basis. What’s your viewpoint?
KO: This ties into my last answer. Israel is simply another face, or front, if you like, that the hidden powers that be present to the people. Israel’s primary function is to maintain perpetual conflict in the Middle East. Soon enough, Israel will be spreading this conflict on a global level. I have no doubt that the pending attack on Iran is intended to take us straight into World War III, with a regional nuclear war very likely. This is quite obviously a disaster to any sane human being.
However, to those who see their power threatened by the spreading of truth, 9-11, Zionism, the banking system, etc, this is a very necessary act to help them maintain their grip of control over peoples of the world. This ‘divide and conquer’ strategy has served them well for millennia. On the surface, war is catastrophic, and it seems incomprehensible that anyone could stand to benefit from war. In truth, however, the powers that be become even richer and more powerful as they gain a foothold in yet another peoples’ territory, and afford themselves access to their resources, just take Iraq as an example. The looming death and destruction serves to further divide people and divert them from the truth. What these powers fear more than anything is people coming together in the spirit of humanity. Thus, war is the ultimate tool to prevent the union of the people.
KZ: Israel’s lawlessness is troubling the international community seriously. Israel continues to possess nuclear weapons in violation of the UNSC resolution 487. It is also keeping up with its despotic policies in blockading the Gaza Strip and West Bank. How is it possible to hold Israel accountable for the crimes it commits while the United States is standing by Israel unreservedly?
KO: I believe that Palestine hits at the heart of all injustice, and that the issue of justice for Palestinians threatens to flagrantly expose the powers that have made this situation so. The Zionist project has been invested in heavily, and the powers that be will not relinquish it lightly.
As I stated earlier, there is an intricate and sophisticated legal system that protects the powers that be and enables them to continue their domination over the peoples of this earth. Two such institutions that are being used to enable and perpetuate Israel’s lawlessness are the UN and the International Criminal Court. I strongly advocate the abolition of the UN in its present form.
Giving five permanent member states veto powers over all other states in the world is an insult to the international community and an affront to the cause of justice. Universal Jurisdiction and full accountability for every nation can and will be achieved when we as a people make it so. Until such time, the United Nations is a cruel joke and the International Criminal Court is a sham. Both are fronts presented by the powers that be to convince the people that justice is being administered.
We as people must use our finite resources and come together if we are to effect meaningful change. We are too scattered, fighting each other on minor details and continually resisting and protesting. We must take a proactive approach to effecting justice, and do so in a focused, intelligent, disciplined and fearless way.
KZ: tell us about your experience on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. You were among tens of activists who were brutally beaten and tortured by Israel while trying to breaking the Gaza blockade. What happened first when they boarded on your ship? How did they treat you? What was your reaction? What will be the prospect of Freedom Flotilla?
KO: The Israeli attack began under cover of darkness at about 3.40 in the morning. Within the first five minutes of the attack, even before the commandos dropped down from the helicopter and boarded our vessel, we were taking casualties, and the first man was murdered with a gunshot to the head. Percussion grenades, tear gas, smoke bombs, paintball rounds and live ammunition were all being used. It was like a combat situation, except that one side was not armed with combat weapons.
About one hour after the onset of the attack, I had seen at least five men murdered and dozens of bloody injuries.
Twice during the course of the attack, I was directly confronted by a commando. In both cases, myself and another defender disarmed them. During the first confrontation, I took possession of a 9mm pistol, the same weapon used to kill eight out of the nine men that morning. During the second, the other defender took possession of the commando’s sub-machine gun. A third commando was also disarmed. These three completely disarmed commandos were taken below deck and treated for any injuries they might have sustained. Nevertheless, the bravado and audacity they exhibited while in possession of their lethal weapons vanished. While in our custody, they looked like frightened little children.
Soon after the commandos were captured and subdued a group of about 7 IHH members escorted the soldiers from the main cabin to the bow of the ship, released them and walked away.
The captain of the ship eventually announced via the PA system that the Israelis had taken control of the ship’s bridge. He then instructed us to stop all resistance which we did.
Over the next several hours, we surrendered to the Israelis one by one. Each one of us was searched for weapons and then handcuffed. Most of the men, including myself, were kicked or punched without provocation while restrained.
From this point forward we were treated like dogs. Elderly people were physically abused, women were sexually abused during bodily searches, we were all denied water and food, as well as access to a toilet, one elderly man consequently urinated on himself, and any communication with lawyers was not allowed. We were lied to incessantly, and had our personal possessions stolen, including cash, credit cards, laptop computers, cameras and footage. Of crucial importance, they stole all of the video and photographic footage that without doubt shows them murdering people in cold blood.
It was clear to all of us in Israeli custody that we were being held captive by a force that had completely lost the ability to see others as human beings. These people are thoroughly brainwashed to believe themselves God’s ‘chosen ones’, and thus they believe they have the right to treat all others as animals. Many of us were beaten while in their custody on land, after being beaten on the ship.
On our arrival in the Port of Ashdod, I handed them my Palestinian passport – I had previously hidden my Irish passport on the ship. Many of the Israeli soldiers knew of me from my previous activities, so this just incensed them. I refused to sign any deportation papers, or any statement that I would never attempt re-entry to Gaza or the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I demanded to appear before a judge in court. My internment was illegal, and I wanted to be repatriated to Gaza. Eventually I was deported from Israel, I was one of the very last to go.
Two days after my deportation the IDF spokesperson issued a press release identifying me as a “terror operative” who was traveling to Gaza to “train a commando unit for Hamas.”
These charges are beyond ridiculous, and it seems to me they were made to gloss over the IDF’s embarrassment at having one of the most elite forces in the world disarmed and humiliated.
It is the nature of the Zionist Israeli propaganda machine to levy such grave charges on those who resist their aggression. War crimes, mass-murder, piracy, lying, torture, organ theft, Apartheid, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity are justified at every turn, and the blame shifted to those who defend themselves.
It was a real honor to be aboard the Mavi Marmara with my Turkish brothers and sisters. The Turkish people have the kind of strength and courage required to face a force such as the Israelis and defend their mission as if they were defending their own children. Fearless resistance of proactive measures is what is needed to face the Israeli monster that is killing, maiming and destroying the lives of countless people, including over 800,000 children in Gaza. We must see those children as our children, and we must defend them as such.
I appreciate all efforts put forth to bring an end to the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis. However, I do not believe that the flotilla leaving this month or next has either the scale, or the courageous elements, namely active resistance by the participants, essential for success. I cannot see the blockade being broken unless we as people of conscience from around the world do everything in our power to neutralize the might of the Israeli military. I know this is possible, and soon a plan will be revealed for a flotilla in 2011 that has the potential to achieve the goal of breaking the blockade once and for all. This plan will require several large ships and most definitely a strong Turkish presence. A delegation representing this plan will soon be arriving in Iran as well as numerous other countries to put this plan to the people, and we shall see if the people of the world decide to make it a reality.
KZ: how do you assess the prospect of Israeli regime? Given its continued violation of the international law and its aggressive subjugation of the Palestinian nation, is Tel Aviv going to survive politically?
KO: No. The Zionist regime will not survive any more than the Nazi regime or the South African Apartheid regime. The Zionists will go the same way. God is God of all people, not one group, one way or the other the Zionists will learn this. The people of conscience will ensure that justice prevails. Gaza will rise from the ashes and be a thriving metropolis once more. Palestine will be united and reborn because the will of the people, and their cogent action, will have made it so. It is vital that we envision, and never cease working for, that day. Palestine hits at the heart of all injustice, and when we solve this problem we set the stage for a world worthy of handing down to our children. This is our ultimate worldly calling.
Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian freelance journalist and media correspondent. His articles and interviews have appeared on a number of media outlets and news websites including Tehran Times, Press TV, Global Research and Foreign Policy Journal.