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Chicago Area Man Among Those Set To Challenge Gaza Blockade

It's been a year, and it may have been forgotten already – the venture in the Middle East called Freedom Flotilla that brought boats and bloodshed to the high seas.

Now, as CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports, there are boats being readied to sail again, with passengers this time from the Chicago area.

Max Suchan looks like a typical 22-year-old. But what makes him so different is that he has Gaza on his mind.

"I'm worried about my personal safety, but I understand the risks," he said.

Suchan is worried because later this month, he and hundreds of other activists plan to try to penetrate an Israeli Naval blockade at Gaza. The ship is called the Audacity of Hope, and Suchan's decision to board could be seen as audacious, considering what happened to the last flotilla to try to break the blockade.

"I am nervous, in light of the fact that nine people were killed onboard the Turkish ship last year," Suchan said.

Those activists were killed by Israeli defense forces, who intercepted and boarded the vessel. The activists said the Israelis fired before boarding the ship, but Israel released video that officials say shows their commandos being attacked and thrown overboard.

"The flotilla really has nothing to do with humanitarian aid. It's about scoring a propaganda victory against the state of Israel," said Daniel Elbaum, regional director of the American Jewish Committee.

Elbaum says although flotilla members vow to practice nonviolence, their mere participation is a threat.

"I think to any nation, the idea of breaking a blockade; of going into an area, would constitute a real act of aggression against that nation," he said.

But Suchan says the blockade has essentially turned Gaza into a giant prison.

"This blockade is illegal under international law," he said. "It's an act of collective punishment. You have 45 percent unemployment. You have fishermen that can't fish. You have people that can't leave."

Suchan flies to Europe on Sunday. He says the flotilla will depart from Greece later in the month, and he expects the trip to the blockade to take about two days.

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, also plans to make the trip.

Why Do We Have To Be Involved At All?

All of this, of course, raises the prickly question of U.S. involvement in the Middle East – not the flotilla mission, but the U.S. government. CBS 2's Walter Jacobson put that question to Dr. Marvin Zonis of the University of Chicago, an internationally-known expert on the Middle East – why do the White House and Congress believe the U.S. must be involved?

"Because the United States is meant to be a force for justice and good in the world, and we are meant to set an example to other peoples as to how they can bring about societies which live together in peace and harmony, even though they are committed to different goals," Zonis said.

Jacobson pointed out that in Chicago, there are children who are hungry and suffering from a lack of education, teenagers being shot in their neighborhoods, robberies on Michigan Avenue and other examples of strife. Why do we need to care about the Middle East?

"There are all these people in this country – in this city – who care desperately about it, and want us to help bring about a solution," Zonis said. "We have to do it; it's an obligation to our own people."

Zonis says he believes peace of the Middle East will, and must, come eventually. He says there will be two states – Palestine and Israel – with enough security to guarantee the happiness of both.


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